A German noun has one of three specific grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) and belongs to one of three declension classes, only partly dependent of gender. A fourth declension is used for plural declension. These features remain unaltered by inflection but must be considered in this process. The grammatical gender influences articles, adjectives and pronouns. Note that gender has no relation to sex of the noun (e.g. the word 'girl' is neuter, while 'tree' is masculine). It is best considered as an attribute of the noun.
Number (singular, plural) and case (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive) must be taken into account in the process of declension.
The declension can be more difficult than in other languages such as Latin; not only the word ending, but also the root may be altered by inflecting.
- "Der Mann" - "Die Männer"
Some nouns only have a singular form (Singulariatantum); other nouns only have a plural form (Pluraliatantum):
- "Das All", "Der Durst", "der Sand" (space/universe, thirst, sand)
- "Die Kosten", "die Ferien" (costs, the holidays)
Traps abound in both directions here; common singular-only words in English are not singular in German, and vice versa:
- information = "Information", "die Information" (one tidbit of information)
"die Informationen" (the pieces of information)
- the police are (pl.) = "die Polizei ist (sg.)"
Some words change their meaning when changing their number:
- Geld (English, "money") - Gelder (English, "different sources of money")
- Wein (wine) - die Weine (wines: meaning different kinds of wine)
A few words have two different plurals with distinct meanings. For example:
- Wort (word) - Wörter (isolated words, as in five words) - Worte (connected, meaningful words, as in his last words)
- Band - Bande (bonds) - Bänder (ribbons)
- 1 Types of declensions
- 1.1 General rules of declension
- 1.2 Declension classes
- 1.3 Irregular declensions
- 2 Orthography
- 3 See also
- 4 External links
Types of declensions
The four general case declension classes are:
I: no declension: used for all and only feminine nouns
die Frau, die Frau, der Frau, der Frau
II: genitive -(e)s, dative -(e): used for all neuter and most masculine nouns
der Mann, den Mann, dem Mann(e), des Mann(e)s
das Kind, das Kind, dem Kind(e), des Kind(e)s
III: -(e)n for genitive, dative and accusative: used for masculine nouns on -e and a few others, mostly animate nouns. This class of nouns is often called the n-nouns.
a) der Drache, den Drachen, dem Drachen, des Drachen
b) der Prinz, den Prinzen, dem Prinzen, des Prinzen
IV: dative -n: used for all nouns except those ending in -n or -s in the nominative plural
a) die Kinder, die Kinder, den Kindern, der Kinder
b) die Frauen, die Frauen, den Frauen, der Frauen
Note that these classes do not yet show how to put a singular noun into its plural form.
General rules of declension
- Given the nominative singular, genitive singular, and nominative plural of a noun, it is possible to determine its declension.
- Note that in all feminine nouns, all singular forms are identical.
- The dative plural of all nouns ends in -n if such an ending does not already exist, except that of nouns that form the plural with -s, which are usually loan words.
- Most nouns do not take declensions in the accusative or dative cases. A small class of mostly masculine nouns called "weak nouns" takes the ending -n or -en in all cases except the nominative.
| ||Singular ||Plural |
|Class ||Nom. ||Acc. ||Dat. ||Gen. ||Nom. ||Acc. ||Dat. ||Gen. ||Example |
| ||der/das/die ||den/das/die ||dem/dem/der ||des/des/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 ||Lehrling ||Lehrling ||Lehrling ||Lehrlings ||Lehrlinge ||Lehrlinge ||Lehrlingen ||Lehrlinge ||der Lehrling, des Lehrlings, die Lehrlinge |
|-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 |
|-ns, -n ||Name ||Namen ||Namen ||Namens ||Namen ||Namen ||Namen ||Namen ||der Name, des Namens, die Namen |
- IMPORTANT: Please note that the optional 'e' on the masculine and neuter singulars has not been in common use for several hundred years and is today only used for flowery poetic language.
| || Singular || Plural |
| Nominative || der Herr || die Herren |
| Accusative || den Herrn || die Herren |
| Dative || dem Herrn || den Herren |
| Genitive || des Herrn || der Herren |
| || Singular || Plural |
| Nominative || das Herz(the heart) || die Herzen |
| Accusative || das Herz || die Herzen |
| Dative || dem Herz(en) || 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 |
| -0-, -en || der Kommunismus || des Kommunismus || (die Kommunismen) || the communism |
| -s, PL || das Thema || des Themas || die Themata || the theme |
| -0-, PL || der Uterus || des Uterus || die Uteri || the uterus |
In some religious publications (especially Catholic), the name of Jesus is declined as in Latin, that is:
| ||sing. |
|nom. ||Jesus |
|voc. ||Jesu |
|acc. ||Jesum |
|gen. ||Jesu |
|dat. ||Jesu |
|abl. ||Jesu |
|loc. ||Jesu |
Although the ablative is absent in German, it will be used then if it would be used in Latin. The genitive "Jesu" is much more frequent than the other cases, as in "Die Kreuzigung Jesu", "Jesus' crucifixion".
All German nouns are capitalised. This applies even to infinitives used as nouns.
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