I am new to the German language and my knowledge is just starting to expand out. I went through all the rules and guides that are part of the grammar, but I can't wrap my head around why the noun "Baum" [English: tree] is in masculine form - der Baum and not das Baum, as this noun gender identification guide suggests.

Here are the noun endings for the neuter form: -chen, -lein, -icht, -il, -it, -ma, -ment, -tel, -tum, -um.

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    Der Zement, der Moment, der Mantel, die Duma, der Rochen, der Rachen, der Rechen, ... Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 6:25
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    In the linked website it says (Main Takeaways section 3) that the rules she lists only work about 80% of the time. A lot of the rules listed a like the i before e rule in spelling; there are so many exceptions that it's highly debatable whether they're worthwhile learning.
    – RDBury
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 7:53
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    Tangential aside: The page lists "battery" as a translation of "der Akku". This is inaccurate in a dangerous way, as "Akku" means a rechargeable battery in particular, and doing things with non-rechargeable batteries that should only be done with rechargeable ones can have dire consequences. Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 10:26
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    You simply need to learn the gender of a noun as part of vocabulary learning. If you don't learn the gender, you have only learned half of the word. And that is pretty much all. All the "rules" people come up are post-facto explanation that don't actually work that well.The -um thing for example only applies to words with latin root. Baum doesn't actually have an -um suffix for example, unlike Individuum. And I'm not sure a would trust an article that provides wrong example sentences such as "Die hübsche Frau gibt dem armen Mann das rote Päckchen mit lauter Geldstücke." (spot the error).
    – Polygnome
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 20:28
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    Such rules apply in 90% of all cases; there are always exceptions. Many words are used with different gender in different parts of Germany (der/das Radio). And there are other words (with a completely different meaning) that differ in the gender only (Examples: der Band, die Band, das Band / der Tau, das Tau). This would not be possible if there would be "always applicable" rules for the gender of German words. Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 20:59

5 Answers 5


The rules don't always apply, esp. when the endings are not morphological. And -um is neuter only if the noun comes from Latin that way (Individuum, Museum). But Baum is "natively" German; apart from that, it is B-au-m with diphthong, not Ba-um. Similar counterexample: der Schaum, der Traum, der Flaum, der Zaum.

(Other endings have their exceptions as well, e.g., die Pflicht, der Stil, die Oma)

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    Or, to quote, a certain cinema pirate these are more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 8:46
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    Compare to how nouns ending with -us often have a plural form ending with -i in English. This only applies if the word has Latin origin (and has such a plural form in Latin). It doesn't apply to, for instance, walrus, because it is not a Latin word.
    – jkej
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 11:17
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    @jkej What, the plural of bus isn't bi?
    – hobbs
    Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 3:45
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    @hobbs You picked the one English (and German) word that does come from Latin but is also an exception because its -us is not the nominative singular of the O declination. (omnibus is ablative plural of omnium.) Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 7:40
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    @phipsgabler The real problembär is Status because it's so common. Stati sounds latinate, but as Latin it's wrong, Statuuuus is correct but sounds weird and pretentious, Staten sounds like Staaten. Kasus has the same problem but is actually rare in German outside of grammatical discussions. Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 21:24

There are much more exceptions from German gender rules than there are rules. The best way to learn German genders is like German native speakers do: Learn for each noun separately which gender it has.

Toddlers growing up in a German speaking world do not learn the genders of the nouns by memorizing such rules.

One of the first words a child learns is "Mama" (Engl.: mum or mom) and children learn, that people say "die Mama", so they learn, that this specific word is female (although it ends in -ma and violated one of your rules). Then "die Oma" (grandma) and so on.

Take these rules as first guidelines. They can help you in more than 90 % of all cases, but be aware, that all of them have really many exceptions.

And the rule for -um does not apply to der Baum, becaue Baum does not end in -um. It ends in -aum and au is a diphthong that under no circumstances can be separated. This is like in the English word "loud". The diphthong is the same, just the letters are different, but also in English you can't separate o from u in a word like loud.

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    The two rules I've found worthwhile are: 1) Certain suffixes determine gender, e.g. -chen nueter, -ung feminine. 2) Compound words have the same gender as the last component, e.g. Zeug is neuter so so are Flugzeug, Spielzeug & Werkzeug. The good news is there are a lot of German nouns formed by suffixes and as compounds, so that lightens the load. The bad news is that Baum isn't one of, so for it and and many others you're better off just memorizing.
    – RDBury
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 7:20
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    it't less that words with -chen are neuter, but diminutives, which happen to be formed by the suffix -chen, are.
    – ths
    Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 15:58
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    I am pretty sure that German children learn rules, though informally of course. And then they learn the exceptions. E.g. it is pretty normal for children to learn the "weak" Partizip II first (geschmeckt, gekackt etc) and then mis-apply this to "strong" verbs for a while (to gelaufen, gefahren etc).
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 1:00
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    @Jan: Yes, but they learn it as implizit knowledge. Nobody did teach them these rules and they are unable to tell these rules. They just deduce them from what they hear and then they use them. Speaking a language is firstly implicit knowledge. Even if you are told explicit rules, you have to "convert" then into implicit knowledge before you can use them. And this conversion can only be done by using the language. And once you are fluid in a language, you just speak and write without memorizing any explicit rules. At this point you know for each noun separately which gender it has. Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 7:35
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    – Crissov
    Commented Oct 11, 2020 at 10:08

In a similar way to how we have spelling bees in English, German kids play "guess the gender" on words. As with English spelling, there are some basic rules, but there are many exceptions.

