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Talking about masculine nouns, German has the three categories weak/strong/mixed. Then the strong one is divided into three classes for the plural. A noun is placed into a particular category/class according to its nominative singular ending. But there are tricky examples where this is not true. "Der Bauer" follows the mixed declension even though it ends in -er, which is the ending for the first strong class. I am asking whether Germans experience uncertainty when they need to use a word like this. I understand that whenever you learn a word as a native speaker, you put all of its metalinguistic background into your brain automatically, but what about words that you maybe hear for the first time in your life?

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In one word: Yes. - In more words, 'yes' if we know the gender of the word. A few words do have a different gender as most German believe. –  Em1 Jun 12 '13 at 8:24
    
Sometimes I also wonder if English people also have a problem with that plural fish when they see several distinguishable entities of them... but I can figure out their feel for language when I compare it to the German das Vieh (cattle) –  falkb Jun 12 '13 at 12:54

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When children learn to speak you can notice for a little while they tend to intuitively use declension patterns they already know. For instance, plural (of das Haus) die Häuser could be tried with die Häusern, I mean suffix n is a favourite one. Parents correct that 2 or 3 times and then it's been learned forever. :) There is no uncertainty or strange feeling later.

Uncertainty comes only with new loanwords, e.g. Er hat downgeloadet vs. Er hat gedownloadet. For a while both is valid and contended before one wins. Other effects are for instance when one swallows the other, as West German macht Sinn currently is winning against hat Sinn but older East Germans dislike that very much. Or Samstag vs. Sonnabend, or Kann ich einen Apfel? vs. Kann ich einen Apfel haben?. It bothers me to hear the "wrong" version.

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Das Problem an "Kann ich einen Apfel", dass da ja auch gar kein Vollverb drin. Wie soll man da auch, was der Sprecher? –  Em1 Jun 12 '13 at 9:40

At most I have no problems with declension of words at all (in German). If you hear a word the first time or you grew up in different part of Germany then you later live in, there could be confusing issues...

Example: Flunsch (pout; duck style mouth before you start to cry)

The Duden allows both, male and female declension. I prefer female, my wife male declension :)

The natives are not really aware of the categories weak/strong/mixed in normal life.

A little confusing to children comes up with words that have two meanings, e.g., Bank - a finance institute and a thing to sit on. But the first is die Bank and die Banken and the second one is die Bank and die Bänke.

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Regarding "Bank": Still, this does not confuse native Germans. –  Em1 Jun 12 '13 at 8:54
    
Bank confuses only children for sure –  tuergeist Jun 12 '13 at 8:55
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Schild confuses adults as well. –  chirlu Jun 12 '13 at 9:02
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@chirlu This is what I meant that people sometimes don't know the gender. While people most times refer to a sign, which is neuter, they do not know that the shield is masculine. –  Em1 Jun 12 '13 at 9:25

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