Words ending with -ung are feminine 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 (PDF Version).

There are over 20,000 nouns in German that end with -ung, so if there is a rule that applies to them all, it is definitely worth learning. The rule is: All German nouns formed by adding the suffix -ung to a verb are feminine.

Note that German words ending with -ung do not correspond to the -ing words in English (see my explanation of the difference). They usually correspond to the suffixes -ment, -tion, -ance, and similar, and only a small minority of them are translated using an -ing word:

zahlen (to pay) die Zahlung (payment)
bewegen (to move) die Bewegung (movement)
erklären (to explain) die Erklärung (explanation)
erinnern (remember) die Erinnerung (remembrance)
reinigen (to clean) die Reinigung (cleaning)

There are just three nouns in which -ung looks like a suffix but it is not, and they are all masculine:

der Hornung (an archaic expression for February)
der Nibelung (a name in Germanic and Norse mythology, mostly known from Richard Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen, where it refers to a dwarf)
der Shantung (shantung, a type of fabric)

Furthermore, -ung is present in three monosyllabic nouns, which are also all masculine:

der Dung (dung)
der Schwung (swish, swing)
der Sprung (leap, jump)

Of course, compound nouns derived from these, such as der Katzensprung (literally “a cat’s jump”, meaning “a stone’s throw”, i.e. a short distance) are also masculine.

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