If you’ve already decided to study German, then you’ve certainly heard some terrible things about it, such as how difficult the grammar is. For the most part, this can be overcome with a little bit of effort. However, there is one part of the language that scarcely seems to have any rules at all: articles. As a result, many students simply give up on learning German articles properly.


However, it’s clear that this issue can conquered. For example, have you ever wondered how children are able to master their mother tongue so perfectly? Well, one answer is that they have much more time than you to learn and they get full immersion classes for free. However, you might be comforted by the fact that German children also struggle with articles. In fact, it is only after a great deal of trial and error that they eventually learn the right ones to use.


Now, you probably can’t afford to spend as much time as children do on learning German. Therefore, you’re going to need some other strategies. One such strategy is, of course, to just focus your energy on learning articles. However, there is another way that I would like to show you.


Some Background on Article Gender


Many students have absolutely no idea why “skirt” is masculine and “sun” is feminine in German. It almost appears as if the articles have been assigned at random. However, there are some studies that show that this is not in fact true.


In one such study, German native speakers were asked to assign an article to made-up words. If there were no pattern to article designation, one would expect that Germans would see no difference between the words and, as a result, they would choose articles randomly.


Yet, that is not what happened. For many words, the same gender was selected by a majority of the participants. That means that it is the sound of the words, rather than the meaning, that is important for the grammatical gender.


So, perhaps you have already come across a list of German word endings. Let’s have a look at three such lists:


Table 1: All nouns with the following endings are masculine:






Liebling, Flüchtling, Schmetterling, Zwilling


Direktor, Professor, Autor, Monitor, Motor


Biologe, Psychologe


Polizist, Spezialist, Jurist, Komponist

-ant (person *)

Praktikant, Repräsentant, Elefant,*


Student, Präsident


Friseur, Monteur, Akteur


Musiker, Optiker, Chemiker


Optimismus, Pessimismus, Opportunismus



* Restaurant is of French origin and not a person.


In Table 1, we find that most of the nouns are used to describe professions that people have. These nouns are all masculine because they are used to describe only the male version of each job. In order to create the female counterpart, we add -in. For example, der Direktor is a male director or manager, while die Direktorin is a female one. Similarly, der Biologe is male while die Biologin is female, der Student is male while die Studentin is female, and so forth.


Going beyond the endings listed here, we can make the blanket statement that the physical gender and the grammatical gender are the same for virtually all nouns describing people. For example, der Erzähler and der Spieler are male, while die Erzählerin and die Spielerin are female.


Table 2: All nouns with the following endings are feminine:







Zeitung, Buchung, Untersuchung


Freiheit, Schönheit, Mehrheit, Gesundheit


Möglichkeit, Schnelligkeit, Eitelkeit


Mannschaft, Freundschaft, Bereitschaft


Information, Situation, Diskussion, Station


Musik, Physik, Politik, Fabrik, Optik


Universität, Fakultät, Spezialität, Nationalität


Bibliothek, Videothek


Bäckerei, Metzgerei, Polizei, Bücherei


Kultur, Natur, Reparatur, Frisur


Chemie, Biologie, Psychologie, Demokratie


Frequenz, Konkurrenz


Table 3: All nouns with the following endings are neuter:







Mädchen, Brötchen


Museum, Universum, Datum


Argument, Dokument, Instrument


These tables are pretty helpful, however, they don’t cover most German words. Furthermore, many of these words are easy to understand because they are foreign words, such as Situation or Biologie. What about the words of German origin? Here, the matter becomes a little bit more complicated.


Useful Rules to Follow


Let’s start with the most prominent rule:


Most of the words ending in -e are feminine, such as:


  • die Banane
  • die Rose
  • die Sprache (language)


In addition to this, the plural ending is always -n. So, we get:


  • die Bananen
  • die Rosen
  • die Sprachen


This rule works really well when we are talking about objects, such as die Hose, or abstract nouns derived from adjectives, such as die Kälte (kalt, cold) and die Höhe (hoch, high).


There are only a few exceptions:


  • der Name
  • der Käse (cheese)
  • das Ende (end)
  • der Gedanke (thought)
  • das Interesse (interest)


There are also some collective nouns that are exceptions, as we’ll see below.


