Männliche Substantive im Deutschen erkennen: Teil 1 – Detecting German masculine nouns: part 1 Posted by Sandra Rösner on Jan 2, 2012 in Grammar, Language
Learners of German often complain about the language’s three grammatical genders and their appropriate articles because it seems to be a torture to learn nouns and their associated grammatical genders. Therefore, I decided to address myself to this topic and give you some guidelines how you can match the correct gender and/or article to a particular noun.
First of all, you should be aware of the fact that not the object, which is denoted by a particular word, has a gender, but ONLY THE WORD! For example, nouns that refer to items of furniture like ‘chair’ (der Stuhl) and ‘armchair’ (der Sessel) are masculine in German. Other items of furniture like ‘lamp’ (die Lampe) and ‘couch’ (die Couch) are feminine. And still other pieces are neuter, for example, ‘sofa’ (das Sofa) and ‘shelf’ (das Regal).
You have probably recognized that ‘sofa’ and ‘couch’ are two different words that denote the same object. The only difference is that the word ‘sofa’ is neuter in German and the word ‘couch’ is feminine. Consequently, you cannot simply attach any male, female or neuter features to objects! Anyway, let’s have a look what nouns are masculine in German.
a) Living Beings
First of all, all nouns that denote male living beings (humans and animals) are masculine.
|der Junge – boyder Sohn – son
der Vater – father
der Mann – man
der Onkel – uncle
der König – king
der Präsident – president
der Hengst – stallion
der Hahn – rooster
der Kater – tom/male cat
|das Mädchen– girl*die Tochter – daughter
die Mutter – mother
die Frau – woman
die Tante – aunt
die Königin – queen
die Präsidentin – female president
die Stute – mare
die Henne – hen
die Katze – female cat
* A ‘girl’ is, of course, female but as said above, the word itself determines whether a noun is masculine, feminine, or neuter. Thus, all German nouns that contain the minimization ending –chen are ALWAYS NEUTER.
b) Male occupations
Nouns that denote male occupations are masculine.
|der Arzt –doctor/physiciander Kaufmann –trader
der Polizist –policeman
der Bäcker –baker
der Schneider –taylor
der Bademeister –pool attendent
der Ingenieur – engineer
der Koch – cook/chef
|die Ärztindie Kauffrau
die Polizistin – policewoman
As you can see when you want to form the female form of an occupation you simply have to add the ending –in to the masculine form of the noun and replace ‘der’ with ‘die’. Sometimes the main vowel of a word will be converted into an umlaut, for example, Arzt -> Ärztin, Koch -> Köchin. This grammatical feature has not been “invented” in order to confuse foreign learners of German. Actually, this has something to do with the simplification of pronunciation. You should note well that speech sounds influence each other and that they determine how their adjacent sounds are realized or can be realized. For example, the word “Koch” is realized with a hard ch-sound because it is virtually impossible to pronounce it with a soft ch-Sound. When the ending –in is added to the word ‘Koch’ the hard ch-sounds automatically changes to a soft ch-sound because it is much easier to utter the syllable ‘chin’ with a soft ch-sound. In order to ensure to maintain this simpler pronunciation of ‘chin’ the ‘o’ has to be transformed into an ‘ö’. In other words, our speech organs can realize many single speech sounds but when we combine these sounds to form words the sounds themselves restrict our speech organs what other sounds we can realize in a particular phonemic environment.
Result: The grammatical gender of a word has nothing to do with the ‘gender’ of the objects or subjects it denotes. The object itself is usually genderless. Nevertheless, all German nouns that refer to male humans or male occupations and male animals are always masculine in German.
Last but not least: You are probably aware of the fact that there are much more rules. I will discuss them in my upcoming post. I am also planning to write such thorough posts on feminine and neuter nouns.
To be continued…
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