Still in the 19. Century for "Müll" we have both, a neuter and a masculine gender whereas its gender today is masculine. Interestingly it also seems to have had a different meaning than today (trash, rubbish).

MULL, müll, n. staub, zerfallende erde, unrat; ein im norden heimisches wort, mnd. mul, gen. mulles Grimm

Note that "Unrat" also meant something different than today.

Looking at a Google Ngram

click to show

the change of gender may have occured only recently in the early 20. Century.

Is there anything known why the gender changed? Did this occur at the same time when its meaning of trash, rubbish was introduced?

  • Do you mean "Mülltonne"? If so, yes the gender will change to Feminine after "Tonne".
    – wcheung
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 11:16
  • 2
    @wcheung i dont thing OP means that; it is quite general that a composite noun inherits the gender from its last component like in english with singular/plural (there is a workflow, there are workflows). Takkat: Very interesting, i did not even know that Müll was neutrum once, weird that that is possible! Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


Which change of gender? When there was a change, then it changed from "der Müll" to "das Müll" around 1890. After that both gender coexists till 1940 when the masculine gender won the race.

According to Duden "Müll" comes from Althochdeutsch meaning "zerreiben" (Probably same origin like Müller/Mühle (miller/mill)). The meaning changed, that's true, but that change does not happen between 1890 and 1940 (and back again).

And we still have the word Grimm described. It's "der Mull", which is also masculine.

All in all I can't see a gender change corresponding to a change of meaning. It looks more like both genders were used and over time the masculine one made its way.

  • See also "Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Deutschen"; Müll: Mull, Müll ‘lockere Erde’ (die umlautlose Form schriftsprachlich in Torfmull. Grimm list both, Mull, and Müll as neuter in the same entry! As a side note: we don't seem to have had any word for trash then.
    – Takkat
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 10:05
  • I know, @Takkat, but that does not mean that people did not use "der Mull" also. See that "der" is the gender for the "Kaulquappe" in Grimm's entry. "Das Mull" is today "der Mull". Only the gender changed, not the meaning. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 10:09
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    Well, @Takkat, if we can trust Google's Ngram, then "das Mull" was only used by Grimm ;) books.google.com/ngrams/… Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 12:04

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