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I have just started with my German lessons, literally on the first chapter, and I am experiencing some difficulty in understanding how genders work.

From what I understand:

Ein or eine means one, comparative to a/an in English

Ein is used for masculine while eine for feminine

So, for a man or a boy it is ein Mann or ein Junge.

But, for a woman it is eine Frau and for a girl it's ein Mädchen!

How and why is a girl neuter? How can I better understand gender for my future lessons? Also, it would be very helpful if someone can point me to some good online courses (free) which is both explanatory as well as casual.

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Mädchen (girl) is the diminutive form of Magd (maid) and therefore is neuter like all diminutive forms. The diminutive allows to construct a small / cute form of a noun by applying -lein or -chen (but watch out, often not both endings are allowed). E.g.: Katze (cat) -> Kätzchen (kitten)

Linguistic genders often are arbitrary but there always are some rules to which you can stick to. These rules correspond with the noun's endings (just like in French) because many abstract words are built with them. E.g.: der Beifahrer (the passenger), der Mischling (the mongrel), die Wissenschaft (the science), die Schönheit (the beauty), die Vergrößerung (the enlargement), das Heiligtum (the sanctuary).

  • Why shouldn't "Kätzlein" be allowed? Personally, I would use it. – Chris Nov 25 '14 at 14:19
  • @Chris The example didn't address the passage inside the parentheses. "Kätzlein" also seems to be correct (for me at least) even though it's less common. – Fytch Nov 25 '14 at 15:44
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There are not many rules on articles. Usually the article for every single noun has to be learnt by heart. However in your case, maybe this helps you out:
"Mädchen" is derived from "Magd" (= maid). To be exact, it's the diminutive of "Magd".
And in German, all diminutives are neuter (singular and nominative; the article for deminutives in plural (nominative) is always feminine: die Mädchen).

  • Männchen is also neuter. – guidot Nov 24 '14 at 8:06
  • @guidot: Exactly. It's the diminutive of "Mann" ;-) – mic Nov 24 '14 at 8:25
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    @mic plural isn't feminine, it's just plural. And the plural article in nominative ("die") happens to be the same as for feminine singular nominative. – Matthias Nov 24 '14 at 8:34
  • Plural isn't feminine. Plural just uses the same article as feminine nouns in nominative. But compare "es gehört der Frau" to "es gehört den Männern". – Fytch Nov 24 '14 at 8:38
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    @mic I'm not sure about this part: "all diminutives are neuter (singular and nominative". What does the gender have to do with the number and the case? "Kätzchen" in "es gehört den Kätzchen" is plural, dative, and neuter at the same time. The fact that plural forms in nominative have the same articles as like as feminine singular forms is true but a completely different story. – Fytch Nov 24 '14 at 9:54

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