And even, some of the rules don't make much sense. Consider the suffix "-chen", for instance. Kaninchen, or maedchen. The rule is that regardless of the actual gender, anything with the suffix "-chen" becomes neuter. So rabbits and girls are both neuter. Go figure.

In short, the only real way is to learn them one at a time. And as a non-native speaker, expect to get things wrong fairly often on all those exceptions. The good news is that since German kids also get this wrong (because they're still learning), Germans are tolerant of this and will still understand what you mean.

  • Actually, the rule "anything that ends with -chen and -lein is neutral" makes perfect sense to native speakers. Grammatical and biological gender do not have to be identical, see e.g. "das Weib" or "das Huhn" (both biologically female), "meine bessere Hälfte" (can be male), das Kind (is usually either male or female). Or all those animals that just get referred to by some grammatical gender even though most of the time the biological gender is unknown (die Maus, das Wildschwein, der Hase)
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 2:06
  • @Jan Agreed - at least in that case you've got a rule. :) As you say though, grammatical gender often doesn't follow anything predictable, so the only way is just to learn them. Children mostly pick it up by being corrected by parents or teachers; us foreigners have to work at it.
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 10, 2020 at 7:36
  • @Jan : and most things cannot be logicked out. "Der Rock" (skirt, typically worn by women), and "die Hose" (trousers, typically worn my men, especially historically)
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 5:41
  • @vsz: words ending in -e are more often female than not (and by some margin. Words ending with -e are so common that this is another rule of thumb that I would claim is useful to know). "Rock" of course sounds very masculine. Just like Schock, Frack, Scheck or Schreck. And unlike das Wrack or das Leck ;)
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 9:57

I think the lists on that page are a bit too long. I believe such lists can be useful as rules of thumb for really common endings, or for endings with really really few exceptions. This would reduce the list to -chen, -lein, -ment, -tum, -um.

I also think these lists are more useful for somewhat advanced learners. If you are just beginning to learn the language, it is probably enough to just keep in mind that words with certain endings can have a tendency (though sometimes a very strong tendency) towards a certain gender. And then try to remember those endings once you come across them.

E.g. the female endings -ung and -heit will come quite early because they appear in really common words (die Ordnung, die Krankheit etc) and -nis (die Finsternis) and -tum (das Eigentum) will come quite a bit later. IMHO from that list probably only -chen and -um (the latter only as a rule of thumb and for words of latin origin) are useful to keep in mind for beginners.

I honestly fail to see the usefulness of remembering the endings -icht, -il, -it, -ma, -tel. Either because there are too few words that have these endings to make it worth learning such a rule (-il, -icht, -ma) or because there are too many exceptions:

  • -it is probably often neutral because chemical elements and compounds are usually neutral. But it is "der Eremit", "der Konvertit" etc
  • -tel is neutral if you are dealing with a fractional number (das Drittel, das Viertel etc). I would claim is really often not neutral when you are not dealing with fractions. Die Schachtel, die Wachtel, der Spachtel, die Hantel etc. It is probably easier to remember that fractions are neutral (exception : die Hälfte). Please do not apply this rule elsewhere. It looks rather wrong.
  • All minerals end with -it but they are masculine: der Magnetit, der Hämatit, der Montmorillonit ...
    – user6495
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 10:42
  • @Roland Wieder was gelernt. I would have assumed that Sulfit is neutral (as is Oxid, Sulfid usw) and therefore Zementit etc. are neutral as well. But Duden indeed does list them as masculine.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 11:40

The rules don’t actually apply in a general case like the way you have phrased it implies. These are all* cases of suffixes which are used to form derivatives in either German or whatever language the word comes from (usually Latin, as in ment).

When -chen is a suffix to a root word, then the word with said suffix will be neuter.
Example: Der Baum but das Bäumchen.

However, not all occurrances of these letters at the end of a word are a suffix. For example, the word der Rachen is not composed of a root *Ra- plus suffix *-chen; it actually is an entire (masculine) root by itself Rachen. It would be possible to add the -chen suffix to Rachen creating das Rachenchen (but that doesn’t make a whole lot of semantic sense).

In the case of -um, this is a suffix on Latin words all of which (to the best of my knowledge) have been imported into German as neuter words. However, there are entirely unrelated non-Latin words that just happen to end with these letters without being influenced by the Latin origin.

* I contest the validity of some of those entries like -til or -ma. I don’t believe they are suffixes nor that they can be reasonably used to guess a word’s grammatical gender.

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