Talking about masculine nouns, German has the three categories weak/strong/mixed. Then the strong one is divided into three classes for the plural. A noun is placed into a particular category/class according to its nominative singular ending. But there are tricky examples where this is not true. "Der Bauer" follows the mixed declension even though it ends in -er, which is the ending for the first strong class. I am asking whether Germans experience uncertainty when they need to use a word like this. I understand that whenever you learn a word as a native speaker, you put all of its metalinguistic background into your brain automatically, but what about words that you maybe hear for the first time in your life?


2 Answers 2


When children learn to speak you can notice for a little while they tend to intuitively use declension patterns they already know. For instance, plural (of das Haus) die Häuser could be tried with die Häusern, I mean suffix n is a favourite one. Parents correct that 2 or 3 times and then it's been learned forever. :) There is no uncertainty or strange feeling later.

Uncertainty comes only with new loanwords, e.g. Er hat downgeloadet vs. Er hat gedownloadet. For a while both is valid and contended before one wins. Other effects are for instance when one swallows the other, as West German macht Sinn currently is winning against hat Sinn but older East Germans dislike that very much. Or Samstag vs. Sonnabend, or Kann ich einen Apfel? vs. Kann ich einen Apfel haben?. It bothers me to hear the "wrong" version.

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    Das Problem an "Kann ich einen Apfel", dass da ja auch gar kein Vollverb drin. Wie soll man da auch, was der Sprecher?
    – Em1
    Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 9:40
  • 2
    Isn't macht Sinn rather an anglicism? (Which might correlate with West vs. East) Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 17:48
  • @HagenvonEitzen I suspect it directly derived from "make sense"
    – äüö
    Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 20:34

At most I have no problems with declension of words at all (in German). If you hear a word the first time or you grew up in different part of Germany then you later live in, there could be confusing issues...

Example: Flunsch (pout; duck style mouth before you start to cry)

The Duden allows both, male and female declension. I prefer female, my wife male declension :)

The natives are not really aware of the categories weak/strong/mixed in normal life.

A little confusing to children comes up with words that have two meanings, e.g., Bank - a finance institute and a thing to sit on. But the first is die Bank and die Banken and the second one is die Bank and die Bänke.

  • 1
    Regarding "Bank": Still, this does not confuse native Germans.
    – Em1
    Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 8:54
  • Bank confuses only children for sure
    – tuergeist
    Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 8:55
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    Schild confuses adults as well.
    – chirlu
    Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 9:02
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    @chirlu This is what I meant that people sometimes don't know the gender. While people most times refer to a sign, which is neuter, they do not know that the shield is masculine.
    – Em1
    Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 9:25

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