However, this changes when we speak about living objects, the majority of which are people or animals. For example:


  • der Junge (boy)
  • der Biologe (biologist, male)
  • der Kranke (sick person, male)
  • der Beamte (civil servant, male)


These masculine nouns ending in -e are peculiar because they behave slightly differently from other nouns.


Some follow the n-declination, such as der Junge or der Biologe. This means that in the accusative, dative and genitive case they are declined, and take -n even in the singular. For instance: mit dem Jungen.


Others behave like an adjective, such as der Kranke or der Beamte (ein Kranker or ein Beamter). Furthermore, most have a female counterpart, like die Biologin or die Beamtin.


The next rule deals with the meaning. Many instruments, tools and devices ending in -er are masculine. For example:


  • der Computer
  • der Drucker (printer)
  • der Kugelschreiber (ball pen)
  • der Korkenzieher (corkscrew)
  • der Sender (broadcast station)


Notice that (die) Mutter (mother) and (die) Butter (butter); which are not instruments, tools or devices; are feminine nouns.


In addition, most nouns ending in -en are masculine, such as:


  • der Garten (garden)
  • der Ofen (oven)
  • der Laden (shop)
  • der Rasen (lawn)
  • der Boden (ground)


However, an exception exists for this rule as well.


When the infinitive form of a verb is turned into a noun, the noun will be neuter:


  • das Leben (life)
  • das Essen (food)
  • das Schwimmen (swimming)
  • das Fernsehen (TV)


Many older foreign words are also neuter:


  • das Auto (car)
  • das Telefon
  • das Radio
  • das Kino (cinema)
  • das Café
  • das Hotel

  • das Problem


Collective nouns are words that describe a group of nouns with the same characteristics. Many of these are neuter too. For example:


  • das Obst (fruit)
  • das Gemüse (vegetable)
  • das Fleisch (meat)
  • das Gebirge (mountain range)
  • das Geschirr (tableware)
  • das Besteck (cutlery)
  • das Gebäck (pastry)
  • das Gebiet (territory)
  • das Gebiss (set of teeth)
  • das Geflügel (poultry)
  • das Gehirn (brain)
  • das Gelände (terrain)
  • das Gerät (device)
  • das Geschlecht (gender)
  • das Getreide (grain)


Please note that most of these words start with the prefix Ge-, and you can often still distinguish the word they originate from. For example, you will find the word Berg (mountain) in Gebirge, the verb backen (to bake) in Gebäck, and the verb fliegen (to fly) in Geflügel, and so on.


Most of the nouns that have been derived from a verb and that end in -t are feminine. For example:


  • die Fahrt (journey)
  • die Ankunft (arrival) from ankommen (to arrive)
  • die Furcht  (fear) from fürchten (to fear)
  • die Schrift (writing) from schreiben (to write)
  • die Geburt (birth) from gebären (to give birth)
  • die Macht (power)
  • die Sicht (view) from sehen (to see)


A Few More Strategies


It is of course a bit risky to make generalizations about the gender of German nouns. However, there is a claim that 46% of all nouns are feminine, 34% are masculine and 20% are neuter. If this were true, a good strategy would then be to just use feminine articles for nouns whose gender you are unsure of.


However, most of this 46% seems to be covered by the die -e rule (such as die Lampe) and the feminine words listed above (such as die Hoffnung). It seems that apart from those two groups of feminine nouns, most of the things in our everyday life are not feminine, such as:


  • der Stuhl
  • der Tisch
  • das Bett
  • das Haus
  • das Buch


Another good thing to keep in mind is that you can deduce the gender of a whole bunch of words for free, through compound words or words with a prefix. For instance, in German we have die Fahrt, die Abfahrt and die Zugfahrt. Therefore, once you know the gender of Fahrt, the other words follow immediately.


Finally, German is famous for its long words, which are actually not long but just composed of different nouns. So, don’t get freaked out by words like Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (supposedly the longest word in German). All you have to do is split the word up and you’ll be fine. In fact, it’s the last noun, Gesetz (law), that is the important word here. Therefore, from das Gesetz we can figure out the article for the whole word. Got it?


Of course, there still remain a huge amount of words for which there are essentially no rules. To learn these there are only two methods: study hard or just get used to them over time.


Image Sources


Hero Image by Serge Saint (CC BY 2.0)