The most difficult task when learning German as a native English speaker is the tedious acquisition of new words. That process becomes particularly difficult with nouns, which require the memorization of a complementary trait, the grammatical gender.

German nouns are each assigned one of the three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine or neuter. The gender helps determine how a noun is declined according to the number (i.e. single or plural) and case (i.e. nominative, accusative, dative and genitive). Fortunately, a noun's gender is often related to its morphology or semantics. These patterns can expedite the acquisition of new nouns by averting the memorization of an additional trait alongside the definition of a noun. Unfortunately, few patterns are accurate in every case, so that exceptions need to be memorized nevertheless.

Gender distribution

The majority of German nouns are masculine, followed by the neuter and finally feminine. An enumeration of 2,162 simple nouns selected from a basic vocabulary had the following partition: 67% masculine, 20% neuter and 13% feminine.1

Morphological patterns

Linguistic morphology is the identification, analysis and description of units of language called morphemes, which include words and affixes. These morphemes are often used to guess a noun's gender with various levels of accuracy. The most common affix used to determine gender is a noun's suffix, followed by certain prefixes. Similarly, a noun's ending often matches a gender.

Masculine

Morpheme Accuracy Correct Example Wrong Exception
-ang 88.8% 103 der Anfang 13
-ich 71.0% 103 der Teppich 42 das Reich
-us 77.0% 493 der Zirkus 147
-ist 96.1% 149 der Geist 6 die Frist
-und 92.5% 74 der Hund 6
-aum 98.7% 76 der Traum 1
-el 23.2% 255 der Vogel 842
-er 79.8% 2586 der Abstauber 653 die Jungfer
-all 83.2% 104 der Zufall 21
-ismus 99.2% 246 der Atheisumus 2
-ling 93.7% 177 der Liebling 12
-ant 91.3% 73 der Elefant 7
-en 29.5% 484 der Garten 1157
-or 82.8% 173 der Motor 36
-ner 96.5% 249 der Zöllner 9
-ig 65.7% 44 der Honig 23

Neuter

Morpheme Accuracy Correct Example Wrong Exception
-li 44.2% 19 das Müseli 24 der Juli
-em 90.9% 130 das Problem 13
-tum 92.4% 73 das Eigentum 6
-chen 84.6% 264 das Mädchen 48
-le 12.7% 62 das Häusle 427
-ment 93.6% 88 das Dokument 6
Ge- 41.3% 304 das Gebirge 432
-o 54.7% 221 das Studio 183
-ium 100.0% 222 das Gymnasium 0
-el 23.2% 255 das Übel 842
-ett 98.8% 80 das Bett 1
-erl 82.8% 24 das Busserl 5
-ma 72.7% 72 das Plasma 27
-lein 95.7% 22 das Vöglein 1
-nis 72.3% 68 das Befugnis 26
-um 83.5% 462 das Museum 91
-om 71.6% 58 das Atom 23
-tel 43.8% 57 das Mittel 73

Feminine

Morpheme Accuracy Example Example Wrong Exception
-isse 100.0% 11 die Hornisse 0
-keit 99.6% 247 die Bissigkeit 1
-ik 93.5% 361 die Grammatik 25
-itis 94.3% 33 die Iritis 2
-erin 98.2% 483 die Italienerin 9
-ur 60.9% 134 die Prozedur 86
-ive 81.8% 18 die Initiative 4
-ade 89.9% 62 die Parade 7
-tät 99.1% 211 die Universität 2
-ei 79.5% 136 die Partei 35 das Ei
-anz 59.3% 51 die Bilanz 35
-schaft 96.9% 127 die Mannschaft 4
-tur 95.6% 87 die Konjunktur 4
-ette 92.3% 60 die Serviette 5
-heit 98.1% 159 die Freiheit 3
-e 83.3% 5553 die Ente 1111 das Benzin
-enz 90.7% 127 die Frequenz 13
-ion 95.8% 684 die Nation 30
-in 61.4% 776 die Studentin 487 das Benzin
-age 93.0% 132 die Blamage 10
-ine 87.7% 121 die Gardine 17
-t 35.0% 1369 die Fahrt 2543
-ung 98.5% 1592 die Übersetzung 25
-ie 96.0% 958 die Drogerie 40

Semantic patterns

Semantic patterns, which are based on the definition of a noun, are beyond the scope of this project. The analysis of these patterns presents several unique challenges. Definitions can often be ambiguous, such that it can be hard to match a definition to a semantic pattern. Additionally, the available resources to analyze these patterns are not designed for script based analysis. It would require heavy crawling of websites, which may cause high load on servers. Definitions also vary between sources, such that one process needed to match a semantic pattern may return different results depending on the source.


  1. Gerhard Augst, Untersuchungen zum Morpheminventar der deutschen Gegenwartssprache (Tübingen: Narr, 1975)