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Recently, while learning German I came across the articles

der, die and das.

which are used to indicate the gender of a noun.

So, categorizing the words into masculine, feminine and neutral does not seem to be straightforward.

What are the rules for categorization?

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Gigili is right, don't try to categorize them. Just learn them by heart. –  Em1 May 26 '12 at 19:16
    
Frustrated with German articles? You are not alone... –  Jan Jun 11 '12 at 16:05
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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There's no rules as long as I know, according to the Wikipedia article about German grammar:

In addition, German assigns gender to nouns without natural gender, in fairly arbitrary fashion. For example, the three common pieces of cutlery all have different genders: das Messer ("knife") is neuter, die Gabel ("fork") is feminine, and der Löffel ("spoon") is masculine.

Also, see this question: How to learn noun genders better?

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So how people remember about the gender of nouns! Is it only through experience one will be able to identify them perfectly ? –  sat May 26 '12 at 19:16
    
@sat The article also gives a rule of thumb, how to determine about 80% of the articles. But be aware that there are exceptions which breaks the rule. –  Em1 May 26 '12 at 19:20
    
@sat: See the question I linked to. –  Gigili May 26 '12 at 19:21
    
@sat But I've one good news. If you know the article in nominative you can derive the article in the other cases. :) –  Em1 May 26 '12 at 19:24
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@MonsterTruck That's called 'Sprachgefühl' (And it's indeed an English word ^^) –  Em1 May 27 '12 at 7:50
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There are very few hard rules, but I think the following don't have exceptions:

  • Words ending in -chen or -lein are always neutral (das Tellerchen, das Mädchen, das Tischlein, das Männlein)
  • Words ending in -heit or -keit are always feminine (die Einheit, die Freundlichkeit, die Heiterkeit, die Traurigkeit)
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There are many rules which nouns have which gender, based on ending or meaning (there are some exception, but they will give you at least big propability of successfull guess).

An example I've quickly found:

http://requiem.hubpages.com/hub/The-German-Language-Masculine-Nouns

http://requiem.hubpages.com/hub/The-German-Language-Feminine-Nouns

http://www.simplegerman.com/2010/10/neutral-nouns-in-german/

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There are some rules of thumb, but there are so much exceptions of those rules, that the best way is to do what every german native speaker does: Learn for each noun separately what gender it has.

There are even some nouns whos gender depends on the region where you use the word. An example: The english word "plate" is "Teller" in german. In Swizzerland, South Tyrol and southern parts of Germany it is neuter ("das Teller"). In other parts of Germany, in Austria, Luxembourg and in Belgium it is male ("der Teller").

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But on the other hand, a different gender can also specify a different meaning, as in "der Kiefer" (a bone) vs. "die Kiefer" (a tree) or "der See" (lake) vs. "die See" (sea). And to make it even more complicated, sometimes even the pronounciation can differ: "Der Service" (spoken like the English word "Service", meaning, well, service) vs. "Das Service" (spoken like the French word, meaning a set of plates, cups etc.). –  celtschk Jun 12 '12 at 19:06
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