German nouns

German nouns have a grammatical gender, as in many related Indo-European languages. They can be masculine, feminine, or neuter, even words for objects without (obvious) masculine or feminine characteristics like 'bridge' or 'rock'. They are also declined (change form) depending on their grammatical case (their function in a sentence) and whether they are singular or plural. German has four cases, nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.

German, along with other High German languages, such as Luxembourgish, is unique among major languages using the Latin alphabet in that all nouns, both proper and common, are capitalized (for example, "the book" is always written as "das Buch"). Only a handful of other languages generally capitalize their nouns, mainly regional languages inspired by German such as Saterland Frisian. Noun compounds are written together (for example, the German word for "spy satellite" is "Spionagesatellit").

German plurals are normally formed by adding -e, -en, -er or nothing to the noun, sometimes also a vowel is changed. Recent loanwords from French and English often keep the -s plural ending.

Declension for case

N-nouns: A masculine or neuter noun with genitive singular and nominative plural in -(e)n is called a n-noun or weak noun (German: schwaches Substantiv). Sometimes these terms are extended to feminine nouns with genitive singular - and nominative plural -en.

For the four cases, nominative, accusative, dative and genitive, the main forms of declension are:

For singular nouns:

I: Feminine nouns usually have the same form in all four cases.
die Frau, die Frau, der Frau, der Frau
Exceptions are:

II: Personal names, all neuter and most masculine nouns have genitive case -(e)s endings: normally -es if one syllable long, -s if more. This is related to using 's to show possession in English, e.g. 'The boy's book'. Traditionally the nouns in this group also add -e in the dative case, but this is now often ignored.
der Mann, den Mann, dem Mann(e), des Mann(e)s
das Kind, das Kind, dem Kind(e), des Kind(e)s

III: Masculine and neuter n-nouns take -(e)n for genitive, dative and accusative: this is used for masculine nouns ending with -e denoting people and animals, masculine nouns ending with -and, -ant, -ent, -ist, mostly denoting people, and a few others, mostly animate nouns.
a) der Drache, den Drachen, dem Drachen, des Drachen
b) der Prinz, den Prinzen, dem Prinzen, des Prinzen

IV: A few masculine nouns take -(e)n for accusative and dative, and -(e)ns for genitive.
a) der Buchstabe, den Buchstaben, dem Buchstaben, des Buchstabens
b) der Glaube, den Glauben, dem Glauben, des Glaubens

For plural nouns:
V: In the dative case, all nouns which do not already have an -n or -s ending add -n.
a) die Kinder, die Kinder, den Kindern, der Kinder
b) die Frauen, die Frauen, den Frauen, der Frauen

General rules of declension

Dative forms with the ending -e, known in German as the Dativ-e (dem Gotte, dem Manne) are mostly restricted to formal usage, but widely limited to poetic style. Such forms are not commonly found in modern texts, except in fixed expressions (such as im Stande sein: "to be able") and for certain words (e.g. (dem) Hause, Wege or Tode) which are, however, quite numerous; in these cases, omitting the -e would be similarly unusual.

Nevertheless, in the genitive, the ending -es is used …

Only words of more syllables usually add a simple -s (des Königs).

In colloquial usage, moreover, singular inflection of weak masculine nouns may be limited to those ending in -e (der Name – dem Namen). Other nouns of this class are sometimes not inflected. Thus one might occasionally hear dem Spatz, dem Idiot instead of the formally correct dem Spatzen, dem Idioten.

