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Lesson Transcript


Michael: How can a word be masculine or feminine?
Igor: And how do I recognize noun gender?
Michael: At GermanPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Karen Lee and Jessica Jager are here to help explain. In the following situation, Karen Lee is at a flower shop with her friend Bertha Becker. She says to the clerk,
"Look! A red rose and a white lily of the valley."
Karen Lee: Schau mal! Eine rote Rose und ein weißes Maiglöckchen.
Karen Lee: Schau mal! Eine rote Rose und ein weißes Maiglöckchen.
Jessica Jager: So schön!
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Schau mal! Eine rote Rose und ein weißes Maiglöckchen.
Michael: "Look! A red rose and a white lily of the valley."
Jessica Jager: So Schön!
Michael: "So pretty!"

Lesson focus

Michael: Have you noticed that the nouns
Igor: eine rote Rose
Michael: and
Igor: ein weißes Maiglöckchen
Michael: Are preceded by different articles? This is because, in German, every noun has a gender. German distinguishes not only between masculine and feminine gender, like in the dialogue above, but also uses a neutral gender.
Other Indo-European languages have gendered nouns, too. But the number of grammatical genders present in the language may differ from language to language. For example, while German recognizes three genders, Romance languages use only the masculine and feminine genders for nouns.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let’s take a closer look at both responses.
Do you remember how Karen says,
“Look! A red rose and a white lily of the valley?”
[Pause 4 seconds]
Igor: Schau mal! Eine rote Rose und ein weißes Maiglöckchen.
Michael: Here, the indefinite article
Igor: eine
Michael: indicates that the noun “rose” is feminine; the indefinite article
Igor: ein
Michael: indicates, that the noun
Igor: Maiglöckchen
Michael: might be either masculine or neuter, because either of these two genders is marked by
Igor: ein
Michael: when the noun is used in the nominative case. In this particular case, the noun ending
Michael: -chen
Michael: indicates that the noun
Igor: Maiglöckchen
Michael: is of neuter grammatical gender.
Are there any more such hints? How do we recognize a noun's grammatical gender?
Michael: Well, Mark Twain wrote in his 1880 published essay, “The Awful German Language,” "Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution, so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart.”
Igor: And this is true to an extent.
Michael: There is no specific system that applies to every noun. Nevertheless, there are some ways to recognize the gender of certain nouns. One of the ways to recognize gender is by looking at the ending of a noun. Endings such as
Igor: -heit
Michael: Like in
Igor: Freiheit
Michael: The noun will be, with a one hundred percent guarantee, feminine. There are other endings like this, that will give you a hint about the gender of the noun. Let’s have a look at some of them. Remember, in these cases, it’s not always a one hundred percent guarantee to recognize the feminine gender.
Igor: -e
Michael: As in
Igor: Die Erde
Michael: Meaning “earth.” Next is
Igor: -ie
Michael: As in
Igor: Die Ökologie
Michael: Ecology
Igor: -ik
Michael: As in
Igor: Die Linguistik
Michael: Linguistics
Igor: -nis
Michael: As in
Igor: Die Erlaubnis
Michael: Permission. For masculine nouns, we have endings such as
Igor: -ismus
Michael: Like in
Igor: der Tourismus
Michael: or "tourism." Or one another masculine suffix is
Michael: like
Igor: der Professor
Michael: Meaning “the professor.” Another one is
Igor: -ist
Michael: As in
Igor: der Pianist
Michael: “The pianist.” Next is
Igor: -ing
Michael: As in
Igor: der Lehrling
Michael: Meaning “apprentice.” And then we have typical suffixes for neuter, such as,
Igor: --tum
Michael: Like in,
Igor: Das Altertum
Michael: Or "antiquity." Another neuter ending is
Igor: -ment
Michael: As in,
Igor: Das Monument
Michael: “The monument.”
Also, the natural gender might be an indicator of the grammatical gender. So, for example, the word for man,
Igor: Der Mann,
Michael: will be masculine due to the natural gender of men. But you can’t rely on this since there are many exceptions to this rule. Let’s take women for instance. While the word for woman,
Igor: Die Frau,
Michael: Is feminine, the word for a girl
Igor: Das Mädchen
Michael: Is neuter.
The rule of endings pointing out the gender is more important than the natural gender. In this case, the word is a diminutive form of
Igor: Die Magd.
Michael: All diminutives ending with the suffixes
Igor: und -lein
Michael: Are always neuter, no matter the original grammatical or natural gender.
Also, German doesn’t distinguish genders in the plural form, and the article always remains
Igor: Die
Michael: So if we take the German word for “tree,” which is masculine in the singular,
Igor: Der Baum
Michael: It loses the gender and the article transforms if we change it into the plural.
Igor: Die Bäume
Michael: Because there are so many groups and German has no general pattern for genders, it's best to learn nouns and their articles together, but you can always use the endings as an orientation.
Michael: Now let’s listen again to how Karen says,
"Look! A red Rose and a white lily of the valley!"
[pause 4 seconds]
Igor: Schau mal! Eine rote Rose und ein weißes Maiglöckchen!
Michael: Karen uses the indefinite feminine article
Igor: eine
Michael: And the indefinite neuter article
Igor: ein
Michael: Which play the same role as definite articles
Igor: die
Michael: and
Igor: das
Michael: in indicating the noun gender. Whether you want to use a definite or indefinite article, the gender of the noun remains the same.
Michael: So far we have learned that there is no specific pattern for recognizing the gender of nouns in German. However, there are many small hints on gender, but you can’t avoid learning some nouns and their articles by heart.
Expansion / Contrast
Michael: You might also come across German words that are spelled the same way, but have different articles. Those are called homonyms. Identical words with different meanings. In German, those words can have different genders. Those words also have a different plural form. I know this might sound scary, but actually the grammatical gender might help you to identify the meaning of the word!
Let’s take, for instance
Igor: Band
Michael: This word exists with all three articles. If we take the masculine form,
Igor: Der Band, die Bände
Michael: It translates to “book.” If we look at the feminine form
Igor: Die Band, die Bands
Michael: The meaning will be the same, as the English noun “band,” since this word comes actually from English. And the neuter form is,
Igor: Das Band, die Bänder
Michael: Meaning “tape” or “ribbon.”
Cultural Insight
Michael: German has a long history of including loanwords into the German language, mostly from Greek, Latin, French, and in recent history, English. Those words can get tricky. Most of them are classified as only one gender, like
Igor: Das Handy
Michael: But some of those loanwords exist with two different genders. For instance, the English word “Level” may be
Igor: Das Level
Michael: Or
Igor: Der Level
Michael: Even words that have been integrated into the German language for so long that most native speakers wouldn’t recognize these as loanwords, can have two articles, for example
Igor: Das Marzipan und der Marzipan.
Michael: And both versions are officially accepted in the German language. Also, the gender may vary from region to region. So for instance in Berlin the majority of the native speakers might use one article, while in Frankfurt people might use a different one.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We’re here to answer them!
Igor: Tschüsschen!
Michael: See you soon!

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