Gender Rules: What Makes Gemüse Neuter?

View from Konzerthaus, Gendarmenmarkt
View from Konzerthaus, Gendarmenmarkt

For centuries, one question has been tormenting enthusiasts of the German language until they go mad: How do we determine the gender of a noun? From time to time (like today), I will publish a rule or two about what article we have to designate to which noun. As we know, we have three genders, namely masculine, feminine and neuter, and we know them as der, die, das, although they can turn into den, dem or des (masculine), der (feminine), or dem or des (neuter), depending on the role they are playing in the sentence.

Many nouns with the prefix Ge- are generic terms, and they are neuter. They relate to a group of things. They generalize and leave out specifics. One of the most used word of that kind is das Gemüse. When we talk about Gemüse, we mean broccoli or cucumber or cabbage or carrots, food that grows in the soil (not on trees or plants).

Most of these Ge- words (with a few exceptions like Gemüse) derive from verbs or other nouns.

From verbs:

das Gepäck – packen (lugguage)
das Gebäck – packen (cookies, pastry)
das Geräusch – rauschen (a sound that we can not identify, rauschen = rustle, sweep)
das Gericht – richten (a dish or a court. Wir richten das Essen an = we serve the food. Der Richter richtet über den Angeklagten = The judge judges the defendant)
das Gerüst – rüsten (scaffold, rüsten = to scaffold)
das Gelächter – lachen
das Gespräch – sprechen
das Getränk – trinken
das Gesäß – sitzen (buttocks)
das Gerümpel – rumpeln (lumber, rumpeln = to lumber)
das Gebiet – gebieten (territory, area, gebieten = to demand, to command)
das Gefühl – fühlen
das Gehör – hören
das Gesicht – sehen (what we see: the face)
das Gewissen – wissen (conscience)
das Geschirr – schirren (tableware, but also horse harness, anschirren = to harness an animal),
Often, we create a Ge- noun to ridicule or discredit an activity.
Das Fußballteam spielt schlecht. Wir können das Gespiele nicht mehr länger sehen.
Die Kollegen reden und reden, aber lösen die Probleme nicht. Das Gerede ist unerträglich. We can step up our vocabulary according to the level of our anger: das Gequatsche, das Geschwätz, das Geschwafel.
Der Handwerker macht viel, aber arbeitet wenig. Sein Getue nervt. (tuen = to do)
There are Ge- nouns derived from nouns:

das Gestein – der Stein (rocks, stones)
das Gehäuse – das Haus (case, box)
das Gebirge – der Berg (mountain range)
Others are not derived like das Gespenst (ghost), das Geschehen (event, happening), das Gewitter (thunderstorm), das Gehirn (brain), das Geheimnis (secret).

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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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