I barely know German, but I am interested in its grammar (the internals).

So far I've read such statements:

  • in German there is no grammatical gender in plural,
  • there is one single gender -- plural (sic!),
  • there are 3 genders, but they all look the same (for example in articles).

The last two statements made me wonder whether there are cases which would help to sort this out:

  1. plural-only: are there plural-only nouns in Germans (like "pants", piece of clothes, in English) for which you could say "it is plural number AND it is masculine/feminine/neuter gender nevertheless" (despite you don't know its gender in singular form because there is no singular form),
  2. regular nouns: are there examples of sentences phrases with plural number when you couldn't exchange masculine/feminine/neuter noun because the gender wouldn't match?

ad.2) maybe a little example from my native language to better illustrate what I am asking:

"Szybki kot" (quick cat) in plural form would be "szybkie koty" (quick cats). I cannot exchange the noun freely (in Polish) because gender matters -- for example I could write "szybkie psy" (quick dogs) but not "szybkie kierowcy" (error: gender mismatch), only "szybcy kierowcy" (quick drivers).

So in Polish nouns are non freely interchangeable (plural or not), and my second question can be rephrased like this -- in grammatical sense, are plural nouns freely interchangeable in German?

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    Are you asking something like "das großes Baum-die große Bäume" ("the big tree-the big trees")? Also I think you kind of mentioned it, but in both english and german, there are some nouns where they imply something as plural by default and it rarely, or not at all, implies a way to be singular. "Die Leute" or "die Eltern" are some that come to mind. I would say they are "plural-gendered" and not masculine-feminine-neuter. Commented Jun 15 at 22:43
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    @BlauKakaPOW "das großes Baum-die große Bäume" -- not really, here you replaced singular form with plural. I am asking for "die große Katzen-die große Bäume" (big cats, big trees). So my second question is can I continue replacing nouns in plural form and in Germal would it be grammatically correct or not? Thank you for your example, so you cannot tell for example "die Leute" is feminine because there is no singular form, right? Commented Jun 16 at 6:06
  • Technically you can tell that "die Leute" is plural with the Dative case. This isn't a "good" example but it shows it in action: "Das Podium war neben den Leuten". With Genitive masculine/neuter case, you add an "s" at the end of the noun, and with the Dative plural, you add an "n". It's rare, but I see it often in books enough that it stands out. In my personal opinion, the case system in German reflects the "a/an" system in english. It just sounds right, therefore that's what you use. I've never been hung up on this question you're asking. Commented Jun 16 at 20:59
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    If a language (like German) has three genders whose forms differ in singular then it is said to have three genders. Period. This does not change just because the plural forms are the same for all genders.
    – RHa
    Commented Jun 17 at 7:48
  • @RHa and why we should assume singular form is in some way superior and rules plural form as well? The logic you state ("singular rules") applied to other languages is obviously false. Commented Jun 17 at 16:47

4 Answers 4


It's partly a matter of interpretation since there is no functional difference between a single plural and three identical plurals. But I think the simplest model is that there are four "classes", masculine, feminine, neuter and plural, and these tell you everything you need to know from pronouns to adjective declension. There is no difference in form between plurals formed from masculine, neuter or plural nouns, either in the word itself or in words related to it such as determiners and adjectives. For verb conjugation there is only plural versus singular. For most things the case is important as well, and person is another factor in verb conjugation and pronouns.

However, German being German, the form the plural takes is somewhat unpredictable, so there are different plural endings for different nouns, and while this is somewhat correlated with gender, there are few hard rules.

There are several "plural only" nouns in German, most notably "Leute" meaning "people". You (usually) can't have a single "Leut" in German. Another common one is "Eltern" meaning "parents". While you can have a single "parent" in English, there isn't a singular form for "Eltern". A less common and somewhat borderline case is "Trümmer" meaning "ruins", since there are archaic singular forms. Wiktionary has a category for pluralia tantum nouns in German, so there are many more, but most seem to be borrowed or technical words and you may not want to count them. Note that German and English do not agree on what nouns should be plural only, or singular only for that matter, and I assume neither agree with Polish.

