Der, die, das—Who Wins?

In German, all nouns have a gender, at least one of the three: der (masculine), die (feminine), or das (neuter). Which one gets the most nouns?

Tiger & Turtle sculpture in Duisburg

The masculine article takes nouns ending with –ismus (Optimismus, Kapitalismus), or with –ing (Zwilling = twin, Flüchtling = refugee) as well as terms of the weather (Wind, Sturm) or terms of the calendar (seasons, months, days) or alcoholic beverages (except Bier which is neuter) or brand names of cars (Mercedes, BMW). The feminine article takes nouns ending with –ung (Wohnung, Rechnung), –heit (Freiheit = freedom, Feinheit = fineness, subtlety), –schaft (Freundschaft = friendship), – keit (Höflichkeit = politeness), –ei (Bäckerei) as well as all names of trees and flowers (Eiche, Rose). The neuter article takes all nouns ending with –chen or –lein (diminuitive: Vögelchen, Engelein), –ment (Instrument), –fon (Telefon), –nis (Bildnis) as well as names of metals (Gold, Silber).

So, who won?

The winner is … the feminine article! According to the Duden, the official dictionary, 46 percent of all nouns are feminine, 34 percent are masculine, and 20 percent are neuter. Only 0.1 percent of all nouns do not need an article at all, e.g. Aids, Nahost (Middle East), Allerheiligen (All Saint’s Day).

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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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