How to Learn German Noun Gender – Is it ‘der’, ‘die’ or ‘das’?
English is a language without grammatical gender, so the definite article is always “the”. In German, however, we have three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter and it’s important to remember the gender of the nouns, because it determines the article you’re going to use. That’s why I’ll show you some useful tips on how to remember the grammatical gender of German nouns.
1) Learn nouns with their genders
Treat the article of a noun as a part of the word. Don’t just learn Hund (dog), but der Hund (the dog). Like that you can memorize them together, making it easier to remember. It’s even better to learn a whole sentence:
Ich habe einen braunen Hund.
I have a brown dog.
Our brain doesn’t really like disconnected pieces of information. A meaningful context makes it much easier to remember, and there are additional benefits. In the above mentioned sentence for example you also learn and practice the accusative form of the indefinite masculine article (einen). In addition, you learn a sentence that is relevant to you and you know that it’s correct, so in a conversation you can use this sentence with confidence and this will make your German more fluent.
2) Use a color-code system as visual help
I always say that when you learn a new word, it’s best to use as many senses as possible. Don’t just read the word, but also pronounce it, write it and hear it. The more senses you use, the better your brain will retain the information. And if you use a color-code system, it will make it even easier for your brain to memorize the gender. But how do we do that? When you learn a new word:
– Write it down with a blue pen if it’s masculine, like “der Mann” (the man),
– Use a red pen for feminine nouns, like die Frau (the woman)
– Take a yellow pen for neuter nouns, like das Kind (the child).
This color association helps later-on to recall the gender by just trying to remember what color the word was written in. I recently came across a website called genusly.com. It tells you the grammatical gender of a German noun as you type it in a text box on their homepage. It colors masculine nouns in blue, feminine nouns in red and neuter nouns in yellow.
The benefit is that it saves you time because it doesn’t interrupt your cognitive flow. You don’t have to look up words you’re not sure about the gender, but the website tells you immediately after writing the word. And as we just learned, the color visualization helps you learn and memorize the German gender classification more easily. Check it out, it’s a really helpful tool.
And by the way, an interesting variation of this technique is having colored sheets of papers where each color stands for a particular gender. So you could have blue paper and when you learn a new masculine noun you write it there, red paper for feminine and yellow for neuter nouns.
3) Use a mnemonic memory technique
I’m a big fan of this kind of techniques and it really works when it comes to memorizing things. A couple of years ago I read a book about mnemonics and the goal of one of the exercises was to remember all 50 American states in their alphabetical order. I was skeptical, but went ahead and 2 hours later I was indeed able to recite all 50 states from Alabama to Wyoming from memory.
The three main principles are association, imagination and location. You use your mind to create links and associations that will help you remember information. German has three noun genders, so you can choose for example
- a male person and associate masculine objects with this person
- a female person and associate feminine objects with this person
- a neutral place to be associated with neuter objects.
Now you create a story. I chose my father to be the male person, my mother to be the female person and my house to be the neutral place. Let’s start:
Mein Vater geht mit dem Hund in den Park.
My father goes with the dog to the park.
Er sitzt unter einem Baum und sieht einen See mit Fischen.
He sits under a tree and sees a lake with fish.
You can see that all the nouns in this story are masculine and they are associated with my father. When you imagine and visualize this story, your brain will make the connection and later-on remember the correct noun gender more easily. OK let’s create another story.
Meine Mutter geht in die Stadt.
My mother goes to the city.
Sie hat eine Blume in der einen Hand und eine Tasche in der anderen.
She has a flower in one hand and a bag in the other.
All the nouns are feminine. And again, imagine the situation with colors and motions, the more interesting, strange or funny it is, the easier you will remember it. Our last story will take place in my house. It is associated with my neutral place and features only neuter nouns.
Im Haus sind viele Kinder.
In the house there are many children.
Sie sind in einem großen Zimmer mit vielen Fenstern und essen Eis.
They are in a big room with many windows and eat ice-cream.
That’s how the technique works. It activates your vision and imagination and it puts things into context which is tremendously helpful. You have the people do stuff and put things in the house and then you watch that in your head like a movie, the possibilities are endless.
I’d like to encourage you to create your own association scenarios, because every mind is different and your own associations are much better as they reflect the way in which your mind works. At first it might be difficult, but with a little practice you will soon become very familiar with the technique and start having fun creating and developing these stories.
4) Identify the noun gender by word endings.
I won’t go into too much detail about this method, basically how it works is – you look at the word ending of a noun (the so-called suffix) and for example if it ends with –ling there is a good chance that it’s masculine, if it ends with –ung it’s probably feminine and so on.
The problem is that there are many exceptions and I find it easier to just learn the article together with the noun or use the association technique I mentioned before. Nevertheless, it does work for some and that’s why I wanted to include it here.
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