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I'm doing some homework, in which we have pictures and we have to complete the sentences like "Ist das ein Salat?" - "Nein, das ist kein Salat. Das ist ein Bus."

In the example above, both Salat and Bus get the article "ein", so I get why the answer is "das ist". But Nase is feminine, so it gets "eine". Why it is correct to say "Das ist eine Nase", and not "Die ist eine Nase"?

  • Aw, I wish your teach asked you, "Ist das ein Mond?", so you would have to answer in the negative... – BruceWayne Apr 2 at 14:47
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    Hat jemand meinen Kommentar gelöscht? Ich fände es sinnvoll, den Fragesteller darauf hinzuweisen, daß Salat und Bus keine Neutra sind. – David Vogt Apr 2 at 16:51
  • A bit tangentially, it's perhaps worth pointing out that there's no expectation for X and Y in the sentence "X ist Y" to agree in gender anyway: "Die Nase ist ein Körperteil" is a perfectly fine and reasonable thing to say, even though die Nase is grammatically feminine and der Körperteil is masculine. – Ilmari Karonen Apr 2 at 22:24
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    Similar question in German: german.stackexchange.com/questions/35859/… – Carsten S Apr 3 at 5:41
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In German language, the word "das" is not only an article. It has a second meaning:

It can also have the meanings of the English words "this" or "that".

If the word "das" means "this", there are no different words for male, female and neuter but there is only one word: "das".

In your sentence, the word "das" is not used as article but it means "this".


By the way:

The word "der" sometimes has the meaning: "this man" and the word "die" sometimes has the meaning "this woman".

So the sentence: "Die ist eine Nase." would mean: "This woman is a nose."

Articles can also refer to a word in a sentence before:

Auf diesen Bildern sind Teile des Körpers zu sehen. Der hier ist eine Nase.

In this case, "der" would be an abbreviation of "dieser Teil" ("this part"). The gender (der/die/das") would be specified by the gender of the word "Teil" in this case and not by the gender of the word "Nase".

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    I do like your answer, but the example with Körperteile sounds strange to me. Maybe because the number (plural vs singular) doesn't match. Maybe there is a better example... – Arsak Apr 2 at 11:13
  • I concur the example doesn't really make a lot of sense; You can't really have a backreference to a singular thing when you only mentioned a plural set of things before. You could say something like "Einer von diesen ist eine Nase", but that's quite different. It's not the only problem though, even if you had singular you'd use "dieser" in the following sentence, although you'd use "der" in side sentence like "Dies ist ein Körperteil der eine Nase ist". – Cubic Apr 2 at 12:58
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    der is no abbreviation, i dare say it's not even a reduction of dieser. – vectory Apr 2 at 13:30
  • @Cubic I changed the example. It should be better now. – Martin Rosenau Apr 2 at 13:30
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    >"You can't really have a backreference to a singular thing when you only mentioned a plural set of things before." Of course you can, the sentence with Körperteile is absolutely correct. – technical_difficulty Apr 2 at 14:36
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Quite as in English:

That's a house. That's a beer. That's a girl. That's a boy. That's a nose. That's a leg. That's a liver. That's a stallion. That's a mare. That's a flower. That's a ship.

Genus just does not play a role here. (Nor does sex.)

Note that by tradition, ships in English are referred to as females:

That's the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary is 300 metres long. She (!) has four chimneys.

Theoretical explanation: You can see the Das as the equivalent of the English That: as a demonstrative pronoun, not as an indicator of genus. Under this perspective, the das here is a different das than in der, die, das. But that's really a theoretical consideration with not too much relevance for using the language in everyday life. For everyday life you simple get used to saying Das ist eine Frau although the Frau is female by genus (and probably also by sex).

Note additionally perhaps:

That's milk.

Yeah, you do not count milk, and in these cases you go without the definite article. Same in German:

Das ist Milch.

But:

Das ist ein Glas Milch.

  • Note that it may be perceived as root to be called "das". – vectory Apr 2 at 13:33
  • @vectory Do you mean as rude? – Raimund Krämer Apr 2 at 14:01
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    The analogy to English isn't really helpful. English doesn't have grammatical gender in the same way German does. In particular, English has no gender declension of articles . "As in English" would mislead you about "That's the girl" and "That's the boy". ("Nein, das ist nicht das Salat. Das ist das Nase.") The core confusion here is the distinction between different usages of "das", one where it's declined for gender and one where it's not - a distinction which has no counterpart in English. – R.M. Apr 2 at 16:48
  • @R.M. English also distinguishes between "It's a girl" and "She's a girl", or was that not what you meant? – Mr Lister Apr 2 at 19:28
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    @R.M. The useful part of the analogy is that English (and most languages) distinguishes "that" and "the" where German just uses "das". – Pere Apr 2 at 21:40
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The answer is pretty simple, because das explicitly doesn't refer to the nose that was in context. This "das" is an indefinite pronoun and thus does not receive a gender, but defaults to neutral, inanimate gender. We might also use "dies", "es", or even "so-etwas" ("Sowas ist doch nicht normal").

If talkling about people instead, we would make a difference, "Nein, Sie ist keine Nase", and we might use gendered articles as pronouns, too, e.g. "die", shortened from "die Frau", or "Der ist so schlau, der vectory".

We only refer to a specific gender, if it's already in context, but it just doesn't work well with negatives. Hence:

Das ist gar keine Frage

Das ist ja wohl unerhört

Vice-versa, we may use the indefinite pronoun for positive statements, pretty much by analogy

Ja, das ist ein Golden-Retriever

Which is unproblematic because in most cases we could surmise a neutral noun to fit, e.g. "das Tier".

Further:

dies seems to be a mix of both die and das, in case you can't decide :) but we also have the anaphoras "dies und das", and "dieses und jenes".

es actually stems from a meaning "here".

Combining both we get dieses ist keine Nase (which sounds a bit like ellipses of dieses Ding). We would not say diese (female) in such cases, however.

etwas--I found nothing concrete about it--may by my estimate be in part from es, PGmc *hit "that", PIE *ke-, *key- "this, here", too, bound with "was" cp. "Ich habe hier etwas", "look at this here".

  • How is das indefinite? Does das "not receive a gender" or is it "neutral"? What gender difference is there supposed to be between das ist eine Frage und das ist keine Frage? How is dies a mixture of die feminine and das neuter? – David Vogt Apr 2 at 14:14
  • @DavidVogt a) Is indefinite pronoun not applicable here? I've seen that term as label for "it rains" I'm aware that different explanations may be given, but I prefer this one. b) If das in that position does not contrast with other gender, then the gender distinction is meaningless. c) Did I say there was a difference? refer to b. d) I have not read anything intricate on the formation of the articles, pronouns etc. I think you do understand what ":)" – vectory Apr 2 at 20:01
  • a) Demonstrative pronoun, b) but it does contrast with die/der, as you point out yourself, c) then what is the difference between the negated and the non-negated sentence in this context?, d) smiley notwithstanding, it might mislead the OP. – David Vogt Apr 2 at 20:17
  • b) no, not if parsed as a different syntactic entity. c) It's likely to have arisen from the negation, I guess. It's an interesting question. d) It's not misleading, synchronically it's a likely lexicalization. – vectory Apr 2 at 20:24
  • b) I don't see the difference, c) you need to show how you got to this conclusion, it's far from self-evident, d) fusing feminine and neuter pronouns together does seem the opposite of likely to me. – David Vogt Apr 2 at 20:29

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