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I want a rough estimate of the percentage of nouns that belongs to each gender category

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up vote 17 down vote accepted

According to a footnote in this study (Warning: PDF file):

The distribution of the three genders in German is as follows. There are 4164 monomorphemic nouns listed in the CELEX database (Baayen, Piepenbrock, & Gulikers, 1995). Fifty-one of these have multiple genders (e.g., der See [the lake]vs. die See [the sea]). Of the remaining 4113 entries, 1758(42.74%) have masculine gender, 1567 (38.10%) have feminine gender, and 788 (19.16%) are neuter

which means you can roughly say that 40% are feminine, 40% are masculine and 20% are neuter

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An interesting addendum (or extension to all words) to idober's answer:

If you assume that none of these three categories is favoured, and you look at the distribution of articles used, you get a similar result:

masculine 47%
feminine 40%
neuter 13%

Now this is very rough, because you only take into account "der,die,das" while "die" is used in more feminine inflections than "der". There are more inaccuracies, but the rough picture is a nice estimate, I believe.

However, I find it interesting that you get a result that is very close to the study based on CELEX data.

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Won't counting only articles get you misleading data, because die is used for all plurals, der can be masculine nominative or feminine dative/genitive, and dem and des can be either masculine or neuter? – user2013 Feb 7 '12 at 22:55
Yes. I even pointed this out in my answer! However, it's an indicator for what you can expect. It is to be taken with extreme caution, though. I think this leads to the question: "What's the distribution of cases?" – bitmask Feb 7 '12 at 23:03
Distribution of cases would be interesting. I'd expect mostly nominative & accusative, a smaller amount of dative, and very little genitive (especially in spoken or informal contexts). – user2013 Feb 7 '12 at 23:23
@userunknown: Surely they are. However, my assumption was, that a word wouldn't be used more often simply because it is masculine (I even highlighted this assumption). Under this assumption, the number of uses in texts should match the number of words in the dictionary. – bitmask Feb 8 '12 at 11:12
@userunknown: No I am not. However, my choice of words might have been a bit ambiguous there :) – bitmask Feb 9 '12 at 0:53

I have been self-studying German by reading the German press for the past 27 months. In the process, I'm writing out almost all unfamiliar German words, including nouns. As of May 10, 2016, there are 23.000 words in my German word list. Today I counted the nouns in my word list and looked into their gender distribution.

It turned out that my list contains around 10.375 nouns, of which about 44% are feminine, 36% are masculine, and 19% are neutral. 47 nouns can be used with any of two genders (e.g. der/das Kalkül or die/das Soja) and Joghurt can be used with either of the three genders: der/die/das Joghurt

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My hat is off to you. That's dedication! – Marakai May 10 at 1:44
Although for the aim of this question it's an irrelevant percentage: Kalkül cannot be used with two genders. It's two words: Kalkül in der Funktionalkalkül is not the same word as in ins Kalkül ziehen. So is Moment: neutrum is the physical quantity, masculine it's Augenblick. Or even Partikel. – c.p. May 10 at 6:25
If you only write out uncommon nouns, I would almost expect a skewed result towards feminine since many of the nominalised adjectives have feminine genus and they tend to be ‘unusual’. – Jan May 10 at 9:16

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