German Noun Gender – A learner’s story

Hello everony,

and welcome to your favorite German learning site ever. And no, everony is not a mistake. It’s Italian based slang term meaning friends or guys. And it’s also a type of pasta. Everoni with butter and parmeson… soooo tasty.
Yeah, I bet you can tell I am in nonsense mode today. But no reason to worry that the article is rife with nonsense. Because it’s actually not mine :).
A few years ago, back before the Corona stuff and all, we had a guest here. Slavica, an actual studied linguist told us a bit about collocations in German. You everony (guys) seemed to have enjoyed it, and so we decided to do it again.
Today, she will talk a bit about the elephant in the room of this blog… German gender. I barely ever talk about it. But it’s there, and it’s important.
She’ll share a bit about what it is, a few rules,  and a couple of her learning tricks that she used when learning German.
So without any further ago… have fun :)

***

Thinking about German Gender
(by Slavica)

Once upon a time, there was the mighty Mr. Sun who lived up in the sky with his lovely, gentle, quiet wife Mrs. Moon and their many daughters, the stars.

When I was little, this is how the Astro-bunch was represented in fairy tales. I had never questioned the logic behind these personifications and back then it had always occurred natural to me.
But, say I want to tell this story to a native German speaker. That would be a bit of a challenge because in German, the Moon is referred to as a “he” (der Mond), and it is somehow weird to assign it with the role of a woman. So it would not be easy to keep the essence of the story. In other words, the Moon, as a noun, is not universally feminine, or anything at all.
In some languages, such as German, it is a “he” , in other languages, such as Spanish, it is a “she” (la luna).
And then there are languages, such as Mongolian, Japanese, Chinese or even English, in which the Moon, or even most nouns have no gender.
Before continuing, in order to avoid misunderstanding, first things first: What is meant by gender?

Generally speaking, in linguistics, there are two types of gender: a natural and a grammatical gender. Natural gender is more or less clear (or at least for the sake of this article), universal (it’s beyond language and common to all mankind) and inherent only in animate classes (so humans and most animals).
Also, natural gender matches the grammatical gender most of the time – that is, for languages that actually have grammatical gender.
Grammatical gender on the other hand is a language specific noun classification and is not always easy to predict in foreign languages. In this article we will deal mainly with grammatical gender. We will leave natural gender to other battlefields.

Gender in the German Language

German is a language with three noun categories in terms of gender classification. Learning this classification system is essential and should start from the very beginnings of your experience as a learner.
When I first started learning German at school, I can’t remember our teacher mentioning we needed to memorize the article with the new nouns. (To be fair, she probably has, but I had probably been daydreaming at the time.) So, in my notebooks from the German beginner classes, you won’t find any nouns written with the article preceding.
Huge mistake.
I did learn that a tree is “Baum”, but it remained “DAS Baum” in my mental dictionary, because that’s how it is in my native language. The same with book – it remained DIE Buch. And bread has been DER Brot for a long time. And there were many others, of course all WRONG.
At some point later (too late), when I realized how important gender is for proper German, there was so much I needed to relearn.
Mastering gender classification in German does seem like a mission impossible, but it is fundamental if you want to to speak proper German.

  • Der alte Baum ist schön… is correct
  • Das alte Baum ist schönis NOT

So speaking proper German means learning the grammatical gender.
Nevertheless, it takes an enormous effort as well as a great deal of patience and willpower to learn it.
The der, the die and the das…how do you tell which one a noun is stuck with?

Rules for noun Gender

Are there any rules? Grammatical Gender in German is not rarely taken up in linguistics. They attempt all the time to find a system in the grammatical gender in German. But up until now, I haven’t bumped into the one study that would give me the AHA moment.
There are lists and criteria that do make sense, but they come with a lot of exceptions, and often you’d be better off not trying to memorize them.
There are some pretty bulletproof rules** though, that are worth knowing. Here they are:
(**might not be bulletproof and might not be rules, we take no liability :D)

