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In learning the German language I find it very difficult to memorize the genders associated with nouns. The problem is, I am trying to logically look for a pattern or use tricks like "oh there is a r in this noun so I know it is 'der'..." This doesn't work very well though. I have some questions:

(1) How are kids taught this? I'm guessing it is just repetition and memorization but any other exercises?

(2) Are there any tips that German teachers / learners can give me?

(3) Also, I wanted to ask how are noun genders decided - it seems extremely arbitrary. Also, do German speakers struggle with technical or specific nouns? Like I am sure the average German couldn't tell what is the gender of an electron or a intake-valve or something. How are these 'technical' nouns' genders decided?

This gender business is probably the hardest aspect of learning German for me, and help with this would be greatly appreciated.

marked as duplicate by Wrzlprmft, Stephie, fifaltra, Em1, user unknown Mar 6 '15 at 17:57

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  • I was struggling with that to when learning German. It will come with exposure. There are some rules though, things to look out for in words that hint on the gender. A lot of nouns that start with Ge- are neutral (das Geschenk, das Getreide). All nouns that end in -heit or -keit are feminine (even if they start with Ge-, as in die Geschwindigkeit). More tips here: lsa.umich.edu/german/hmr/Grammatik/Gender/Gender.html – Pertinax Mar 4 '15 at 19:54
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    I guess each of the question has been asked before. But short answer: 1. They are not taught. They learn it by heart. 2. There are just a few rule of thumbs but nothing reliable. 3. There are some words that Germans struggle with, but in 99% Germans recognize correctly what the gender is. – Em1 Mar 4 '15 at 21:16
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    Concerning (3), note that many supposedly "technical" nouns are surprisingly common. An "intake-valve" is quite specific, but the last word in the compound determines the gender, and "valve" itself is not at all a very technical word, but one that appears in everyday contexts. Same for many other supposedly technical terms. – O. R. Mapper Mar 4 '15 at 22:16
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    And don't look at native grammar in a prescriptive but in a descriptive way. Native German speakers usually don't think about the gender of a noun. If they don't know, they just use one. If this conflicts most other speakers, they change. If not, no gender is fixed. You as a foreign language learner think in prescriptive terms of "Do I use the correct gender?", but you ask about native speakers. – Toscho Mar 5 '15 at 0:29
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    An easy trick is to append a "-chen" and use exclusively "das": Das Frauchen, das Tischchen, das Lichtchen... – Wojciech Morawiec Mar 5 '15 at 8:46
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How are kids taught this? I'm guessing it is just repetition and memorization but any other exercises?

Kids pick it up through osmosis, just like everybody learns their mother tongue, no additional exercises required. They just hear people talk, repeat and imitate what they said, perhaps get corrected once in a while, and that's that.

Also, I wanted to ask how are noun genders decided - it seems extremely arbitrary.

It is, pretty much. There are a few rules of thumb (nouns ending in -ismus, -ling, -or and -ant tend (!) to be male, e.g., but there are almost always exceptions.)

Also, do German speakers struggle with technical or specific nouns?

Rarely. Sometimes there are issues with newer foreign or loan words (often coming from English) or perhaps brand names. If it makes people think of an existing noun or concept, that gender is used, usually one will win out within a generation or so. Sometimes this depends on the region, too, i.e. Austrians and/or Bavarians might use a different gender than people from North Germany.

In closing, I am afraid there really is no alternative to learning the gender together with your vocabularies.

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    +1 for pointing out that austrians/bavarians may use different a different gender. Its also worth noting that for some words (e.g. Joghurt, Teller) more than one gender is correct – wastl Mar 4 '15 at 20:42
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    Right, learn nouns together with their gender, or, since gender is an abstract concept, learn nouns together with their article like "dog==der Hund", "cat==die Katze", "squirrel==das Eichhörnchen". Similarly, never learn verbs without their associated preposition. Otherwise you will struggle translating prepositions too. Learning single words is a wrong concept (though very common). – Holger Mar 5 '15 at 9:13
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Also, do German speakers struggle with technical or specific nouns? Like I am sure the average German couldn't tell what is the gender of an electron or a intake-valve or something.

