Tag Archives: feminine

Double trouble

Riegel, Regal and Regel. “Lock,” “Shelf” and “Rule.”

Riegel, Regale and Regeln. “Locks,” “Shelves” and “Rules.”

Three words, three ways of forming the plural. Sadly, this is three of eleven ways of forming the plural (many books give only five, some give eight, and a few of them count foreign words which have a variety of plural forms). Luckily, given these many options, the definite article for all plurals is die. Equally luckily, while all the forms below are possible, the most common forms are (1) for masculine and neuter nouns to form their plurals with “e” or nothing (and nothing is likely when there is a non-final “e” in the final syllable, e.g., “el”) and (2) for masculine nouns that end in “e” to form their plurals with “n” (3) for feminine nouns to form their plurals with “en” or just an “n” if the final syllable contains a non-final “e.” However, since you will meet all eleven of them in your early experiences in learning German, here they are in all their glory!

Option 1: Do nothing
This is what happens with der Riegel, it becomes die Riegel. Recall that is one of the popular forms.

Option 2: Add an umlaut, but no ending
This is what happens with der Apfel (“the apple”), it becomes die Äpfel.

Option 3:  Add an “e”
This is what happens with das Regal, it becomes die Regale. This is another one of the popular forms.

Option 4: Add an umlaut and an “e”
This is what happens with der Baum (“the tree”), it becomes die Bäume.

Option 5: Add an “n”
This is what happens with die Regel, it becomes die Regeln. This is yet another popular option.

Option 6: Add an “en”
This is what happens with die Frau (“the woman”), it becomes die Frauen. Again quite popular, some consider this equivalent to Option 5.

Option 7: Add an “nen”
This is what happens with die Lehrerin (“the female teacher”), it becomes die Lehrerinnen.

Option 8: Add an “er”
This is what happens with das Kind (“the child”), it becomes die Kinder.

Option 9: Add an “er” and an umlaut
This is what happens with das Fahrrad (“the bike”), it becomes die Fahrräder.

Option 10: Add an “s”
This what happens with das Auto (“the car”), it becomes die Autos.

Option 11: Add an “se”
This is what happens with das Erlebnis (“the experience”), it becomes die Erlebnisse.

Possibly we could make an Option 12 for the renegades, most of which brought their style of plural formation with them when they came into German, for example: das Museum (“the museum”) and die Museen and das Lexikon (“the encyclopedia”) and die Lexika.

Not all foreign words have such distinctive plurals. Many use “s” and in some cases this can be downright confusing for the English speaker: das Baby becomes die Babys, das Party becomes die Partys  and our friend das Handy becomes die Handys, all of which violate the rules of English plural formation. We have “parties” for “babies” and snap photos with “handies” (if we had happened to use this word for “mobile/cellular phones” – see Does That Ring a Bell?).

In addition, the learner can run aground on words where there is a mismatch between German and English in terms of whether there is a plural. For example, in English when we use the word “information” without the definite article “the,” we have to qualify with a quantity term like “some” or “a piece” rather than saying “*an information.” And whatever quantity it comes in, unlike German which has die Informationen, it is never “*informations.”  Similarly, we don’t say “*a furniture” – ein Möbel – or “*the furnitures” – die Möbel.

Hopefully you now have a sense how having to always memorize a noun’s singular and plural forms can lead to informations overload!

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Is it Mother Sun in your mother tongue?

We don’t have grammatical genders in English – we say “the” for all of our nouns (at least the countable ones) – but even where there is no obvious connection to gender, there are some words with gender-based associations .  For example, “the sun” and “the moon.”  Although we have the expression “the man in the moon,” I would suggest that the common association for the moon itself is with the feminine and for the sun it is the masculine. In learning German, though, one has to go against this and learn der Mond and die Sonne. Even worse, if you also know a bit of Spanish, Italian, Portugese or French, all of which do have grammatical genders, you have a further challenge as “moon” takes a feminine and “sun” a masculine pronoun in each of these languages! And in my limited understanding of Chinese symbolism, I believe that the moon is associated with the feminine/yin/dark and the sun is associated with the masculine/yang/light.

Indeed, there is enough interest in the gender associated with the moon and sun that when you type [sun masculine] into Google, one completion it provides is [moon feminine]. The story that resonated most with me was that the further north you went, the more the sun came to be associated with giving life by giving light and thus with the feminine through the connection with giving birth. Now since arbitrary things are hard to learn, and most of the relationships between German nouns and their grammatical genders are arbitrary (or even misleading, to give the famous examples of das Mädchen – “the girl” or “the maiden” – and das Fräulein -“young lady” or “miss” – where the nouns follow the rule that diminutives with –chen and –lein take das), having a somewhat meaning cue for sun and moon feels helpful.

Therefore while Die Sonne scheint still doesn’t sound quite right to me (and not just because it seems such a rare event here in Hamburg), some light has been shed!

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