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Some nouns have two genders, and the meaning is different depending on the gender. Or, there may be regional variation in the gender of certain words. Here are some examples:

  • Der Schild/das Schild.
  • Der Flur/die Flur
  • Der Leiter/die Leiter
  • Der Golf/das Golf
  • Butter is feminine everywhere, but in Austria also the masculine form is additionally used.
  • Teller is masculine everywhere, but in Austria also the neuter form is additionally used.

Some are either masculine or feminine, others are either masculine or neuter. So far as I've seen, if a word has two possible genders, one of them is always masculine. Are there any cases where the gender of a word is either feminine or neuter and never masculine?

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    The last two examples are not generally correct at all. I am from Austria and "das Teller" is sometimes used, but "der Butter" must be something used in other regions than where I live; I usually say die Butter, der Teller.
    – wonderbear
    Dec 19, 2022 at 17:32
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    @wonderbear - I would have been very surprised to learn that linguistic boundaries would be so courteous as to follow national boundaries. According to Atlas zur deutschen Alltagssprache, das Teller occurs as far west as Bern and Stutgart, but is by no means universal in Austria. Meanwhile der Butter seems to be more Bavarian than Austrian.
    – RDBury
    Dec 19, 2022 at 17:57
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    You compare different categories. In the first 4 examples, the two genders have different meanings, in the last 2 examples, the gender depends on the region, but the meaning is the same.
    – Bodo
    Dec 19, 2022 at 18:02
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    @wonderbear "der Butter" is pretty common in all German regions with Alemanic dialects (i.e. west of Augsburg)
    – tofro
    Dec 20, 2022 at 9:37
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    @wonderbear In case you count Vorarlberg to Austria, you should re-phrase ;)
    – tofro
    Dec 20, 2022 at 10:32

4 Answers 4

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There definitly are. Here are some examples:

  • das / die E-Mail (Schweiz/Deutschland) [elektronische Post]


In this Answer are nouns included, that changed their article:

  • die / das Gebärde

and in this Answer some more examples:

  • die / das Brezel (Deutschland / Österreich) [der Bretzel for Liechtenstein and at least part of Switzerland @Fischer Ludrian]
  • das / die Schorle

So there are such nouns. But the frequency seems to follow the mechanisms you described.

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    Email is neuter only. Did you mean E-Mail? And Nutella can have any gender.
    – xehpuk
    Dec 20, 2022 at 0:53
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    @xehpuk, "Email" is clearly meant to mean "E-Mail", and both are often-used spellings in my experience. The Duden may not accept it, but it's still used; and if someone would want to differentiate it from the other meaning, "Emaille" is always there. I have never heard "der Nutella".
    – AnoE
    Dec 20, 2022 at 13:07
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    @AnoE "People often misspell it" is not a good argument. This is officially regulated and anchored in § 40.
    – xehpuk
    Dec 20, 2022 at 20:34
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    Attention!!! »Email« (pronunciation [eˈmaɪ̯] or [eˈmaɪ̯l], english: enamel) is neuter only. It is a glass-surface on metal goods (like pots and jars, but also some jewelry). The word with two genders is »E-Mail« (pronunciation [ˈiːmeɪ̯l] or [ˈiːmeːl], english: email or e-mail). This word means electronic mail. - I edited this answer to correct this obvious and common error. (Also a common error is an error!) Dec 21, 2022 at 8:56
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    @AnoE Of course, everyone can use the language as they please. But this kind of defeats the purpose of this site.
    – xehpuk
    Dec 21, 2022 at 11:54
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  • das Steuer = steering wheel
  • die Steuer = tax
  • der Steuer doesn't exist
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This hasn't come up yet, but deserves a honorable mention.

The suffix -nis supplies a handful of nouns that can be either feminine or neuter. Generally, this entails a semantic difference, though this wasn't always the case: back when -nis was a very productive source of abstract nouns, their gender fluctuated quite freely between feminine and neuter.1 If we were allowed to count these obsolete examples, we'd have a very long list on our hands...

Duden Sprachwissen has a page on Genus von Substantiven auf ‚-nis‘, which mentions:

And I also found


1 Until the 19th century, nouns ending in -nis tended to fluctuate between the feminine and neuter gender. Jacob Grimm comments on this in the article erkenntnis, f. und n. (published in 1862):

während sonst die bildungen mit 'nis' zwischen beiden geschlechtern, ohne unterschied der bedeutung, schwanken, könnte bei diesem häufig vorkommenden wort der sprachgebrauch und namentlich der philosophische in die weibliche und neutrale form besondere vorstellungen gelegt zu haben scheinen.

As a reader of Kant, I am accustomed to his frequent use of das Erkenntnis beside die Erkenntnis; in a departure from the standard usage, Kant also wrote die Bedürfnis and die Ereignis (or Eräugnis).

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Here on German stachexchange is a list of nouns with 2 or 3 genera. This list is incomplete, but it also contains the entries listed below. The Gender is marked by a definite article, the article of the most common gender is written as first article:

  • das/die Baguette
  • die/das Brezel
  • das/die Cola (Fanta, etc.)
  • die/das E-Mail
  • die/das Geschwulst
  • das/die Omelett(e)
  • die/das Schorle
  • die/das Tram
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  • it's also der Brezel in Liechtenstein (and some parts of Switzerland). Dec 21, 2022 at 13:30

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