German Nouns – Explanation and Examples

Nomen im Deutschen – Erklärungen und Beispiele

German nouns are a fundamental element of German, as nouns are basically of every language. Different from the English language, German nouns have grammatical gender. So, they can be divided into three kinds:

  • A masculine gender
  • A feminine gender
  • A neutral gender

But we wouldn’t talk about German grammar if there wasn’t a lot more difficult than just that. On the one hand-side, German nouns change their forms depending on their grammatical case, on the other hand-side they change whether they are singular or plural.

Before we come to a more detailed explanation of German nouns, I have some important facts about them:

German nouns are, as a rare exception among the different languages on this earth, capitalized. That means: They are written with a capital letter at the beginning of the word.

In many cases, German nouns are so called compound nouns. So, they consist of two or more smaller nouns sticked together.

Well, articles in German always come together with their nouns. To get a better idea of that, just have a look at our text about German articles!
As we cleared up some basics, let’s now go to some details about German nouns!

Declension, Singular and Plural

Deklination, Singular und Plural

So, as already mentioned above, German nouns vary in their form depending on their grammatical case. Of course, you already know the different cases in German. We’ve got nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative.

It is a bit confusing when you compare it to English, where actually no cases exist. Nevertheless it is no big deal getting into German cases and the connected German nouns when you put some effort in it!

Well, let’s start right ahead with some tables that show us how the German noun “der Mann” (the man), “die Frau” (the woman) and “das Bild” (the picture) vary. As you can easily see on the masculine, feminine and neuter article “der”, “die” and “das”, we have masculine, feminine and neuter nouns. Of course, it is singular, although I will show you their different plural forms as well.

Of course, It might seem to you that the gender of a noun varies completely randomly. But here is some good news: Luckily, there are certain rules that determine whether a noun is masculine, feminine or neuter. Of course, there are exceptions, as you can find them in every language – don’t care too much and have a look at the following guidelines.

Wordendings like -or, -ling, -smus or -ig are nearly every time masculine.
Examples: Der Rotor (the rotor), der Liebling (the favorite), der Egoismus (the egotism), der Honig (the honey)

Wordendings like -ung-keit-schafttät-ik-tion-heit or -ei are feminine.
Examples: die Beleidigung (the insult), die Beständigkeit (the stability), die Kundschaft (the clientele), die Banalität (the banality), die Romantik (the romance), die Deklination (the declination), die Schönheit (the beauty) and die Schreinerei (the carpenter’s workshop)

Wordendings like  -chen-ma-um-ment-lein or -tum are neuter.
Examples: das Mädchen (the girl), das Enigma (the enigma), das Judentum (the judaism), das Firmament (the firmament) are neuter.

And here you have some general tricks and rules for declension:

  • In case you have given the nominative singular, genitive singular, and nominative plural of a noun, it should be no problem for you to determine its declension.
  • Mostly, all singular forms for feminine nouns are the same!
  • In a great number of cases, German nouns in their Dative and Accusative forms do not take declension.

Compund Nouns

Zusammengesetzte Nomen

Finally, we reached a rather funny part of German nouns – the compound nouns! This kind of German nouns can actually be compound in unlimited numbers. Due to this fact, surrealistically-long nouns are created. Here are some examples I found on Wikipedia:

“Rinderkennzeichnungs- und Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz”
– which basically means “Cattle Marking and Beef Labelling Supervision Duties Delegation Law”, ia the name of a law passed in the state of  Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the year 1999.

Another, and though really well-known, compound noun is:
Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft, which means “Danube Steamboat Shipping Company”. That’s a company that really exsited in the year 1829.

Well, some explanation of compound nouns:

Compared to the English language, German nouns, well, compound nouns are always written in one single word. In addition, we have a grammatical phenomenon: the so-called “Fugen-s”.

Here, many compound nouns develop a “s” between their actual stem-nouns, although there should not be one originally. Sometimes, it’s their genitive “s”, but in many case, the “Fugen-s” develops in German nouns that don’t have a genitive “s”. Of course, the “Fugen-s” in German nouns is not always necessary, nevertheless, there are many words that do not work without it. Here are some examples I found here:

  • Hochzeitskleid – wedding dress
  • Liebeslied – love song
  • Abfahrtszeit – time of departure
  • Arbeitsamt – employment agency

Exercises

Übungen

Finally, we have reached the last part of this article where you can prove the German skills you have just learned. In the following, you will see some phrases that you should complete with the correct terms. Once you have filled all the gaps, just click on the “correct” button and you can see your errors and the correct results. Good luck and .. auf Wiedersehen!

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