Declension classes

Number Singular Plural Example
Class / Case N A D G N A D G
Article der,
die die den der
-(e)s, -e Berg Berg Berg(e) Berg(e)s Berge Berge Bergen Berge der Berg,
des Berg(e)s,
die Berge
-(e)s, -er Bild Bild Bild(e) Bild(e)s Bilder Bilder Bildern Bilder das Bild,
des Bild(e)s,
die Bilder
-(e)s, -en Staat Staat Staat(e) Staat(e)s Staaten Staaten Staaten Staaten der Staat,
des Staat(e)s,
die Staaten
-s, - Fahrer Fahrer Fahrer Fahrers Fahrer Fahrer Fahrern Fahrer der Fahrer,
des Fahrers,
die Fahrer
-s, -e s e e en e ,
-s, -s Radio Radio Radio Radios Radios Radios Radios Radios das Radio,
des Radios,
die Radios
-en, -en Student Studenten Studenten Studenten Studenten Studenten Studenten Studenten der Student,
des Studenten,
die Studenten
-, -̈ Mutter Mutter Mutter Mutter Mütter Mütter Müttern Mütter die Mutter,
der Mutter,
die Mütter
-, -en Meinung Meinung Meinung Meinung Meinungen Meinungen Meinungen Meinungen die Meinung,
der Meinung,
die Meinungen
-, -̈e Kraft Kraft Kraft Kraft Kräfte Kräfte Kräften Kräfte die Kraft,
der Kraft,
die Kräfte
-, -s Kamera Kamera Kamera Kamera Kameras Kameras Kameras Kameras die Kamera,
der Kamera,
die Kameras
-ns, -n Name Namen Namen Namens Namen Namen Namen Namen der Name,
des Namens,
die Namen

Irregular declensions

Singular Plural
Nominative der Herr die Herren
Accusative den Herrn die Herren
Dative dem Herrn den Herren
Genitive des Herrn der Herren
the heart Singular Plural
Nominative das Herz die Herzen
Accusative das Herz die Herzen
Dative dem Herzen* den Herzen
Genitive des Herzens der Herzen

Many foreign nouns have irregular plurals, for example:

Nominative singular Genitive singular Nominative plural Meaning
-s, -en das Thema des Themas die Themen the theme
-s, PL die Themata
-, -en der Kommunismus des Kommunismus (die Kommunismen) communism
-, PL der Modus des Modus die Modi the mode or mood


German nouns are capitalized. German is the only major language to capitalize its nouns. This was also done in the Danish language until 1948 and sometimes in (New) Latin, while Early Modern English showed tendencies towards noun capitalization.

Capitalization is not restricted to nouns. Other words are often capitalized when they are nominalized (substantivated; for instance das Deutsche ‘the German language’, a nominalized or substantivated adjective). German orthography has a number of capitalization rules and non-capitalization rules.

In compound nouns (such as Apfelbaum), only the beginning is capitalized (Apfel) and not the second word (Baum) or any following words:

Farbfernsehgerät — color television set


As in other Germanic languages, German nouns can be compound in effectively unlimited numbers, as in Rinderkennzeichnungs- und Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (‘Cattle Marking and Beef Labelling Supervision Duties Delegation Law’, the name of an actual law passed in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in 1999), or Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft (‘Danube Steamboat Shipping Company’, 1829).

The difference from English compounds is that German compounds are always written together as a single word: "spy satellite" equals "Spionagesatellit" and "mad cow syndrome" equals "Rinderwahnsinn".

In addition, there is the grammatical feature of the Fugen-"s": certain compounds introduce an "s" between the noun stems, historically marking the genitive case of the first noun (c.f. Idafa), but it occurs frequently after nouns which do not actually take an "s" in their genitive cases.

In many instances, the compound is acceptable both with and without the "s", but there are many cases where the "s" is mandatory and this cannot be deduced from grammatical rules, e.g. Hochzeitskleid = "wedding dress", Liebeslied = "love song", Abfahrtszeit = "time of departure", Arbeitsamt = "employment agency".

Occurrence of the Fugen-"s" seems to be correlated to certain suffixes (of the first stem); words in "tum, -ling, -ion, -tät, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -sicht, -ung" and nominalized infinitives in "-en" mostly do take the "s", while feminine words in "-ion, -tät, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -sicht, -ung" mostly do not, but there are exceptions. Use of the "s" is mostly optional in compounds in which the second element is a participle.[1]

To reduce length, a suffix may only be mentioned one time in a sentence, even if it applies to more than one compound noun. For example:

  • Nähe Haupt- und Busbahnhof (near the main railway [station] and bus station)

Common false friends

As in English, some nouns (e.g. mass nouns) only have a singular form (singularia tantum); other nouns only have a plural form (pluralia tantum):

Traps abound in both directions here: common mass nouns in English are not mass nouns in German, and vice versa:

Again as in English, some words change their meaning when changing their number:

A few words have two different plurals with distinct meanings. For example:

Some words share the singular and can only be distinguished by their gender and sometimes their plural:

See also


External links

For a list of words relating to German nouns, see the German nouns category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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