I am basically struggling to make sense of when to use the der, die, das etc. Even though all the forms are the same word, i.e. the. But when to use these forms in what condition?

I even tried the vowel and consonant logic but could not find any?

  • 3
    No, they are not the same word :) English just happens to have no grammatical gender. And you will just have to learn by heart which gender each noun has - no way around it. There are some crude rules where the article depends on the suffix, but in the long run these will not help you.
    – Gerhard
    Dec 23, 2015 at 16:41
  • 5
    related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/5/… Dec 23, 2015 at 16:51
  • 1
    The article depends on case and gender.
    – Carsten S
    Dec 23, 2015 at 17:24

1 Answer 1


English has almost lost it's grammatical genders. They only exists for persons, and here only as pronouns:

A man has a beard. - The man has a beard. - He has a beard.
A woman wears a dress. - The woman wears a dress. - She wears a dress.
A baby sleeps - The baby sleeps - It sleeps.

In German:

Ein Mann hat einen Bart. - Der Mann hat einen Bart. - Er hat einen Bart.
Eine Frau trägt ein Kleid. - Die Frau trägt ein Kleid. - Sie trägt ein Kleid.
Ein Baby schläft. - Das Baby schläft. - Es schläft.

In English you use for everything else always it, and you always use the same article: Either the or a/an. (Pets, ships, cars and a few other things are sometimes excludes from this rule, they also can be he or she.)

But German makes much more use of this concept, that exists in english only as he/she/it.

In German you also have three kinds of personal pronouns, also depending on the gender, like in english. But there are some facts about grammatical Gender, that you must get into your brain:

  1. Grammatical Gender ist not strictly bound to biological gender.
  2. Also non-person-words (i.e. every word) can be he and she in German.
  3. Grammatical gender ist not a property of the thing that is named by a word. It is a property of the word itself.

This rules apply to all languages with genders, not just to German.

Here are consequences of this rules for German:

ad 1:
There are German words for people, that have a grammatical gender that does not match with the biological gender. Most famous example: Das Mädchen (in english: the girl) this word is not female but neuter.

ad 2:
This is the most important fact. I translate the following examples as if there was genders for things in english too:

Der Mond scheint. Siehst du ihn? - The moon is shining. Do you see him? (Der Mond is male).
Die Sonne geht auf. Siehst du sie? - The sun is rising. Do you see her? (Die Sonne is female).
Das Mädchen tanzt. Siehst du es? - The girl is dancing. Do you see it? (Das Mädchen is neuter).

ad 3:
There are many German word for the english word car (there are also many english synonyms). Some of them have different genders, but they all name the same physical object. (I again use German grammar in the english translations):

neuter: Das Auto ist gelb. Es ist gelb. - The car is yellow. It is yellow.
male: Der Wagen ist gelb. Er ist gelb. - The car is yellow. He is yellow.
female: Die Karre ist gelb. Sie ist gelb. - The car is yellow. She is yellow.

Just to confuse you even more (but it has to be said):
Almost every languages contains homonyms, which are identical words that mean different things. Take the english word »driver« as an example. This can be a person who drives a car, but it can also be a special kind of software of a computer that helps the operating system to communicate with it's hardware devices. You must learn, that homonyms are different words, and so can have different genders.

Famous German example: »Band«. A Band can be a music band, a volume of a book, or a ribbon that you can put in your hair. And all three Bands have different genders:

male: Der Band 5 aus der Harry-Potter-Reihe ist ausverkauft. - Volume 5 of Harry Potter is sold out.
female: Die Band, die gestern gespielt hat, war gut. - The Band who played yesterday was good.
neuter: Das Band in ihrem Haar ist rot. - The ribbon in her hair is red.

(Those 3 different words also have 2 different pronunciations. The female music-Band is pronounced like the english word ”band“. The ribbon and the volume are pronounced the German way)

There are many languages with genders. Italien has two genders, male and female (there is no it in Italian). Swedish also has two, but here are male and female the same one gender which is named utrum and the other gender is neutrum (which is neuter in fact). German and many other european Languages has the three genders described above.

But there are also languages with much more "genders". Suaheli, spoken in parts of Afrika, has 22 "nominal classes" as they are called there. There are classes for male and female people, but also for long and round things, or for invisible things. But also that in Suaheli you have so much more classes, they seem easier to learn than genders of european languages, because european languages like German have almost no systematics in how a word gets its gender.

The best way to lern German genders is to learn the gender of every noun separate. This means: Do not learn non this way:

milk = Milch
bread = Brot
tea = Tee

Learn ALL nouns this way:

the milk = die Milch ("die" because "Milch" is female)
the bread = das Brot ("das" because "Brot" is neuter)
the tea = der Tee ("der" because "Tee" is male)

And there is some bad news if you learn more languages: Different languages sometimes do not use the same genders for corresponding word. Example: The sun is female in German, but male in Italien. The Moon on the other hand is male in German but female in Italien. What you have to learn from it (again): The gender is a property of the word, not of the thing that is named by the word.

  • 3
    Actually, English speakers will usually not use “it” to refer to babies.
    – Carsten S
    Dec 23, 2015 at 18:07
  • @CarstenS: Supposed they don't know the biological gender of the baby: Which pronoun do they use? Dec 23, 2015 at 18:35
  • I had to google this before I commented, they would avoid using a pronoun. They treat babies just like other people.
    – Carsten S
    Dec 23, 2015 at 18:45
  • 1
    Or use "he" and "she", switching somewhat randomly in a text. There is apparently a slight preference for "she", but that might be to counter the long-standing default(-ish) "he".
    – Stephie
    Dec 23, 2015 at 18:55
  • @CarstenS No, I can confirm that English people will (sometimes) use it to refer to babies. ‘I sat behind a baby in the aeroplane. It was crying the entire flight.’
    – Jan
    Dec 24, 2015 at 17:37

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