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How can I learn noun genders better?

A key thing I struggled with in German was the use of die, der and das. I vaguely understand that one means masculine, one means feminine and the other means else(?).

Do I need to learn which of these belongs to each noun individually? Or is there some kind of pattern that can help me use these correctly when saying things like:

the house
the car

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Keep in mind that this is only a grammatical gender. They could as well be named foo, bar and baz for all the connection they have with human genders. –  deceze Jun 16 '11 at 4:26
The title is too vague, please edit to be more precise. –  adolf garlic Jun 16 '11 at 8:53
You should learn each Noun with its article and the audio memory is your friend. I am using iPhone application DieDerDas. Here is the lite online version –  Aleš Kotnik May 26 '12 at 18:54
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marked as duplicate by starblue, Takkat, Phira, RegDwight Jun 16 '11 at 11:41

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2 Answers

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Unfortunately you do pretty much have to learn them word by word. There are no 100% reliable rules but there are some useful rules of thumb that can help, for instance:

  • Some word patterns tend to have a predictable gender. For example, nouns derived from a verb and ending -ung tend to be feminine, such as die Erzählung or die Entschuldigung. But beware other -ung words like der Schwung.
  • Diminutives (ending -chen or -lein) are almost always neuter (das Mädchen, das Fräulein, etc.) even when (as in both of those cases) the meaning might lead us to expect a feminine noun.
  • Words adopted from other languages tend to adopt the gender of their native German synonym. So you sometimes see das Girl, the same neuter gender as das Mädchen. One of my favourites is Single: die Single is a 9" vinyl record (like die Platte), der Single is an unmarried man, and das Single is a singles match (e.g. in tennis, like das Spiel).

I'm sure other people can add other helpful guidelines below.

I always compare this to pronunciation in English. In German, pronunciation is phonetic and very preditable (e.g. -au- is always preferred the same way) whereas in English it's very unpredictable and has to be learnt word by word (cough, though, through, bought, etc.). The flip side is that in English we don't have grammatical gender and our word for 'the' is very simple (it's 'the' :), whereas in German the gender has to be learn by rote. You regularly hear small German children being corrected on their noun genders in just the same way English-speaking kids have their pronunciation corrected.

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Der, die, das are definite articles. You decide which you have to use depending on the gender of the noun. In the German language there are three genders:

  1. masculine -> der
  2. feminine -> die
  3. neutral -> das

For some nouns it is obvious which gender they are:

  • die Frau - the woman
  • der Mann - the man
  • das Auto, das Haus - the car, the house

But other times it is not so obvious:

  • das Mädchen - the girl
  • der Tisch - the table
  • die Tasche - the bag

So you have almost no other choice but to learn the gender of the noun along with the noun.

There is some more discussion about this topic in this question.

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Learning each noun along with its gender seems like the only strategy.. That's a shame. Thanks for your answer. –  Marty Jun 16 '11 at 4:17
It's not completely random, and native German speakers have a quite good sense what the gender of a word is, even if they haven't heard the word before. However this doesn't always work and it seems also not trivial to express this intuition as a set of rules. –  user12889 Jun 16 '11 at 4:27
As a native German speaker, I cannot remember that I ever had to learn a set of rules to determine the gender of a noun. I learn more about the German language now, that I observe others that learn it. I did not want to give @Marty a false sense of hope by pretending that there is a concise set of rules ;-). And after all, learning the gender of a noun is not that bad... der Leiter, die Leiter, der Rost, das Rost... I have great respect for people who choose to learn German. –  bjoernz Jun 16 '11 at 4:54
Why is it obious that Auto and Haus are neutral? I think it is not. You just have to learn it. –  bernd_k Jun 16 '11 at 5:28
I think it's "obvious" because they are things and things are supposed to be neutral. In any case, because there are so many exceptions you could argue that no gender is obvious. –  musiKk Jun 16 '11 at 6:54
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