There are several words in German that occur in two or all three genders, e.g. der/das Kaugummi ‘chewing gum’. Some of these use the differing gender for different meanings, e.g. der See ‘lake’ vs. die See ‘sea’, and the plural form may differ, too. There’s also a number of masculine words that are changing from an -e ending to -en, e.g. der Funke(n), Same(n). Some of these tend to associate slightly different meaning with these variants, e.g. der Drache ‘dragon’ vs. der Drachen ‘kite’. Furthermore, there are synonyms that differ only in one or two sounds or letters but may differ in gender, e.g. der Sandkasten and die Sandkiste ‘sandpit’.

And then, there is die Socke and der Socken ‘sock’, plural die Socken. Without looking it up, I’m not even sure which one is considered the standard variant (probably the feminine one). As you can see, this case is unlike all the others.

I’d like to know whether there are more pairs like this and if there is a scientific term for it?

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    It seems this was the 5000th question at german.SX – do I win anything?
    – Crissov
    Jun 5, 2015 at 22:00
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    I don’t know why Kasten and Kiste are even relevant to the question (if they are preceded by Sand or not). The rest is all about words that can form part of the more difficult crossword puzzles, but I don’t see Eckstein building any connotation from one to lead to the other.
    – Jan
    Jun 5, 2015 at 22:51
  • An example would be essentially all numbers, e.g. die Eins, der Einser - where the latter is mainly used in the south
    – Gerhard
    Jun 14, 2017 at 10:12

2 Answers 2


Yes, there are more pairs:

  • die Zehe, der Zeh
  • die Spalte, der Spalt
  • die Akte, der Akt
  • die Quelle, der Quell
  • die Fußstapfe, der Fußstapfen
  • die Scherbe, der Scherben
  • die Karre, der Karren
  • die Tanne, der Tann

This is certainly not a complete list. In some cases, one form has additional meanings; e.g., die Akte can only be a set of documents, but der Akt can additionally mean part of a play or a picture of a naked person.

Often, which form is preferred varies by region. For instance, both Karre and Socke are mainly used in northern and central Germany, but not in the south (and not in Switzerland nor Austria).

I am not aware of a specific term for this group of words. I'm not so sure, either, that they are fundamentally different from the other examples you mention (such as Funke(n) and See).

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    @chirllu: die Akte and der Akt are different words in my understanding, I can recollect no usage of der Akt as a file (die Akte).
    – Mnementh
    Jun 5, 2015 at 14:44
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    I just searched my Grammatik-Duden for more examples (§363): die Backe/der Backen, die Drohne/der Drohn, die Etikette/das Etikett, der Gurt/die Gurte, die Hacke/der Hacken, das Idyll/die Idylle, die Knolle/der Knollen, die Lüge/der Lug, der Muff/die Muffe, die Niete/der Niet, die Posse/der Possen, die Quaste/der Quast, die Ritze/der Ritz, die Röhre/das Rohr, die Ruine/der Ruin, die Scherbe/der Scherben, die Schürze/der Schurz, die Spanne/der Spann, der Sparren/die Sparre, die Spitze/der Spitz, die Sprosse/der Spross, die Stolle/der Stollen, die Streife/der Streifen...
    – Chris
    Jun 5, 2015 at 14:57
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    ... der Striemen/die Strieme, der Trupp/die Truppe, der Typ/die Type, die Zacke/der Zacken, die Zinke/der Zinken. (Überschrift: Verwandte Wörter von etwas abweichender Form mit verschiedenem Genus und gleicher oder verschiedener Bedeutung).
    – Chris
    Jun 5, 2015 at 14:59
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    @Ludi: Please reread the question, it is not about words like Joghurt.
    – chirlu
    Jun 5, 2015 at 20:39
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    @Ludi: No, it is like Kaugummi. The first paragraph in the question describes what similar phenomena it is not about.
    – chirlu
    Jun 5, 2015 at 20:48

If you want to speak proper German, use "die Socke" rather than "der Socken" which is false but used in some dialects. It causes pain in my hannoveranian ears (people say that we Hannoveranians are speaking the most proper German). The same applies to the hideous examples below. Just because something is standing in the Duden it does not mean it is proper German. At least the mentioned examples are, let's say, less than elegant.

der Backen

die Gurte

der Hacken

der Knollen

der Possen

"Die Tanne" (the fir) is not the same as "der Tann" which is an old word for "fir forest" (im dunklen Tann...). Today we call it "Tannenwald".

More examples for different meanings:

die Ruine/der Ruin - ruin (dilapidated house), ruin (bankruptcy) die Scherbe/der Scherben - shard / unburned pottery

die Spanne/der Spann - range, margin / instep

der Muff / die Muffe - muff or musty smell / fitting

die Spitze / der Spitz - peak or lace / small and fluffy dog breed

die Sprosse / der Spross - step (on a ladder) / sprout

"Der Lug" is only used in literature or sayings (Lug und Trug).

Complicated? - Have courage! :o)

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    Der Socken is not wrong, not at all: duden.de/rechtschreibung/Socken You should accept that other regions' German might be just as "correct" as yours - Get used to the pain ;)
    – tofro
    Jun 12, 2017 at 16:06
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    Hochdeutsch entstand aus dem Hannoveraner Dialekt, aber das heisst nicht, dass Hannveraner das beste Deutsch sprechen.
    – Robert
    Jun 12, 2017 at 16:28

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