Imagine that your native language had only one vowel. Would you be puzzled about how English-speakers can remember that "electron" is spelled "electron", and not "alactran" or "uloctren" or "ilactrun"? Surely so many vowels must be much harder to remember than just a simple gender, right?

So, no, German-speakers don't usually have any trouble remembering the gender of a particular word, because they learn it as part of learning the word, and they're used to doing so. They're no less likely to forget what the gender of an intake-valve is, than you are to forget which vowels it's spelled with.

What does sometimes create ambiguity, as Ingmar noted in his answer, are loanwords from languages that don't have gender, because one basically has to make up a gender for them, and speakers may not always immediately agree on which one would be most natural. As Ingmar also notes, it's also possible for the gender of words to change over time, and for there to be regional and/or individual variations in the gender of some words, just as the spelling and pronunciation of some words varies between different dialects of English.

  • One problem with the gender of words is that the gender isn't always fully provided when used. Many articles have the same form for masculine and neuter. But I guess when you hear a new word, you may not fully understand its pronunciation either. – mwfearnley Mar 5 '15 at 0:03
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    Actually, I think that for loan words it does not make much of a difference whether the source language has genders. – Carsten S Mar 5 '15 at 0:13
  • Would you be puzzled about how English-speakers can remember that "electron" is spelled "electron", and not "alactran" or "uloctren" or "ilactrun"? Surely so many vowels must be much harder to remember than just a simple gender, right? No, because spelling can be deduced from pronunciation. Additionally, native speakers can develop an instinct for what "looks" or "feels" right for spellings of words in their language. I don't see how this applies to genders, when there is nothing intrinsic to the word to suggest it. – funkybro Mar 5 '15 at 9:17
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    @funkybro : Can you back this up with actual sources? Linguistically speaking English is more irregular than many other languages (e.g. French) especially due to its pronunciaton. If I'm not mistaken Heino Hausendorf had an article on this in his "Zugehörigkeit durch Sprache (Reihe Germanistische Linguistik)". Two examples: steak vs gear (either ea is in a closed syllable and stressed); pyramid vs fly (either Y is stressed in an open syllable so pronunciation ought to be the same). – Patric Hartmann Mar 5 '15 at 10:28
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    @funkybro: But you can deduce the gender of German words from their pronunciation: if it begins with "der" (in nominative case), it's masculine, if it begins with "die", it's feminine, and if it begins with "das", it's neuter. ;) All facetiousness aside, my point is that an electron in German is "das Elektron" -- the gender is part of the word, and that's how native speakers learn it. Trying to learn the word without the article, and then asking for a rule to remember the gender, is like learning that an electron in English is "'l'ctr'n", and then asking for a rule to remember the vowels. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 5 '15 at 12:39
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There are some rules of thumb, but of course they have exceptions.

  • If it ends in -heit, -keit or -ie, it's probably female: die Biologie, die Chemie, die Gemütlichkeit, die Sturheit
  • If it ends in -e, it's probably female: die Blume, die Vase, die Torte; but der Käse, der Hase, der Junge
  • if it ends in -ung, it's probably female: die Umleitung, die Lesung, die Heftung
  • If it ends in -er, it's probably male: der Schraubendreher or Schraubenzieher, der Lehrer
  • if it ends in -um, it's probably neutral: das Brauchtum, das Christentum, das Baltikum

A web search will turn up more like http://jakubmarian.com/how-to-recognize-gender-in-german-using-endings/ or http://german.about.com/library/blgen_der.htm

  • Some more counter-examples: Das Feuer, das Gelee – Tobias Kienzler Mar 5 '15 at 11:46
  • Der (whatever-)Sprung :( – c.p. Mar 5 '15 at 23:43
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As to your question concerning Elektron, people who use this word have either heard it at school or have read "das Elektron". By the way, Latin words ending in -um are all neuter, das Museum. The Greek ending -on is related to Latin -um and Greek words in -on are also neuter.

A lot of endings indicate the gender. The Duden Grammar has a whole chapter on the grammar point gender, regular systems and deviations.

Gender rules for German nouns

http://www.dsporto.de/ubungen/deklination28.htm

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