How to recognize gender in German using endings

by Jakub Marian
Tip: Did you know that the plural of “sheep” is “sheep”, not “sheeps”? Learn more about the most common grammar mistakes in English (PDF version).

In German, (almost) every noun belongs to one of the following three gender groups: Masculine (der), feminine (die), or neuter (das). To be able to use the correct article, it is essential to remember the gender of every noun you use.

For some words, there’s no other possibility than to just learn the gender by heart (LingQ is a very good tool to do that because it gives you the same word in many different contexts); nevertheless, it is possible to recognize the gender of most nouns just by looking at their form, and usually it is the ending that tells you the gender. In the following, I list the most important rules with examples and the most notable exceptions to the rules.

Note: The rule usually doesn’t apply to monosyllabic words, because then the letter group is not an ending. When it does, examples of monosyllabic words are explicitly mentioned.

Masculine

-ant der Dilettant (amateur), der Gigant (giant), der Quadrant (quadrant). Exc.: das Deodorant (deodorant).
-anz (monosyllabic) der Schwanz (tail), der Tanz (dance), der Glanz (gloss). Polysyllabic (not derived from these) are feminine: die Eleganz (elegance), die Toleranz (tolerance), die Ignoranz (ignorance).
-ast der Ballast (burden), der Palast (palace), der Morast (morass, swamp).
-er (from verbs) der Bäcker (baker), der Müller (miller), der Bauer (peasant).
-ich der Teppich (carpet), der Pfirsich (peach), der Estrich (screed, a layer of material).
-eich (incl. monosyllabic) der Bereich (realm, area), der Teich (pond), der Deich (dam, dike). Exc.: das Reich (empire) and words derived from it, such as das Frankreich (France); however, notice: der Bereich.
-ig der Essig (vinegar), der König (king), der Honig (honey).
-eig (incl. monosyllabic) der Zweig (branch), der Teig (dough), der Steig (steep path).
-ling der Feigling (coward), der Fremdling (stranger), der Rohling (rough person), but the words borrowed from English ending with -ing are neuter (das Peeling).
-or der Autor (author), der Bachelor (the Bachelor degree, pronounced as in English), der Sponsor (sponsor). Exc.: das Labor (laboratory).
-us der Campus (campus), der Exitus (exitus, death), der Orgasmus (orgasm). Exc.: das Genus (grammatical gender), das Tempus (tense).
-ismus der Extremismus (extremism), der Kapitalismus (capitalism), der Alkoholismus (alcoholism).
Also, a very wide class of masculine nouns are those formed from verbs by removing the ending -en (and usually changing the root vowel). For example, der Ausstieg (exit, getting out) - aussteigen (to exit, to get out), der Schatz (treasure) - schätzen (to appreciate), der Kampf (combat) - kämpfen (to fight). Once you see that a noun is derived form a verb in this way, you can be almost 100% sure that it is masculine. One notable group of exceptions are some nouns ending in -t, which are feminine, for example die Sicht (view) - sehen (to see), die Fahrt (journey, trip using a vehicle) - fahren (to go using a vehicle), die Wucht (force) – wuchten (to drag). Also, das Versteck (hideout) – verstecken (to hide), das Schloss (lock) – schließen (to lock), das Verbot (ban) – verbieten (to ban).

Feminine

-anz die Eleganz (elegance), die Toleranz (tolerance), die Ignoranz (ignorance). However, monosyllabic words are masculine: der Schwanz (tail), der Tanz (dance), der Glanz (gloss).
-e (about 90%) die (rote) Bete (beetroot), die Seite (page), die Zeile (line). Exc.: Names of male persons and animals: der Affe (monkey, ape), der Bote (messenger), der Junge (boy), der Löwe (lion).
-ei die Brauerei (brewery), die Trinkerei (excessive drinking), die Türkei (Turkey (the country)).
-enz die Konferenz (conference), die Existenz (existence), die Präsenz (presence).
-heit die Sicherheit (security), die Freiheit (freedom), die Gelegenheit (opportunity).
-ie die Ökonomie (economy), die Theorie (theory), also die Familie (family, pronounced /faˈmiːliə/. Exc.: das Genie (genius).
-in (when it expresses a female person) die Freundin (the feminine form of de Freund (friend)), die Ärztin (the feminine form of der Artzt (doctor)), die Bäckerin (the feminine form of der Bäcker (baker)) etc., but it is neuter for chemical terms, for example das Benzin (petrol, gas), das Protein (protein).
-ik die Ökonomik (economics), die Germanistik (German studies), die Fabrik (factory). Exc.: der Atlantik (the Atlantic Ocean), der Katholik (catholic), das Mozaik (mosaic), der Pazifik (the Pacific Ocean).
-keit die Ähnlichkeit (similarity), die Natürlichkeit (naturalness), die Ratlosigkeit (helplessness).
-nis (from adjectives and verbs expressing a state of mind) die Bitternis (bitterness) - bitter (bitter), die Finsternis (gloom) - finster (sinister), die Besorgnis (worry, concern) - besorgen (to obtain, to take care of), die Betrübnis (grief) - betrüben (to sadden). Furthermore, the following are also feminine: die Erlaubnis (permission), die Erkenntnis (insight), die Kenntnis (the ‘knowing’, knowledge).
-schaft die Gesellschaft (society), die Freundschaft (friendship), die Mannschaft (team).
-sion die Version (version), die Dimension (dimension), die Illusion (illusion).
-sis die Basis (foundation, base), die Dosis (dose, dosage), die Apsis (apse).
-tion die Station (station), die Funktion (function), die Reduktion (reduction).
-tät die Universität (university), die Relativität (relativity), die Aktivität (activity).
-ung die Beobachtung (observation), die Ableitung (derivation), die Vebreitung (spreading, propagation).
-ur die Kultur (culture), die Miniatur (miniature), die Tortur (torture). Exc.: das Abitur (high-school-leaving exam), das Futur (future tense), das Purpur (purple colour).