German adjectives do not distinguish between genders in plurals, but declining them is rather complex anyway. The reason is that it depends on accompanying determiners. For plurals these differences disappear. But for singular nouns the adjective declension rules aren't just a matter of gender and case.

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    '"Trümmer" meaning "ruins", since there are archaic singular forms' - that was very surprising to me, but common online dictionaries confirm your statement. In spoken German, I would without any hesitation say something like "Da liegt noch ein Trümmer herum.", and I am sure I have often said and heard others use this singular form. Commented Jun 15 at 23:05
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    Thank you very much. "You (usually) can't have a single "Leut" in German. " ... and you cannot tell gender in sense of masculine/feminine/neuter so there it comes the fourth "gender" -- plural, right? Commented Jun 16 at 6:10
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    @greenoldman - I prefer saying four "classes" instead of four genders. For example, if you look at Wiktionary's declension table for "der", it has a row for each case and a column for each class. But M/F/N have yellow headings while P has green. The singular/plural distinction has other consequences, such as in verb conjugation.
    – RDBury
    Commented Jun 16 at 11:46
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    Putting plural as a fourth “class” on the same level as the three genders is a very nonstandard analysis — “number” (i.e. singular/plural) is usually treated as an entirely separate axis from gender, for several good reasons. Firstly, most nouns have a single gender, but have both singular and plural forms. (A few animate nouns have versions in different genders, and a few lack a singular, but these are very much exceptional.) Secondly, “number” shows up independently of gender in e.g. pronouns and verb conjugation (as you mention!). [cont’d]
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 16 at 13:19
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    @greenoldman: The one I know best is Slovene. Wikipedia lists plenty more, including Modern Standard Arabic and some of the vernacular Arabics, along with Tagalog and Cebuano. A lot of the listed languages have a fairly limited dual (eg only for nouns, or only for pronouns) — it’s hard to judge this quickly for languages I don’t know, but at least in Slovene, it’s used throughout — verbs, nouns, adjectives, and pronouns all have specific dual forms.
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 16 at 19:32

Concerning point 2 I confer with the other answers: There is no functional difference between a masculine, feminine or neuter plural noun or adjective. They are fully exchangeable. You can say "Die Frauen, Männer und Kinder" while you can't say "Die Frau und Kinder" instead of "Die Frau und die Kinder". I suppose you also can say "piękne kobiety, drzewa i koty", but can't say "szybkie auto i koty" instead of "szybkie auto i szybkie koty" in Polish, too.

But I think that pluralia tantum arguably do have a gender in German. This can be tested with the phrase "eines/einer/eine der ...". For a normal noun with singular, the gender of "einer" will always be the same as the noun. If pluralia tantum really had no gender, all forms should be acceptable. But for e.g. "Leute", I think only "einer der Leute" is grammatical, and "eine der Leute" and "eines der Leute" not, so I would conclude that "Leute" is masculine (for me). "Eltern" also shows a clear preference towards masculine (see DWDS). It's not about natural gender: "Einer der Eltern" could be female as well.

This, however, should be taken with a grain of salt because it is basically forcing the speaker to pick a gender. It's like concluding wer and jemand are masculine because you refer to them using der. It only serves to say that "If Eltern had a gender, it would be masculine".

Side note: This is different from Polish, which has "jedne", which is the nonvirile plural form of "one", for pluralia tantum. Mind-blowing.


Additional to RDBury's answer let me add some practical consideration.

All three statements basically result in the same: an identically-looking plural. Thus which it is, depends somewhat on your view - though I'd argue that the nouns don't suddenly loose their gender just because you have several of it instead of one, thus "plurals looking identical" is what makes most sense IMHO.

Practically, and linguists might whip me for this, it is however so, that for any adjective you can assign 4 pseudo-genders when it comes to declination and you want to make a template sentence. We used to approach it in this manner in a translation for a game I was translation manager some time ago. Considering a sentence like "Übergeben Sie {num} schön{e,en,es,e} {noun} an den Gastgeber" where the endings of "schön" are in the order of feminine (e), masculine (en), neuter (es) and plural (e), depending on the gender of the noun abd whether {num} was 1 or any other number (not 1, and including 0), thus "plural" was an acceptable (pseudo)gender in this regard, too. This worked for all practical purposes to localizing that game to German exceptionally well without having things look funky as I've seen since in several other translation projects.

