One Article but Many Plurals

Deutsche Oper Berlin

For all who are confused and haunted by der, die, das – there is good news. There is no indefinite and only one definite article in plural. In plural, all nouns take die.

die Frauen – die Männer – die Kinder
die Opern – die Arien – die Lieder

There is no consistent pattern in how nouns are spelled in plural. The German language has nine ways to change a singular noun into a plural (and many exceptions), for example adding different letters to the ending, creating umlauts out of vowels or leave it without changing it at all. The word Sänger can mean either singer or singers depending on context.

Der Sänger is the singular form for male singer. That die Sänger is plural we only recognize because of the article die. One might assume that die Sänger referred to a female singer, but that would be die Sängerin since we mark most terms for a female person with an -in-ending.

It helps to look at the verb and how it is conjugated.

Die Sänger proben das Lied.
Der Sänger probt das Lied.
Die Sängerin probt die Arie.
Die Sängerinnen proben die Arie.
There are at least nine common forms of plural formation (declension).

No change > der Walzer, die Walzer (waltz)
–e > der Sitz, die Sitze (seat)
–en > die Uhr, die Uhren (watch)
–er > das Bild, die Bilder (image)
–n > die Flöte, die Flöten (flute)
–s > der Star, die Stars
Umlaut > die Tochter, die Töchter (daughter)
Umlaut, -e > der Vorhang, die Vorhänge
Umlaut, -er> das Land, die Länder

Some nouns that stem from latin or other languages have a peculiar way to decline. Das Visum is singular, but die Visa plural (as well as the colloquial Visen). In plural, we say die Celli or die Cellos for one das Cello. For die Diva, we say die Diven or die Divas when there is more than one. Of course, there is never more then one, at least not in the same room.

We do not decline English words like Party or Story the way we do in the English language (parties, stories). In German we just add an –s as with many other foreign words.

die Partys, die Storys

Some words we use in English as plural like police and spectacles are singular in German.

die Polizei, die Brille

There is no plural for Polizei. If we have more that one Brille, we decline it to die Brillen.

Next up-date: Sunday, July 1st.

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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