 Nouns derived from verbs ending in –ung are always die:
die Beziehung (relation), die Umgebung (surroundings), die Werbung (the commercial), die Erfahrung (experience), …
Nouns derived from adjectives ending in –heit or -keit are also die:
die Schönheit (beauty), die Krankheit (disease), die Arbeitslosigkeit (unemployment), die Zuverlässigkeit (reliability), die Freundlichkeit (friendliness), die Großzügigkeit(generosity),…
Nouns derived from Latin that end in –tät are always die:
die Realität (reality), die Fakultät (faculty), die Universität (university), die Elektrizität (electricity), die Stabilität (stability), etc.
Nouns mostly coming from Latin ending in -(t)ion are always die:
die Kollektion (collection), die Aktion (action), die Projektion (projection), etc.
Nouns ending in –schaft are die:
die Leidenschaft (passion), die Freundschaft (friendship), die Gesellschaft (society), die Staatsbürgerschaft (citizenship),  die Wissenschaft(science), die Nachbarschaft (neighborhood),..
Nouns derived from verbs ending in –e(l)n are always das:
das Essen (eating), das Spielen (playing), das Kuscheln (cuddling), das Kochen (cooking), das Aussehen (looks), das Einkaufen (shopping),…
Nouns ending in –um are always das:
das Eigentum (ownership), das Wachstum (growth), das Datum (date), etc.
There are the “doer” nouns, for people doing something also deriving from verbs. They are die, when ending in –in or der, when ending in –er:
der Lehrer, die Lehrerin (teacher), der Schriftsteller, die Schriftstellerin (writer), der Fußgänger, die Fußgängerin (pedestrian),…
We also find non-animate nouns ending in –er, and they’re all der:
der Wasserkocher (water boiler), der Lautsprecher (speaker), der Fernseher (TV), der Schraubenzieher (screwdriver), der Wegweiser (sign-post), etc.But careful, they need to be derived from a verb.

Not all nouns with -er are der. Case in point: das Messer (the knife). Crazy.

 

 

So, these are the few rules that should never let you down once you have internalized them. However, they include only one portion of the German noun system. For the rest of the nouns, I am afraid there are no patterns or rules. You just need to sit down and engrave them in your memory somehow.
But how do you do that without losing your motivation or your mind?
In the next part I will share two of my own strategies. Which are not perfect, but, honestly, I would do anything to avoid learning by heart.

My gender learning hacks

OK, first and foremost, before putting the effort to internalize German grammatical gender, a crucial step is setting aside what we already know from our native language, i.e. letting go of our intuitive knowledge. This especially goes for native speakers of Romance and Slavic languages.
True, this is easier said than done, because grammatical gender (if it exists at all in your native language) is acquired along with the noun.
But when learning the gender system in a new language, the knowledge of the native language can only hold you back in your efforts.
After all, learning a foreign language means reshaping your mind and changing your perspective. Just accept the items with their gender the way they are in German. Never question it. The trick is, never try to find the logic why the door, the wall, the kitchen are a “she”, the house, the window, the roof an “it” and the cellar, the space, the table, the floor, a “he”. As Marc Twain, himself, concludes, and my Professor, a native speaker of German, recommends, you are better off not trying to find any logic.

My first strategy is simple personification.
Just like in the fairy tale with the Sun and the Moon: you imagine objects with personality features.
The idea is not that ludicrous. I actually did come across a study in which the researcher asked the participants to assign characteristics to objects, such as a bridge for example. Interestingly, native speakers of Spanish have described el puente (a “he”) as large, dangerous and mighty, whereas the German die Brücke (a “she”) was represented as nice, fragile, elegant, peaceful and pretty. Another part of the experiment was connecting items with names. For example, the door called Anna or the desk called Peter. Here as well, the results in the German group were different from the results in the Spanish group in the end. This tells us that natural gender is subconsciously associated with sexless items because of their grammatical gender. So, let your fantasy go wild and just as in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast let objects come to life.

Another strategy I use is similar to the memory palace method: making category spaces and sorting the items in each category according to their gender.
For example, you have the category das Haus. Das Haus has rooms, floors, ceilings, roof, walls, windows, doors, etc. The category house has then a number of interior spaces: living room, kitchen, bathroom, hallway, etc.
What you do is assort items specific to each category space according to their gender. So, on the one hand you have, der Tisch, der Stuhl, der Teppich, der Schrank, then you have das Bett, das Regal, and a third bunch would include die Couch, die Lampe, die Kommode, etc. Depending on the type of learner you are, adding color coordination would be even more helpful.
This method is applicable for every type of category: food, feelings, traffic, entertainment, clothing, you name it.

