The gender of German nouns is often related to the word ending

Grammatical gender is one of the difficult aspects of learning the German language which has not only two but even three different genders.

In German, for instance, “der Löffel” (spoon) is masculine, “die Gabel” (fork) is feminine and “das Messer” (knife) is neuter.

At first sight, German grammatical gender seems completely random.

However, there are some heuristic rules, or patterns which can help predict the grammatical gender of German nouns based on their endings.

Basically, by looking at the ending of a German word, it is possible to determine if the word is more likely to be masculine, feminine or neuter.

German word endings mostly associated with the Feminine grammatical gender

Endings with helpful patterns:

-ie

German nouns ending in “-ie” often have the feminine grammatical gender

As a general rule, German words which are borrowed from Ancient Greek and end in “-ie” nearly always have the feminine gender.

Consider, for instance, the compounds involving the Greek “logos” (science)

The same holds for “die Astronomie” (astronomy: from Ancient Greek “nomos”) or “die Utopie” (utopy: from “topos” = ‘place’) among others.

Exceptions include “das Knie” (knee) which does not derive from Ancient Greek course.

-ei

German nouns ending in “-ei” often have the feminine grammatical gender

Words, which end on “-ei”, are feminine when they combine an occupation with this ending.

Obviously, not each of these three occupations is equally serious; but its potential for mockery is part of what makes the beauty of this use of “-ei”. (Besides the fact that it always produces feminine nouns.)

-in

German nouns ending in “-in” often have the feminine grammatical gender

German nouns ending with “-in” are feminine, if they refer to a person-noun which can take both genders: feminine and masculine. (For the masculine counterparts see below.)

For example:

-heit

The use of the suffix “-heit” generally produces German nouns which are feminine

German nouns which are formed from an adjective and the suffix “-heit” generally have the feminine gender. Here are some examples:

Compare also “die Mehrheit” (majority) or “die Reinheit” (purity).

Notice that these nouns represent abstract concepts rather than concrete objects.

An exception is “das Holzscheit” (log of wood), for example. But its etymology is different: it is not formed as the suffix “-heit” added to a German word. Instead, it is a compound noun formed by combining das Holz (wood) together with the noun “das Scheit” (log). Also, it denotes no abstract but a very concrete object.

-schaft

German nouns ending in “-schaft” often have the feminine grammatical gender

The German suffix “-schaft” resembles the English suffixes “-ship” and “-hood”. For example, “die Eltern” (parents) with the suffix “‎-schaft” produces “die ‎Elternschaft” (parenthood)

German nouns which are produced using the suffix “-schaft” typically have the feminine gender. Here are some examples:

Notice that “der Federschaft” is masculine. However, produced using the suffix “-schaft”, instead it is a compound of the nouns “die Feder” and “der Schaft” .

-ung

German nouns ending in “-ung” often have the feminine grammatical gender

The German suffix “-ung” forms nouns from verbs. German nouns formed through this pattern generally have the feminine grammatical gender.

This pattern does not apply to German nouns ending in “-ung” when they are not formed as a verb plus the suffix “-ung”. For example:

-keit

The use of the suffix “-keit” generally produces German nouns which are feminine

The German suffix “-keit” is an alternative form of the German suffix “-heit”. It, too, turns adjectives into nouns referring to abstract concepts.

As a general rule, most German nouns formed with the suffix “-keit” have the feminine gender. Here are some examples:

-ik

German nouns ending in “-ik” often have the feminine grammatical gender

Most German nouns ending in “-ik” have the feminine grammatical gender. Here are some examples:

Some of the exceptions to this pattern include:

A possible explanation is that “der Ozean” (the ocean) is masculine.

-tät

German nouns ending in “-tät” often have the feminine grammatical gender

German nouns ending in “-tät” are generally borrowed either from Latin or from French. In both cases, the original word is generally a Latin noun ending in “-tās”.

Latin nouns ending in “-tās” typically have the feminine gender and so do German nouns ending in “-tät”.

Here are some examples:

-tur

German nouns ending in “-tur” often have the feminine grammatical gender

Although German is not a Latin-based language, there are still a number of Latin-derived German vocabulary words.

Most German nouns ending in “-tur” are feminine. Often, they are borrowings from Latin words ending in “-tūra” which typically are also feminine.

Here are some examples:

One notable exception to this pattern is “das Abitur” (end of high school exam). The explanation is that “Abitur” is a shortening of “Abiturium”, and hence the neuter gender.

