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I see in dictionary, that the Dative case of the singular word der Kunde is dem Kunden. Why is there an n in the singular dative case? I would expect dem Kunde, is there some kind of exception here? If so, is there some info about this exception?

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    An exception to which rule? There is no single declension rule for all German nouns, not even for all masculine nouns.
    – RHa
    Apr 18, 2022 at 13:04
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    @RHa ok I found the answer here courses.dcs.wisc.edu/wp/readinggerman/genitive-dative-cases. It says The singular forms of certain masculine nouns (such as Mensch, Student, Herr, Nachbar, Polizist, and Junge) will take an –n or an –en on the end in all cases but the nominative. These special nouns are sometimes called “n” nouns. Apr 18, 2022 at 13:12
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    It makes me sad when native speakers crush the curiosity of learners, the latter often being able to perceive patterns that elude the former.
    – David Vogt
    Apr 18, 2022 at 17:57
  • Can you provide two or three example sentences, at least? Apr 19, 2022 at 22:50

2 Answers 2

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This is a special class of masculine nouns. There are actually two subtypes depending on the genitive singular. (Many grammars identify these classes using "strong/mixed/weak" labels, but I've never bothered to learn them myself.) In the most common type, there is an -n ending for every combination except nominative singular. This is the case with Kunde. These nouns are all masculine, and most refer either to human(iod)s, either male or unspecified gender, or to animals, usually large and usually mammals. Another example is Hase which isn't exactly large, but it is a mammal. You can identify these in a dictionary as masculine nouns whose genitive ending is -n instead of -s. In the less common type, there is an -n for every combination except nominative singular and the genitive singular, which ends -ns. Two common examples are Name and Buchstabe. I don't know if there's any kind of pattern for them, but you can identify them in a dictionary as masculine nouns whose genitive ending is -ns. The genitive singular ending for all other nouns is either -s for masculine and neuter, or nothing for feminine, with Herz (neuter) the only exception.

PS. The University of Wisconsin website noted in the comments has good material on grammar, but it is a bit incomplete in places. Another site you might find informative is Grimm Grammar, which has more detail in this case.

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    There's nothing special about this class of nouns. It's a declension class like any other. The only thing that could be said to be strange is that German has so many of them. Apr 19, 2022 at 6:17
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    @Kilian Foth: It's at least unusual in that singular accusative and dative have declension endings, and the genitive singular does not follow the same pattern as for other nouns. English may not have that much less in terms of declension classes, even though it's just plural formation: cat/cats, ox/oxen, sheep/sheep, focus/foci, criterion/criteria, graffito/graffiti, medium/media etc.
    – RDBury
    Apr 19, 2022 at 18:17
  • @RDBury Note that the last four of your examples are latin or greek and retain their latin declension forms.
    – arne
    Apr 20, 2022 at 14:20
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    @arne: That's true, though technically graffiti is Italian. English tends to take the plural of words from Latin and Greek from the language a word was borrowed from; that's a lot of different ways to form plurals. But even though these words have foreign origin, they've been assimilated into English including their plurals; "criterions" is just wrong. Meanwhile German tends to either create new words from German roots, or Germanize the plurals of imported words, so Kriterien, Medien,
    – RDBury
    Apr 20, 2022 at 14:42
  • @RDBury correct, German does that. But not always, see Status where the correct plural is Status (with a long u), while in English it's states. Some people say Stati in German, which makes sense from a "Volksgrammatik" point of view but is plain wrong.
    – arne
    Apr 21, 2022 at 4:34
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These nouns are, according to current terminology, referred to as belonging to the n-Deklination; searching for this term will get you many lists and explanations. Historically, they were referred to as weak nouns (schwache Substantive).

If it weren't for those weak nouns, case inflection of nouns in German would be completely predictable (as opposed to plural inflection, which has to be learned). Rules for case endings of nouns in German, disregarding weak nouns, are as follows:

  1. The only cases that can be marked by a case ending are the genitive singular and the dative plural.1

  2. Feminine nouns do not have any case endings in the singular.

  3. All masculine and neuter nouns have the ending ‑(e)s in the genitive singular.

  4. In the dative plural, all nouns have the case ending ‑(e)n if possible (i.e. if the nominative plural doesn't end in ‑n or ‑s).

When weak nouns enter into the picture, the third rule becomes more complicated.

  1. a. Most masculine nouns (strong and mixed2 nouns) and all neuter nouns3 have ‑(e)s in the genitive singular.

    b. A group of masculine nouns (weak nouns) have ‑(e)n or -ens4 in the genitive singular. Those nouns also have ‑(e)n in the accusative and dative singular, contrary to rule 1.

The group of weak nouns has some interesting characteristics.

  • All masculine nouns ending on unstressed, reduced ‑e (Schwa) belong to this class: Junge, Kunde, Name… (exception: Käse)

  • Many nouns belonging to this class refer to animate beings: Athlet, Held, Herr, Nachbar, Mensch, Pilot, Soldat…

  • Many words with endings of foreign origin belong to this class: Automat, Fotograf, Planet, Präsident…

  • All weak nouns form the plural with ‑(e)n.

As you can see, your intuition that these nouns are special is justified.

1 Let's disregard moribund dative singular ‑e.
2 "Mixed" nouns is a historical term for those nouns that have ‑(e)s in the singular, but ‑(e)n in the plural.
3 There is exactly one neuter noun that can inflect weakly: das Herz, im Herzen, des Herzens.
4 The small group of nouns with ‑ns in the genitive singular such as Gedanke, Name, Wille are not considered to be weak nouns in some grammars, but it is practical to subsume them under that label.

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    Some other "strong" masculine nouns ending in "e* are Kaffee, Tee and See (in the sense of "lake"). Most nouns ending e are feminine, so a masculine noun ending e is already unusual.
    – RDBury
    Apr 18, 2022 at 18:02
  • Full vowels don't count, but you're right to point that out.
    – David Vogt
    Apr 18, 2022 at 18:04

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