One last trick. Compound nouns. They are true life savers when it comes to learning gender in German. For example, if you have learned that Tisch (table) is always der, you have automatically learned that Esstisch (kitchen table), Couchtisch (coffee table), Schreibtisch (desk), Nachtisch (dessert) and so on are all der. Shell nouns, such as das Zeug, seemingly inferior and meaningless, are in reality very convenient because they are so productive. From the empty vagueness of just das Zeug (thing) you have das Werkzeug (tool), das Flugzeug (airplane), das Schreibzeug (pen or pencil), das Schlagzeug (drum), das Spielzeug (toy) or  das Fahrzeug (vehicle).
Another really nice “noun builders” is der Stoff (material) with words like der Wertstoff (recyclable), der Klebstoff (glue), der Treibstoff (fuel).
One weird exception that threw me off is Teil: we have der Teil (share, amount, part of) as a part of a larger whole (der Teil der Stadt / Stadtteil (city part)) and das Teil as a single item, like das Bauteil (the building component), for example. So here, we have to think a little. But overall, compounds are really easy with regards to gender.

Now, these points are only a few thoughts and tips.
There is so much more to be said and explored about the category gender in German.
I personally have been reading up on the topic ever since I became aware of it, and it is never enough. I am still having trouble remembering the right article for Geschmack (taste), Geruch(smell) and Geräusch (sound), was it der oder das.
Gender is not an easy category to master and it is definitely not to be underestimated. Aside from the few formal rules, for most nouns, there is no explanation why they are a “he”, a “she” or an “it”.
What I wouldn’t do though is rely on my intuition and what I know from my native language.
Imagination and an open mind help much more here.
So, next time you take an orange in your hand, picture it comes to life. Just imagine the die Orange speaks to you. What kind of voice do you think it would have? What name would you give the orange: Martha or Martin?
This would be an interesting experiment. I’d be really curious to know the answer of different native speakers. And even more I would love to read about your thoughts and experience with German gender.
Any methods or strategies for learning gender you could share?

***

So that was it :). I hope you guys liked it and I’m curious for all your feedback in the comments.
I think, I’ll actually do a follow up this week and we’ll also do a little exercise. Till then, have a great time and stay positive.
I… I mean, mind set wise. Not… not the other positive.
Oh man, what a minefield.
Anyway, have a great week and see you next time.

References:

Doleschal, Ursula (2005) „Genus und Geschlecht: die Repräsentation der Geschlechter in der Grammatik“ in Frauen. Männer, hrsg. Von Tina Bahovec. Klagenfurt, Drava: 314-324Doleschal, Ursula (2002)

„Konzeptualisierung von Geschlecht und Sprachvergleich“ in, Gender-Forschung in der Slawistik von Van Leeuwen-Turnovcová, J. et al. Wiender Slawistischer Almanach, Sonderband 55. Wien: 177-186Koch, C. Sabine (2007)

„El Sol – die Sonne. Hat das grammatische Geschlecht von Objekten Implikationen für deren semantischen Gehalt?“ In Psychologische Rundschau, 58 (3). Hogefe Verlag Göttingen: 171-182Twain, Mark (2010) The Awful German Language. US-Botschaft, Berlin, Public Afairs. Berlin

further reading (on this blog)

How can I learn the noun gender (some more tips)

 

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cmilkman
cmilkman
1 year ago

My method consists of a lot of learning by heart. I just feel like that’s how native speakers learned it. Through seeing it thousands of times in thousands of different contexts. Never underestimate the power of repetition. I used spaced repetition software (Anki) and go through 20-30 different words per day. For each word, I try to know the gender and then create a simple sentence where I use the word in context in either the nominative, dative, or accusative with either der words, ein words, or no article at all. Very helpful for actually applying gender. Because your speech will be pretty sloppy if for each word you have to pause and think about:
1) gender,
2) how the adjective ending is affected by the gender,
3) how the adjective ending is affected by gender in relation to whether you’re using a die word, ein word, or no article at all
I think it’s useful to be creative like the article mentioned, but doing that for most words seems intimidating. For me, some words just “stick” pretty early on and others don’t stick. With Anki, I flag the ones that don’t stick after 4-5 repetitions and come up with a creative way of remembering them. For me, this seems to be the most efficent and practical method.