  • Ich bin ja kein Linguist, aber aus der Tatsache, dass das Geschlecht eines Wortes den Artikel bestimmt und auch die Frage, ob es in Einzahl oder Mehrzahl steht, folgt ja nicht, dass es einen Namen geben muss, der diese Gemeinsamkeit ausdrückt. Insbesondere nicht, dass Gender eine gute Wahl ist oder Pseudogender oder Pseudogeschlecht. (In meiner Schulzeit (bis 1983) wurde es noch ohne Ausnahme als Geschlecht bezeichnet). Das Wort "Mensch" ist Einzahl, männlich; "Menschen" ist Mehrzahl und als solche ohne Geschlecht. Der Wortstamm ist zwar "Mensch" aber es ist ein anderes Wort. Commented Jun 17 at 17:25
  • "Menschen" ist Mehrzahl und als solche ohne Geschlecht. Ist das der Grund, warum man "Menschen" nicht "gendern" kann? (i.e. "Menschinnen"). Es scheint ganz wenige maskuline Wörter zu geben, so wie "Mensch," wo mann heutzutage immer noch nicht versucht, sie zu "gendern"... was charakterisiert solche Wörter? Commented Jun 18 at 20:41

Proponents of the current trend of gender equitable language have a very strong opinion on that. Nouns do not lose their gender in the plural. For example, the plural "Ärzte" is still as male as its singular "Arzt", and you must say "Ärztinnen und Ärzte" in order not to exclude female members of the medical profession.

This proves that for a significant part of German speakers, the first two statements:

in German there is no grammatical gender in plural


there is one single gender -- plural (sic!)

are ruled out and only the third:

there are 3 genders, but they all look the same (for example in articles).

is acceptable.

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    The question is asking about grammatical gender; this answer is talking about the social gender implied by nouns denoting people, which is not the same thing. The question of what social gender(s) Ärzte covers is independent of its grammatical gender, just as much as the grammatical gender of das Mädchen is independent of the social gender it implies.
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 17 at 15:09
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    @TilmanSchmidt so what is the social gender of "bucket" or "water"? Rhetorical question, you see in my question some vibes I didn't even touch. "Nouns do not lose their gender in the plural." and you obviously neglected cases I specified -- nouns they exists only in plural so they cannot lose anything because they don't originate in singular form. Commented Jun 17 at 16:42
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    @PLL et.al: The articles in German language are denoted as gender, which matches the term gender as used in social sciences, which was invented in distinction to sex, the biological category. If you are invested in the idea, that maskulin words refer to maskulin people - which is a wrong assumption, btw. - you haven't shown that it is the social gender, not the biological sex, which is addressed, which is, as stated, a wrong idea, but more plausible than assuming a gender role. Else how do you explain Katze/Kater, Huhn/Hahn, Eber/Sau - is it referring to a social role by animals, too? Why not? Commented Jun 17 at 17:06
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    You can see, that the assumption is wrong, since there are a) 2 sexes and genders, but 3 articles (der, die, das) and Hammer, Zange, Senkblei - what is the sex or social gender of these? The basis of the idea of articles referring to sex or gender is broken, down to the basis, but when the articles evolved, the idea of social roles by sex had not been invented. It's violence against the language to pretend, that it is gender roles, what is referred to by "Ärztin" or "Fliesenlegerin". Not only no proof, but not even an indication. Commented Jun 17 at 17:12
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    @TilmanSchmidt: The distinction between social and grammatical gender is subtle, and proponents of GEL are just as liable to confusing it as anyone else. The GEL argument, as I’ve heard it more carefully articulated, is that Arzt and Ärzte connote a social gender of male, and are thus not gender-inclusive (while GEL opponents argue that at least Ärzte is socially gender-inclusive). This doesn’t rely on anything about the words’ grammatical gender — compare the uncontroversial fact that das Mädchen connotes a social gender of female, while being grammatically neuter gender.
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 17 at 17:45

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