Neuter

-a (names of countries) Most words ending in -a are female names (and as such are, of course, feminine). However, names of countries ending in -a are neuter: das Amerika, das Guinea, das Uganda, das Jamajka.
-chen and -lein are used in German to form diminutives (which generally don’t exist in English). Diminutives are usually used to express that something is small or cute; for example das Haus (house) - das Häuschen (small/cute house), der Mann (man) - das Männlein (small/cute man), die Frau (woman, Mrs.) - das Fräulein (Ms.). Now, you can also understand why das Mädchen (girl) is neuter—it is the diminutive of die Magd (maid) which changed from Mägdchen to Mädchen over time.
-en (when a verb is used as a noun) usually corresponds to the ending -ing in English, for example das Lesen (reading) - lesen (to read), das Verstehen (understending) - verstehen (to understand), das Malen (painting) - malen (to paint). The same principle applies also to the words whose meaning has somewhat shifted, for example das Essen (food) - essen (to eat), das Leben (life) - leben (to live). Sometimes, there are two forms: der Husten (cough) - das Husten ((the process of) coughing) - husten (to cough), der Braten (roast) - das Braten ((the process of) baking) - braten (to bake, to roast).
-il das Ventil (valve), das Profil (profile), das Textil (textile).
-in (chemical terms) das Benzin (petrol, gas), das Protein (protein).
-ing (borrowed from English) das Peeling, das Meeting, das Training.
-it das Fazit (conclusion), das Dynamit (dynamite), das Zenit (zenith).
-ma (of Greek origin) das Schema (scheme), das Rheuma (rheumatism), das Thema (topic, theme), but those not originally Greek are usually not neuter: die Firma (firm, company), der Puma (puma).
-ment das Element (element), das Fragment (fragment), das Segment (segment).
-nis (which don’t express a state of mind): das Ergebnis (result), das Verständnis (comprehension), das Zeugnis (certificate, evidence). Exc.: die Erlaubnis (permission), die Erkenntnis (insight), die Kenntnis (the ‘knowing’, knowledge).
-tum das Eigentum (property, one’s possessions), das Heiligtum (temple, shrine), das Wachstum (growth).
-um das Album (album), das Imperium (empire), das Parfum (perfume).
ge- das Gebirge (range of mountains), das Gebäck (pastry), das Geschirr (dishes). Exc.: male persons: der Gehilfe (assistant); some nouns derived from verbs: der Gebrauch (use) - gebrauchen (to use), der Genuss (enjoyment) - genießen (to enjoy), der Gesang (singing) - singen (to sing), der Gedanke (thought) - denken (to think), der Geruch (odour) - riechen (to smell), der Gewinn (the gain) - gewinnen (to gain, to win); 11 more feminines: die Gebärde (gesture), die Gebühr (fee), die Geburt (birth) (from gebären (to give birth), but notice the -t), die Geduld (patience), die Gefahr (danger), die Gemeinde (community), die Geschichte (history, story), die Geschwulst (tumor), die Gestalt (shape, character in a novel), die Gewähr (guarantee, warrant), die Gewalt (violence).

Furthermore, words having the following endings are usually neuter if they refer to things:

-al das Lineal (ruler), das Arsenal (armoury, arsenal), das Genital (genital)
-an das Organ (organ), das Marzipan (marzipan), das Uran (uranium)
-ar das Formular (form), das Radar (radar, der Radar is also correct), das Sonar (sonar). Exc.: der Altar (altar).
-(m)ent das Talent (talent), das Dokument (document), das Element (element).
-ett das Etikett (label, etiquette), das Ballett (ballet), das Sonett (sonnet). There are also two monosyllabic: das Bett (bed), das Brett (board, plank).
-ier (incl. monosyllabic) das Papier (paper), das Tier (animal), das Bier (beer). Exc.: die Neugier (curiosity).
-iv das Adjektiv (adjective), das Archiv (archive), das Stativ (tripod).
-o das Büro (office), das Cello (violoncello), das Klo (toilet).
-on (of Greek origin) das Mikrophon (microphone), das Hormon (hormone), das Lexikon (lexicon). Those of non-greek origin are usually masculine: der Bourbon (bourbon), der Kanon (canon), der Pavillon (pavillion, specialized building), der Waggon (wagon).

By the way, are you not a native English speaker? Then you should check out my book about the most common mistakes in English. There’s also a downloadable PDF version.

Do you have a remark? (Currently 0 Comments)
Visit our Facebook page
Do you like articles here? Support us by liking our Facebook page!
Title image by: E. Gärtner (Public Domain)  •  Privacy policy and Amazon Afiliate links