Ariel
Ariel
2 years ago

Hello! Just wanted to leave a thank you for Emanuel and all the Team Spirit for helping me get a membership. I’m just a begginer, but I hope to soon be more close to the community (: Vielen Dank! And if there’s someone from Brazil here, send me a message so we can talk!

Ilsasha
Ilsasha
2 years ago

Hey, This article is really helpful! I also wanted to thank Team Spirit and Emanuel for helping me get a 12 month membership. It will really help me to learn German! Thank you so much! You guys are great. I can’t wait to learn and be part of the German learning community!

kalamazoo
kalamazoo
2 years ago

The first tip isn’t helpful for us English speakers, because our native language doesn’t really have any grammatical gender to begin with. Beyond a few simple rules, gender in German is pretty much a slog no matter what! I can’t really imagine an orange talking to me too well, but I do find it helpful to try to keep very aware of gender when trying to read German, even when it’s not really needed to understand the text. Oddly, I notice that some of my friends whose native languages don’t have gender (Turkish, Chinese) who speak almost perfect English and have lived in the US for decades often still make minor errors in the use of ‘he’ and ‘she.’

The ‘weak masculine nouns’ are the ones that add extra ‘n’s here and there, like Herz or Junge. Another thing that native German speakers probably don’t need to learn anything about, while us English speakers are cudgeling our brains over it.

kalamazoo
kalamazoo
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It’s true that in German, using ‘sie’ and ‘er’ for inanimate objects is hard to get used to. “Mary got a new table. He is in the dining room.” And one of the troubles I had in Italian was that the adjective agreed with the noun in gender. “Mary put his new table in the dining room.” However, Italian gender is much easier than German gender!

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  kalamazoo

You have a leg up already, since you have experience with another language that has grammatical gender and declined adjectives. Getting your brain used to the idea that these concepts exist is a big part of the hurdle. The rest is about practice, lots of it, and patience. When you go over something enough times, it stops feeling weird and just seems normal to think of der Tisch/er, die Vase/sie, das Mädchen/es.

If it helps, you might try thinking of “er” as “masculine it.” “Sie” would be “feminine it” and “es” would be “neuter/neutral it.” Er and sie just happen to mean he and she in different contexts, but even English has lots of words with multiple meanings.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago

My trick for learning the gender of most of the basic words involves a lot of brute force and repetition. When I see an object or think of a word in English, I try to think of the article/word in German. Just for the words I use most in daily life. Then right away look it up on my phone to see if I got it right. I try to look at the plural too. At first I had to look up words about a million times, but it’s gotten easier with time. Only 50 times each word :)

Imagery helps a lot. An easy example, the moon is masculine, so maybe I would picture an astronaut walking on the moon. With some object pairs, you can come up with an NSFW memory trick based on their shapes, like der Schlüssel (key), die Schüssel (bowl). Similar for other words that rhyme but have opposite genders (der Mut, die Wut – courage is masculine and anger is feminine because, well, it’s a gender stereotype). Those are the examples that I’m not too embarrassed to admit to. It can get kind of crazy but it only has to work for you.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

What’s your NSFW memory trick for “die Wurst”? XD

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“Die Brust”, amazingly appropriately enough…

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Mind. Blown.

(I never really thought much about the gender of die Wurst, but Spanish does have words for….the thing that’s a euphemism for….that are feminine. Also never thought about that until now.)

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

“Die Zigarre” seems a little ironic too, at least since Freud. But I guess sometimes it’s (she’s??) just a cigar…

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Honestly, my wife and I have lost most interest in Netflix over the last few months. There’s just not much on there that appeals to us. We still have a subscription, but mostly for the kids. So far during the shutdown, we’ve had so many Skype/Zoom meetings in the evenings (five nights a week for me) that it’s hard to want to look at a screen on a free evening…

But maybe I’ll check it out. :)

Edwin
Edwin
2 years ago

Thank you for all of you who are supporting my German scholarship!

