New words can enter a language: they can be created out of the evolution of the society or they can be borrowed from other languages.

Some examples (not so new!) that come to my mind are e-mail, to google, to blog...

How do Germans decide the gender of such new words when they are nouns? Moreover, if the word is a verb, how does it get associated with a conjugation (weak/strong)?

The question in

For new words which are often nouns who sets the gender?

outlines the common habit of associating a word borrowed or taken from another language with the gender it had in this original language (may it be French or Latin, for example).

But what about nouns whose gender is not clear, because they mainly come from English and maybe refer to technology stuff (e-mail, blog, server, browser usw)?

I would be inclined to say that they take the neuter gender. Can this possibly hold?

EDIT: see comments for more detail.


3 Answers 3


There are several different tendencies that work together to determine the gender of a "new" word:

  • natural gender
  • gender of the word in its native language
  • gender of synonyms in the borrowing language
  • gender of similar sounding words in the borrowing language (this is a very weak tendency)
  • the default gender is masculine (not neuter, as many would expect)

This is a summary from memory of a video on the belles lettres blog. I've watched it about half a year ago and was impressed by the very plausible linguistic/historical explanation of this.

BUT: this blog needs careful handling as a source, since the author sometimes (very rarely, to be fair) also offers total trash among the good stuff. His grasp of English appears not to be the best.

  • Thanks for the blog, the only thing that bothers me is that apart from some names there is no precise disclaimer about who's administering it. Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 8:53
  • That's exactly the problem: this is not an official institution or something. As far as I can see it's just one guy who does the tutorials and makes the videos. Mostly, he's doing a terrific job and knows a lot about language and its history. But you should have some knowledge already, so that you can spot where he's a bit off the mark... So, since the blog is in German, this won't be much help to you. I'll try to find the time to watch the video once more and give a more comprehensive summary - but not before next week at the earliest, I'm afraid.
    – Mac
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 9:09

Additional to the other answers it should be mentioned that for some words there is no definite gender. Even for some "old" words like Radiergummi you have two choices, sometimes even three. So the process of determining the gender may take some time, or will never end in some cases.


The decision which gender people choose follows a few (intuitive) rules. The neuter gender is just one of three without higher weight for a decision.

  1. First, intuitively you may decide for the article used in the translated word like die Mail / die Post / die E-Mail or das Internet / das Netz.
  2. Next, it must sound acceptable, means the feel for language is highly important. Intuitively, you compare to similarly sounding words and automatically decide for the same article. For example, all computer scientists I know translate a semaphore as die Semaphore (instead of der Semaphor like leo.org suggests!), probably because it sounds like amphore. Another example is die E-Mail / die Emaille (engl.: enamel). You see die fits for a second reason to e-mail.
  3. And last but not least you tend to use an article that fits to the suffix of the new word. Suffixes like -e favor die, -er favor der. That is likely why you automatically say der Server, der Browser.

I'm not really sure why blog is der Blog, probably because of 2., means der Blog / der Block.

  • 1
    You're absolutely right about no. 3, but no. 2 is highly debatable. The E-Mail/Emaille connection is really very weak, as is Blog/Block. And isn't no. 1 just shifting the question? The choice of article is the same thing as choosing the gender, so aren't you saying that choosing the gender is the first step in choosing the gender? I'm also not sure what you mean when you say that the neuter gender doesn't play a role. Can you elaborate?
    – Mac
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 8:28
  • The Emaille and Block thingy is probably my personal opinion, but I've echoed into my deepest mind and I'm sure both ones makes it complete, though everyone may have other words he uses for those accociations. Concerning 1., the important thing for choosing an article for the new word is which article has its translation. And I mean the neuter gender is just one of three without higher weight for a decision. If you agree, I could improve my posting and edit it appropriately.
    – äüö
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 9:16
  • 1
    I'm still not convinced about the sound thing, but the other two make sense now - I didn't really get what you meant by "the translated word". Thanks for the clarification! It'd be great if you could edit the thing about the neuter gender, because as it is, it actually sounds as though you can only choose masculine or feminine.
    – Mac
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 9:33
  • 1
    "the translated word": You want to decide if you call it der/die/das Internet. So you translate to maybe das (internationale) Netz. This results to das Internet.
    – äüö
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 9:40

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