Nouns ending with -heit and -keit in German

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more.

All German nouns that have the suffix -heit or -keit are feminine (i.e. have the article die), without exception (which is something we don’t see very often in German). To be fair, we should mention that there are a few extremely rare minerals whose names are seemingly exceptions to the rule because they contain the suffix -it after a root that ends in -he or -ke, e.g. der Luanheit (which is, in fact, Luanhe-it). In practice, you needn’t worry about these.

There is no difference in meaning between -heit and -keit (we will see later when to use which); -heit and -keit most commonly correspond to the English suffix -ness, as in:

einsam (lonely) Einsamkeit (loneliness)
krank (ill) Krankheit (illness)
natürlich (natural) Natürlichkeit (naturalness)

or -ity:

gleich (equal) Gleichheit (equality)
sichtbar (visible) Sichtbarkeit (visibility)
rein (pure) Reinheit (purity)

but there are also many other possibilities:

gesund (healthy) Gesundheit (health)
arbeitslos (unemployed) Arbeitslosigkeit (unemployment)
entschlossen (determined) Entschlossenheit (determination)

Difference between -heit and -keit

It is almost always possible to tell whether to use -keit or -heit based on the suffix of the original adjective. If the adjective has one of the suffixes -ig, -lich, -sam, or -bar, the correct suffix is -keit:

-ig + -keit

fähig (able) Fähigkeit (ability)
flüssig (liquid) Flüssigkeit (a liquid)
tätig (active, busy) Tätigkeit (activity)

-lich + -keit

empfindlich (sensitive) Empfindlichkeit (sensitivity)
freundlich (friendly) Freundlichkeit (friendliness)
sterblich (mortal) Sterblichkeit (mortality)

-sam + -keit

aufmerksam (attentive) Aufmerksamkeit (attention, attentiveness)
grausam (cruel, gruesome) Grausamkeit (atrocity, cruelness)
wachsam (alert) Wachsamkeit (alertness)

-bar + -keit

brauchbar (suitable, usable) Brauchbarkeit (suitability, usability)
erreichbar (accessible) Erreichbarkeit (accessibility)
verwendbar (applicable) Verwendbarkeit (applicability)

Furthermore, adjectives with the suffixes -los and -haft take the suffix -igkeit, not just -keit:

-los + -igkeit

arbeitslos (unemployed) Arbeitslosigkeit (unemployment)
fruchtlos (fruitless) Fruchtlosigkeit (fruitlessness)
sinnlos (pointless, useless) Sinnlosigkeit (pointlessness, uselessness)

-haft + -igkeit

dauerhaft (durable, permanent) Dauerhaftigkeit (durability, permanence)
mangelhaft (deficient, defective) Mangelhaftigkeit (deficiency, defectiveness)
wahrhaft (veracious, truthful) Wahrhaftigkeit (veracity, truthfulness)

In virtually all other cases, the correct suffix is -heit. This is true, in particular, for all past participles used as adjectives:

past participle + -heit

entschieden (decided) Entschiedenheit (decisiveness, determination)
gebunden (confined, bound) Gebundenheit (confinement, boundedness)
verliebt (enamoured, “fallen in love”) Verliebtheit (infatuation)

With just a small number of exceptions, adjectives that don’t have one of the suffixes mentioned above combine with -heit:

almost anything else + -heit

frei (free) Freiheit (freedom)
schön (beautiful, nice) Schönheit (beauty)
trocken (dry) Trockenheit (dryness)

Exceptions

Adjectives ending in -er are one source of exceptions; they usually take the suffix -keit. However, most of the resulting nouns are rarely used:

Biederkeit (moral uprightness), Bitterkeit (bitterness), Düsterkeit (dimness, dreariness), Finsterkeit (darkness; however, die Finsternis is a more common word for darkness), Hagerkeit (gauntness), Heiserkeit (hoarseness), Heiterkeit (serenity), Magerkeit (leanness, meagerness), Munterkeit (alacrity, briskness), Sauberkeit (cleanliness), Tapferkeit (boldness), Unlauterkeit (dishonesty)

A few other roots ending in -er take the suffix -heit instead:

Besonderheit (peculiarity), Düsterheit (gloominess), Leerheit (void, emptiness), Minderheit (minority), Sicherheit (safety), Tierheit (animality)

In a few cases, the ending -igkeit is used instead of -heit, often in the sense of “something like”. Note: The following list is incomplete; since the meaning often differs from the original adjective, it is better to assimilate these words naturally instead of memorizing them:

genau (accurate) – Genauigkeit (accuracy)
klein (small) – Kleinigkeit (detail, “something small”)
neu (new) Neuigkeit (news, i.e. “something new”; Neuheit exists too)
schnell (fast, swift) Schnelligkeit (swiftness)
süß (sweet) Süßigkeit (candy, i.e. “something sweet”, or sweetness)

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