DEmberton
DEmberton
2 years ago

I think I’d be fluent in German now if it wasn’t for all the der/die/das nonsense ;-). I know it’s not everything, but it trips me up all the time and I hesitate and lose confidence in what I’m saying.

It’s not that I don’t know them; I know it’s der Baum, das Buch, die Wohnung – probably I get it right much more often than not, but using them with the article you’ve learned is not the battle. You associate the two words together in your head and it’s not that hard. The hard bit is the way the genders interact with everything else. To do any of the declination stuff, especially the 48 possible adjective endings you need to be able identify this inanimate thing as female and go on thinking of it as female and choose the appropriate set of grammar rules for female things that are different from male or neuter things (which sometimes are different from each other, and sometimes not). I can handle “die Wohnung” but to refer to it later as a she or her just makes no sense to my English brain. And having learned “die Wohnung” – “die Wohnung” and repeated it a million times to build that association sometimes it’s “der Wohnung”. Why German? Why?

Sorry for the rant.

dbayly
dbayly
2 years ago
Reply to  DEmberton

Agreed, demberton. My German friends say “oh, its doesn’t mtter if you get the gender wrong”, But it does, there are sentences that don’t make sense unless you realise that this der is a dative or a genitive cased female verb. And the fiddly details you mention that often don’t add meaning to the sentence, but – when gotten wrong – will cause a cognitive disconnect in your German audience.
Building on Slavicas point that natural gender and case Gender are two different entities; and that there is no logic to case gender ; I have concluded ha there probably once WAS a logic to it; but in a mindset we no longer share much with the early speakers of proto German. Discussing this with a German friend, she pointed out that German is importing words at a unprecedented rate currently, yet it somehow manages to assign case gender by some mysterious consensus means (mostly, there are exceptions apparently) . This tells me that there is a logic to it , but even the Germans themselves don’t know what it is.

Slavica
Slavica
2 years ago
Reply to  DEmberton

Absolutely…scrambling together all words in the right form to create a grammatically correct sentence is not easy with all the rules and exceptions is overwhelming.
Provided you know the gender of the noun, you have to figure out the right form for each word. Adjective declensions are only intimidating at first glance. When you think about it, you have either an -e or an -en ending. All nominatives are -e’s, all genitives and datives are -en’s and the only case where you need to be careful is the accusative: the der’s and the plurals have an -en adjective, and the das’s and the die’s have an -e adjective.
What I found helpful in learning adjective declensions, just as Berlingrabers mentioned, is sticking adjectives to the nouns. The challenge in my case is figuring out the gender.
And I totally agree, referring to inanimate things later in the text with a he or a she does feel a bit weird. This is where imagination helps.

cmilkman
cmilkman
1 year ago
Reply to  Slavica

Hmm…well adjective declensions also have the -er and -es options for certain “ein words” (like ein, kein, and all personal pronouns) in the nominative for masculine and in both nominative and accusative for neuter. Ein kluger Fuchs, Der kluge Fuchs, das schöne Mädchen, ein schönes Madchen, u.s.w. So not only does the adjective declension differ depending on case, gender, and plural, it also differs depending on which article you use (or if you use no article). And natives do all this flawlessly without even thinking about it. The subconscious of the mother tongue is truly something to be marveled at.

dbayly
dbayly
2 years ago

Just so you don’t think you got away with it – searching for everony pasta yields NO hits. You made that up ! :-)

dbayly
dbayly
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Photoshop? I went to the Barilla.com site, made sure I set country for Germany and searched for Everony. No hits

dbayly
dbayly
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

who knew flour, water and eggs mix could be so complicated ?

Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
Rohrkrepierer ‐ KOOK & HECKLER
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

die Nudel
die Buddel
der Strudel
der Pudel
das Rudel
Alles im diesen Fall des udels,

ist ein das. / ist gleichzeitig auch ein der
KUDDELMUDDEL!!

api
api
2 years ago

Danke für den tollen Artilkel, Emanuel und Slavica. Meine Muttersprache ist Japanisch, also wie Slavica erwähnt, gibt es keine Geschlecht des Nomen. Deswegen hat mich das Konzept des Geschlechts des Nomens ganz überrascht, als ich mich die Tatsache im Deutschkurs bestoßen habe.