-tion

German nouns ending in “-tion” often have the feminine grammatical gender

Some other examples of German nouns ending in “-tion” are: “die Reaktion” and “die Produktion”.

German word endings mostly associated with the Masculine grammatical gender

Endings with helpful patterns:

-er -ant

German nouns ending in “-er”, “-ner” and “-ant” often have the masculine grammatical gender

Common nouns, which can take on both genders, are marked masculine by the endings “-er”, “-ner” or “ant.” (The feminine ending “-in” functions as its counterpart—see above.)

The first group (“-er”) includes:

To the second group (“-ner”) belong:

And to the third group (“-ant”):

-eich -ich

German nouns ending in “-eich” and “-ich” often have the masculine grammatical gender

Examples for “-eich” include

But “das Reich” (empire) constitutes a notable exception.

Masculine nouns ending on “-ich” comprise “der Teppich” (carpet) or “der Strich” (stroke).

-ling

German nouns ending in “-ling” and often have the masculine grammatical gender

The suffix “-ling” is rather ancient and the words it definitively marks as masculine most of the times may not be those most frequently employed,

For instance,

-ismus

German nouns ending in and “-ismus” often have the masculine grammatical gender

In German all -isms are masculine and end in “-ismus”.

Examples include:

-or

German nouns ending in “-or” and often have the masculine grammatical gender

Nouns with the ending “-or” are very often derived from Latin and bear the masculine gender.

For example,

Notable exceptions include the neuter noun “das Tor” (gate) which, however, is not derived from Latin.

But “das Labor” (laboratory) is, but it is still neuter and not masculine

German word endings mostly associated with the Neuter grammatical gender

Endings with helpful patterns:

-chen -lein

German nouns ending in “-chen” and -lein” often have the neuter grammatical gender

The German suffix “-chen” is used to create a diminutive form.

For example: “der Brot” (bread) plus the diminutive suffix‎ “-chen” produces “das Brötchen” (bun, or bread roll)

The German suffix “-lein” is also used to create a diminutive form of a noun.

For example: “der Engel” (angel) plus “-lein” results in “das Engelein” (little angel)

Notice: which noun goes with which diminutive seems not to be strictly determined. In the case of “Engel” (angel), for example, both variants—“das Engelchen” and “das Engelein”—are fine.

-nis

German nouns ending in “-nis” often have the neuter grammatical gender

The German suffix “-nis” is used especially for producing nouns from verbs.

For example:

There are many exceptions, however, which include “die Erkenntnis” (insight) or “die Erlaubnis” (permission), derived from the verbs “erkennen” (recognise) and “erlauben” (permit). They are feminine.

-tum -um

German nouns ending in “-tum” or “-um” often have the neuter grammatical gender

“-um” is the suffix for the neuter gender in Latin language. Latin words adopted in the German language, which thereby are also neuter, include:

In most cases these nouns represent abstract entities. Contrast the following exceptions: “der Raum” (room) or “der Traum” (dream); neither has Latin roots and “Raum” is very concrete.

The German suffix “-tum” can be used to turn adjectives into abstract nouns which are neuter.

Notice the exception: “der Reichtum” (wealth)

“-tum” may also transform nouns into something more abstract:

Another example is “das Schrifttum” (literature).

-en

German nouns ending in “-en” often have the neuter grammatical gender

If a verb is transformed into a noun (activity), then it is always neuter. Any verb in the infinitive, which ends on “-en”, can be nominalised by applying the determinate article “das”.

For example

-o -ma

German nouns ending in “-o” and “-ma” often have the neuter grammatical gender

Words ending on “-o” or “-ma” are neuter, as many of these derive from Ancient Greek words.

Concerning “-or” see

Notice “das Büro” (office), which derives from the French ‘bureau’.

For “-ma” consider

However, note the important exception of “die Firma” (enterprise).

-ment

German nouns ending in “-ment” often have the neuter grammatical gender

The ending “-ment” is mostly reserved for words borrowed from the Latin language and is often associated with the neuter Gender.

Conclusion

These patterns may help you with handling the three German genders (masculine, feminine and neuter).

Let us conclude by suggesting from the producing speaker’s point of view.

Next time, when you are talking German, why not try using a nominalised activity (like “das Arbeiten” = working) in casual talk? Now you know which gender these have as a rule.

For more on German vocabulary, have a look at this list of the 1000 most common German words.