Why are there word that exist in two versions where one version is male and the other is female. One example would be "Spalte". Spalte ist usually female. "die Spalte". But you can also say "der Spalt". Why does this happen and how does this work?


There are some words that don't have an unique gender. This may be caused by different reasons:

  • different gender in technical language

das Virus (technical) der/das Virus (colloquial)

  • regional differences in the used gender:

das Radio - (general)

der Radio - (more in southern germany)

It also sometimes happens, that words that look identical have a different meaning when used in a different gender:

das Moment - (momentum for example in physics)

der Moment - (moment as a short period of time)

also: Heide, Mangel, Laster, Tor, Verdienst, See, Kristall, Junge, ...

I have been looking this up in different books about German language and couldn't find a satisfying answer. Also I can't think of an explanation that is obvious for me as a native speaker aside from the regional differences.

  • 2
    The typical example for the latter is der/die/das Band.
    – Janka
    Jan 11 '17 at 22:40
  • Is there a German term for the last kind of word? Dec 17 '18 at 16:55

you are thinking in a wrong way. die Spalte is not the same as der Spalt. These are two different words. The word die Spalte describes a crack in a rock e.g., but the word der Spalt describes the space that results of die Spalte.

  • "Der Spalt/Die Spalte" is maybe not a good example but the question is still valid. What about der/die/das Joghurt or das/die Brezel?
    – Eller
    Jan 10 '17 at 13:56
  • why there are many forms, nobody can answer you ;) But in german we have many words, where the rules aren´t clear. It happend over the time, because the german language change a few times. Your question about rules ist simple. No. There are no rules. You have to know ;) But in the Duden you can find, if you aren´t sure. I know, it isn´t satisfactory, but this is german =) There you can find a list of words, where the german rules aren´t clear. duden.de/schwierige-woerter Jan 10 '17 at 13:59
  • 1
    @Eller, related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/29713/…
    – Iris
    Jan 10 '17 at 16:02
  • @FrankAus5419135: The difference is not clear, also to me as a native German, please try to justiy your answer with references.
    – Thomas
    Jan 10 '17 at 18:03
  • Do you mean the difference between Die Spalte und der Spalt? Jan 10 '17 at 18:08

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