Ich habe einige linguistische Frage: Bei der nordgermanischen und westgermanischen Sprachen (Niederländisch,Afrikaans, Schwedisch, Dänisch, Norwegisch, usw. )sind die Geschrechs des Nomen relativ gleiche wie in Deutsch? Bei alter Deutsch sind das Geschlecht fast wie in heute oder sich im Lauf der Zeit viel geändert? Und noch eine große Frage : warum überhaupt existirt des Geschlecht des Nomens in Deutsch und andere europäshcen Sprachen……?

Naja, die letzte Frage ist schon ziemlich grundsätzlich, troztdem bin ich ständig daran neugiering. Ich sollte es zwar mal im Internet erst nachshauen, doch fällt mir es noch schwierig…….

Slavica
Slavica
2 years ago
Reply to  api

Hallo :),
danke für dein Kommentar. Deine Fragen sind zwar sehr interessant. Sie sind aber leider nicht ganz einfach zu beantworten. Besonders die zweite Frage. Ich kann sehr gut nachvollziehen wie merkwürdig es sich anfühlt nicht-lebendigen Objekten ein “Geschlecht” zuzuordnen. Die Anzahl an Sprachen, die ein Genus aufweisen ist zwar vergleichsweise gering. Nichtsdestotrotz kann man irgendwelche Art von Kategorisierung in meisten Sprachen doch erkennen…als Beispiel, in Dyirbal (eine australische Sprache) werden Frauen, Feuer und gefährliche Dinge als eine Kategorie betrachtet (G. Lakoff, 1987, Women Fire and Dangerous Things). Und so können wir das Genus auch verstehen, als eine Art von Kategorisierung.
Japanisch ist übrigens eine wunderschöne Sprache :)))
Liebe Grüße,

al___eks
al___eks
2 years ago

as always, a great article. i can’t wait to start having conversations with all my household items

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  al___eks

thanks :)
and viel spaß. I’d be more careful though and try not to get carried away…now in times of social isolation :))
All best to you
Slavica

Lamb
Lamb
2 years ago

Anyone got a system for remembering the “weak” masculine nouns. These always confused me.

Lamb
Lamb
2 years ago

Bit sexists but works for me remembering the difference between die or der See. Mothers take their children to the seaside with bucket and spade and men take go fishing at the lake.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago

English does have a sort of “imaginative gender” too, although it’s not so pronounced as it probably is in languages with grammatical gender. I think it would be pretty common for Anglophones to think of the sun as more masculine and the moon more feminine, for example. Ships are classically referred to as “she.” You see different types of trees in literature personified in one gender direction or another, too – willows are more feminine, oaks more masculine. (That’s probably more idiosyncratic, though, depending on author.)

I do pretty well with gender in German, probably because I have a good memory in general. But I think getting sound combinations into my head is probably more helpful than imaginative stuff. Paying attention in stores is helpful – if you notice that it’s always “frische/haltbare/fettarme Milch” (or whatever), it’s easier to remember “die Milch.” Idioms are often helpful too: “auf den Geschmack kommen” can help you remember it’s “der Geschmack.”

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

excellent :) adding an adjective supports the imagination. Das rote Kleid is easier to remember than just das Kleid. You have a specific image in your head. Marketing slogans or billboard headlines are also helpful.

About ships being referred to as a “she”…I remember reading about this for my English class a very long time ago. I believe it has something to do with the emotional attachment seamen in the past have probably had to their ships. similar phenomenon today is people with their car :) (think about Christine from Stephen King)

Thanks for sharing anyway ;)
Slavica

Trevor
Trevor
2 years ago

One technique I learned from the book Fluent Forever was to create a visualization associated with each gender, and then when you learn the word, associate it with a specific visualization.

For instance, I envision the noun going up in flames for “der”, disappearing backwards in a puff of smoke for “das” and turning into water and falling to the ground for “die”. This combines color, elements and directionality into each gender. So, “der” is red – fire – upwards, “das” is grey – smoke – backwards, and “die” is blue – water – downwards.

