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What is the Gender of a company name?

What does it depend on?

Let's say Microsoft for that matter.

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Generally, proper names (like brand names) have no gender (and thus no article in front of them), but well-established brand names might adopt gender over time (Publicity agencies even recommend adding gender to your brand name as this creates the impression that it might be a well-established one).

There's the easy and the tricky cases - the easy ones are where the brand name is containing or alluding to a noun that has gender in German:

  • die Allianz(-Versicherung)
  • die Hamburg-Mannheimer (Versicherung)
  • der Springer-Verlag
  • die Volksbank

More tricky are acronyms - but still, if you expand them, you might be ending up with a definitive gender

  • die BASF ("Badische-Anilin-und-Soda-Fabrik")
  • die Degussa ("Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt")
  • der TÜV ("Technischer Überwachungsverein")
  • der/die DEKRA ("Deutscher Kraftfahrzeug-Überwachungsverein") Note this one is a bit more tricky than the above, because few people actually know to what the abbreviation expands - instinctively, they will use female because the "-a" ending somewhat forces your Latin heritage memory to use female.

Then there is another class for company and brand names that are no abbreviations. Often gender has been adopted over time, especially for brand names that are old and well-established, sometimes more than one gender is possible:

  • Die Lufthansa (Words ending in "-a" in German very often assume female)
  • die/das Nutella
  • die Air France (airways are generally female for some reason, also applies to first item)

As you might see, we're slowly wandering away from safe grounds into non-rule territory - Here, the German language very often simply pulls back to my initial statement and assumes no gender at all, avoiding any possible problems. [example sentences taken from Wikipedia articles]

Microsoft as in your example is apparently one of those - You simply avoid any construct that assumes a specific gender:

Microsoft wurde am 4. April 1975 gegründet. Das Unternehmen [not: er, sie oder es!] hat etwa 148.000 Mitarbeiter und ist der größte Softwarehersteller der Welt.

If you absolutely want and need gender, then try and derive one from the company's legal denomination, in most cases you will be ending up with "Gesellschaft" (or "corporation"), thus ending up with female.

die Microsoft Corporation

The same is BTW true for some well-established German brands as well:

Die Daimler-Benz AG

But you will still encounter the "evade" strategy as above in follow-up sentences.

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    Regarding Lufthansa: dwds.de/wb/Hansa – Roland Oct 20 '20 at 10:40
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    "die Allianz(-Versicherung)" - wobei "die Allianz" natürlich für sich genommen bereits ein feminines Substantiv ist und man den Umweg über die "Versicherung" erst gar nicht gehen muss. – O. R. Mapper Oct 20 '20 at 10:51
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    @O.R.Mapper Ganz so einfach ist das gar nicht. Denn warum ist dann Volkswagen (nicht das Auto, sondern die Firma) nicht maskulin? – tofro Oct 20 '20 at 11:23
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    @tofro: Bei Unternehmen, die physische Produkte herstellen, bezeichnet "<Artikel> <Unternehmsname>" häufig das Produkt, nicht das Unternehmen. Das hat aber mE nichts damit zu tun, dass "Allianz" an sich ja bereits ein feminines Substantiv ist. Anders also als bei dem ebenfalls von dir genannten Beispiel der Hamburg-Mannheimer lässt sich also direkt aus dem Namen "Allianz" selber der feminine Artikel ableiten, ohne dass man eine Erklärung über ein angehängtes "-Versicherung" suchen müsste. – O. R. Mapper Oct 20 '20 at 11:37
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    @jonathan.scholbach Das habe ich versucht, mit "in most cases, you will be ending up with Gesellschaft" zu sagen. – tofro Oct 20 '20 at 13:54
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That is a more complex question than you might think. Duden has an elaborate page about it.

Not only the gender is relevant, but also the number (singular/plural).

  1. Does the brand name carry already a gender? Use that one.

Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Rügenwalder Mühle, ...

  1. If not, you are free to choose between das and die, depending on whether you want to refer to brand name as das Unternehmen brand name or die Firma brand name

[Das Unternehmen] Microsoft hat hundert seiner Mitarbeiter entlassen / [Die Firma] Microsoft hat hundert ihrer Mitarbeiter entlassen

The words in the [brackets] can be obmitted.

  1. If the brand name is used together with its legal structure and the latter is used as an apposition, you can still use the gender of the original enterprise

Der Blumenhof OHG [...]

where OHG is short for offene Handelsgesellschaft

  1. If the legal structure is part of the core name OR you don't want to use it as an apposition, you refer to the gender and number of the legal structure, i.e.

Die Blumenhof OHG, die Techno-Studios-Gesellschaft mbh sucht (singular!)

  1. For abbreviations there's often confusion about the number, e.g. BMW (Bayrische Motoren Werke, which itself is plural). Duden advices, that the abbreviation is often followed by third person singular declination. If the abbreviation is written in long form, things become clear again

BMW hat seine Mitarbeiter entlassen / Die Bayrischen Motoren Werke stellen neue Mitarbeiter ein.

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  • I am a bit hesitant to accept Duden's opinion on "Der Blumenhof ...-Gesellschaft" (would very probably accept "der" without the "OHG", though) and "BMW haben". Both sound wierd to me. – tofro Oct 20 '20 at 14:02
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For most companies, we don't use an article at all, so they are kind of genderless.

Examples: "Microsoft hat ein neues Betriebssystem herausgebracht. Es gibt ein neues Betriebssystem von Microsoft" "Viele Leute warten schon mit großer Vorfreude auf das neue iPhone von Apple."

The products on the other hand have articles: "Hans fährt jetzt einen (der) Mercedes. Hans fährt jetzt einen Wagen von Mercedes Benz." "Mein Bruder hat sich ein (das) iPhone gekauft. Mein Bruder hat sich ein Handy von Apple gekauft."

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