One of the earliest things that you learn in German class is the fact that German knows three genders for its nouns. Often, German students get overwhelmed by that. After reading this article, you will know when to use “der, die, das” and “ein, eine”.
What is the gender of a noun?
During the last centuries, the English language has developed itself away from the roots which it shares with German and Dutch. As a consequence, there is no real relevance to the gender of a noun in English. Therefore, we only use “the” or “a/an”. However, one can find leftovers of this idea. Also, in English, we would typically refer to a male as he, a female as she and everything else that does not have a heartbeat or is an animal like it.
Now, depending on the other language you might speak, there is a big chance that you are familiar with a male and female version of a noun and its article. For instance, in French, this would be le/un for males and la/une for females.
The gender of the noun is essential for many other grammar issues in German. For instance, when you want to transform the noun to one of the other 3 German cases when you would like to choose the proper personal pronoun when you want to use use the right possessive pronoun or negate a noun! As you can see, you cannot run away from the idea of gender in German!
Recommended study materials on the topic:
- A-Grammar: Practice German grammar (incl. answers)
- German self-study book for A1-B1 (incl. answers)
- Schubicards Artikel: der – die – das
- Langenscheid Memo game
- Mindmemo poster – German parts of speech
When to choose which gender in German?
We separate the nouns in the three genders male (der/ein), female (die/eine) and neutral (das/ein) and mark them as such while in English all nouns are “the”.
When you study German, you can forget the idea that there is a logical pattern behind the right choice of a noun and its gender. Therefore, in German, a table is male (der Tisch), a lamp is female (die Lampe), and the bed is neutral (das Bett). Often, there is simply no reasonable explanation for that. However, we can say that in general, a male person is “der” and a female person is “die” – at least this is clear. Additionally, you can find more information about how to find out the gender of a noun in the article “When to use “der, die, or das” in German”.
Definite and indefinite articles in German
In German, we differentiate the articles between definite (like “the” in English) and indefinite (like “a” or “an” in English).
As the English “the”, we use definite articles if we speak about something specific or something that has already been mentioned before.
Definite articles in German
|male||der Mann||the man|
|female||die Frau||the woman|
|neutral||das Kind||the child|
|plural||die Autos||the cars|
Indefinite articles in German
Of course, we also have indefinite articles like the English “a” or respectively “an”. We use them when we refer to something in general that is not specific or that we did not mention before. We use it as follows:
|male||ein Mann||a man|
|female||eine Frau||a woman|
|neutral||ein Kind||a child|
|plural||/ Autos||/ cars|
Conclusion about German genders
As you can see in the explanations above, the idea of “the” and “a” also exists in German. However, in contrast to English, you need to study three genders. Therefore, I always recommend studying new nouns with their gender and plural form. This will make your life easier for sure.
Now you should have understood the idea of “der, die, das” and “ein, eine” and be able to choose which one to use at the right time.
If you want to improve your skills, you should also check out the self-studying book A-Grammar: German grammar exercises for levels A1 & A2, which includes all grammar aspects for these levels (incl. German nouns), English descriptions and explanations, and an answer book. Also, you can quickly expand your German vocabulary Schubicards Artikel: der – die – das or the Langenscheid Memo game.
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