With this sytem, to remember that “Reis” is “der Reis”, I envision a bowl of rice going up in flames; to remember “das Licht”, I might envision a light disappearing in smoke; and to remember “die Brücke”, I might envision a bridge turning to water and falling into a river.

I use a different set of visualizations than Fluent Forever, so use whatever works for you. But I’ve found this technique helpful. (Though sometimes that means I remember the gender and not the word itself–I have a picture in my mind of a flaming lawn, but had to look up as I was writing this “der Rasen”). :-)

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  Trevor

Hi Trevor,
thanks for sharing this. This is also a good method. It would be interesting to know how different people visualize abstract ideas :))
and don’t worry about not remembering the word. Learning gender is not that much about memorizing new words. It is rather about engraving the gender of the noun. In German, knowing just the word will not get you far. There will come the time when you will have to use it in a phrase with an adjective and the wrong gender could result in wrong grammar. In my case, it took some mental strain to reintroduce the gender concept for some notions. For me, the moon has been a female fantasy figure for a very long time. Then, I had to remember the face like patterns the moon sometimes has.
You are an English native speaker I suppose. Your advantage is that you start fresh by assigning gender to genderless items ;)
Good luck to you, and thanks again :)
Slavica

peterlobl
peterlobl
2 years ago

“Mark” Twain

Slavica
Slavica
2 years ago
Reply to  peterlobl

oops, :D,
thanks for the heads up
Sorry Mark

Elsa
Elsa
2 years ago

Hi,

Thank you very much, Slavica, for your contribution. I hope you don’t mind a few typo corrections, like I normally do for Emanuel :)
“I can’t remember our teacher mentioning we need to memorize the article with the new nouns. (To be fair, she probably has, but I have probably been daydreaming at the time” (needed to memorize; I had probably been daydreaming)
“There are som pretty bulletproof” (some)
“Iwill” (I will)
“die die Brücke” (one “die” too many)
“houghts and tipps” (thoughts and tips)
“some more tipps” (tips)

I have another two rules I use, but I don’t know how valid they are: I find it that most words starting with “ge” are neuter and then I memorise the exceptions, e.g. der Gedanke; I also find that most words ending in “e” are feminine, unless they end with “ee” (der Kaffee, der Tee), then I memorise the exceptions, e.g. der Gedanke (again!)

Probably these “rules” don’t have a leg to stand on and have only worked for me so far given my (still) reduced vocabulary. Please let me know what you think!

I really like the idea of assigning character traits to words and I’ll probably start doing that from now on… as I’m a visual learner, I’m going to start imagining things and objects in cartoon format and give them features, like I’ll imagine a bridge with big eyelashes and red lips and a river with a moustache or a pipe and so on… not sure what I’ll do for neuter, maybe picture them all as babies!

Oh, and thank you very much for the very useful table of rules worth learning!

BTW, is a coronavirus male or neuter? Whichever it is, I hate him/it!

Bis bald!

Bosko24
Bosko24
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

der/das Virus. zwei Article. Plural die Viren

barratt
barratt
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

There are a lot of nouns ending in -e which are not feminine. One common class is the “Ge-” class that you mentioned (das Gemüse, das Gelände, das Gebilde, der Gedanke, etc.) Another class is masculine nouns of the “-n” declension (masculine nouns that take an -n ending in all cases other than nominative), which most often refer to animals or male persons (der Junge, der Bote, der Affe, der Löwe, der Bube, etc…). A third class is nouns of the “adjective” class that takes endings similar to adjectives (der Angestellte, der Studierende, der Alte, …)

It is true that small, tangible, inanimate objects that end with -e tend to be feminine (die Karte, die Lampe, die Tasche, die Tasse, …) but I think of this as more of a “tendency” than a rule.

nichtverstehen
nichtverstehen
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

There is this fascinating podcast episode specifically about the gender of “virus”, how the gender evolved and what the difference in meaning is:
https://www.belleslettres.eu/content/deklination/virus-genus.php

It’s pretty fun (even quoting Ovid writing about Viruses in Latin). I didn’t get 100% of the speech, but it seems that the speaker is convinced of a strong link between the grammatical gender and the meaning.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  Elsa

Hi Elsa, thank you so much for your comment and for correcting me.
Trying to recognise patterns and noticing the exceptions is already a huge step forward. Keep it up ;)
Coronavirus is out of this world, genderless :)) and hopefully will disappear soon.

barratt
barratt
2 years ago

Nice article! I have one comment about your rules. The rule about -um actually has some exceptions (der Reichtum, der Irrtum, …) There are some additional rules about endings that I have found helpful, such as:

Feminine: -ik, -anz, -enz, -ei (as suffix), -ur (usually)
Masculine: -ling, -auch, -ig, -eig, -ismus
Neuter: -ment

Most -en nouns that are NOT derived from verbs are masculine (der Garten, der Reifen, der Magen), but there are some exceptions like das Kissen. Nouns derived from Latin and ending in -us are usually masculine (der Fokus, der Radius), but not always. (For example, most people say “das Virus”, which I find confusing…)

barratt
barratt
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Also I think -ie is always feminine. I forgot about that one. (I can’t think of any exceptions, but it’s dangerous to generalize.)

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  barratt

Same for “-ei”, as long as it isn’t a compound meaning “egg”, right?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Haha yeah. I guess “nouns with -ei as a suffix” would be more accurate?

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  barratt

Duden has “das Virus” as the default/preferred version – “der Virus” is common outside medical circles and isn’t considered wrong, but “das” seems to be a bit more correct. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure the Latin word “virus” is neuter too, despite what the ending looks like.

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

“Virus” is a very interesting example. It comes from Latin and the -us nouns in Latin are masculine. In German however it has been “neutralized”.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
2 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Wikipedia is pretty sure it’s second-declension neuter in Latin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plural_form_of_words_ending_in_-us#Virus

Slavica
Slavica
2 years ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

now I am not saying that Wikipedia is wrong, but the second declension contains masculine nouns ending in -us and neuter nouns ending in -um (Wikipedia itself says so https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Latin_second_declension).
This table here shows the same http://amchslatin.weebly.com/nouns.html In Latin class we learned that -us nouns are masculine.
And why is suddenly virus a neuter noun, I have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is a mass noun … Got to do some research there.
Thanks anyway. I have learned something new :)

Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago
Reply to  barratt

Hi Barratt, thanks for your comment.
You are right, the neuter -um nouns in German are usually the ones originating from Latin (-um is a suffix for neuter nouns in Latin.).
As you have well noted German has many -um nouns with different backgrounds, and therefore the -um ending is probably not that reliable. I am sorry, I should have mentioned that.
Thanks for the heads up anyway.
Take care

Slavica
Slavica
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes, it’s me…sorry :)

stosselgg
stosselgg
2 years ago

Gute Daumenregeln, ich habe viele von ihnen selbst entdeckt, aber hier einige neue gelernt.

Jake
Jake
2 years ago

The rule that infinitives as nouns use das is really useful, but I recently learned an interesting wrinkle: der Tropfen. The verb tropfen means to trickle or drip, so I believe das Tropfen refers to an ongoing trickle or dripping, whereas der Tropfen refers to an individual drop. Does anyone know of any other tricky verbs as nouns?

barratt
barratt
2 years ago
Reply to  Jake

das Reifen = ripening/maturation
der Reifen = (car) tire

das Gefallen = pleasure, enjoyment
der Gefallen = a favor (that you do for someone)

Es war mir ein großes Gefallen, dir einen Gefallen zu tun. :-)

barratt
barratt
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Sorry für den forcierten Beispielsatz. :-) “Vergnügen” erinnert mich übrigens immer an die im Jahr 1990 in den USA erschienene VW-Werbung, in der die Firma es versucht hat, den Amis das Wort “Fahrvergnügen” beizubringen. :-D

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CESVgaeD-nI

Jake
Jake
2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I already mentioned das Tropfen und der Tropfen :). Here’s a timely one: der Husten for cough.

Capital_ Ash_
Capital_ Ash_
2 years ago

wundervoller Artikel wie immer! Heute bin ich Mitglied dieser Community geworden… und ich moechte mich bei allen bedanken, die gespendet haben, um Leuten wie mir zu helfen. ich bin dafuer sehr dankbar!