How to Master the German Articles-Learn to see the Signals

German Gesundheit is feminine-Here is why

An illustration of a woman sneezing in blue color
How to deal with the German Articles-Part I. CSA Images/Printstock Collection @gettyimages

The German articles are honestly spoken a pain in the neck as they do not make any sense nor do they follow any logic. Unfortunately they are important for anyone who aims at speaking correct German. But there’s hope. There are two simple ways to deal with them almost effortlessly. This article will show you a quick and dirty way to recognize the gender of a German noun even if you don't understand its meaning yet.

The second technique you will find in this article.

The first is base upon the fact that there are indeed a few signals that give away a nouns gender. The endings -ig or -ling e.g. are always masculine, and so are -or, -ismus and the majority of nouns ending in -er. The problem is that those five endings are as abstract and meaningless as the articles themselves and therefore are still pretty difficult to remember and to apply. 

The best way to deal with these article-signals is to organise them in the following way:

der ig-ling-or-ismus+er

which we would read like a single word:

der iglingorismuser 

It’s still abstract but now we only have to deal with one abstract information -iglingorismuser- instead of five (-ig, -ling, -or, -ismus, -er). Our new word-creation also has a melody that makes it easier to remember. Try it. Read it out loud a few times and try to recite it simply from your memory until you know it by heart.

It took me a day of occasional recital and I still am able to recall it in an instant. 

Of course there are also such signals for neuter and feminine nouns. Combined to mnemonic words they look like this:

das Tum-chen-ma-ment-um-lein+nis &

die Heit-ung-keit-ei-schaft-ion-ie-tät-ik+ur+e

Practice them until you can recite them in a second or less so that you can focus on meaning instead on grammar when speaking.

A friend of mine has written a little song to help learners like you to master them quickly. Make sure to check it out. There are also many good tips on how to learn abstract information in general in this lovely article.

You might have noted the plus sign (+) in front of some endings above. That simply means that those endings are not 100% reliable regarding their signal. But they are mostly indicating the gender above. You can find some exceptions here.

The beauty of this technique lies in its efficiency as you will be able to identify a noun’s gender even without knowing what that noun means. The word „Einberufung“ e.g. will most certainly be unknown to most of you but you will recognize its ending -ung easily and therefore know that it is of feminine gender. By the way it means „draft“ into military service.

Why don’t you test your current knowledge of the articles with the following exercise before you practice the three lovely mnemonic words above for some time and then come back to this article and test your new skill? Like this you will have a before-after comparison and therefore a visual feedback for what you have learned with help of this article. 

Test of your current article-recognition skills.

Cover the text above so that you won’t be tempted to peek. What gender do the following German nouns have? You can write either der, das, die or simply (m)asculine, (n)euter or (f)eminine.  

Test your knowledge of the German Articles

  1. Schmetterling (butterfly)
  2. Abteilung (department)
  3. Nation (nation)
  4. Autor (author)
  5. Psychologie (psychology)
  6. Wachstum (growth)
  7. Mädchen (girl)
  8. Eimer (bucket)
  9. Nase (nose)
  10. Polizei (police)
  11. Mongolei (Mongolia)
  12. Köter (scoundrel)
  13. Kommunismus (communism)
  14. Fräulein (Miss)
  15. Natur (nature)
  16. Fabrik (plant)
  17. Oktober (October)
  18. Frühling (spring)
  19. Bürschchen (stripling/laddie)
  20. Gesellschaft (society)
  21. Struktur (structure)
  22. Quentchen (grain)
  23. Management (management)
  24. Logik (logic)
  25. Museum (museum)
  26. Information (information)
  27. Minute (minute)
  28. Körper (body)
  29. Wohnung (flat)
  30. Feigling (coward)
  31. September (September)
  32. Meister (master)
  1. Ewigkeit (eternity)

The answers you will find on the next page, so maybe copy these words into a word document or on a piece of paper to be able to easily correct your answers. Feel free to let me know your before/after results and what you think of this technique. 

One last note: This technique does not cover all possible article signals but the most common ones. And it also does not help you with all those nouns that simply do not have any signal-ending yet there is also a few categories that usually stick to one gender, like e.g. alcoholic beverages that are mostly masculine (e.g. der Wein) or motorcycle bands that are exclusively feminine (e.g. die Harley Davidson) and the second technique is coming soon.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

Here now the answers to the exercise on the last page:

  1. der Schmetterling (butterfly)
  2. die Abteilung (department)
  3. die Nation (nation)
  4. der Autor (author)
  5. die Psychologie (psychology)
  6. das Wachstum (growth)
  7. das Mädchen (girl)
  8. der Eimer (bucket)
  9. die Nase (nose)
  10. die Polizei (police)
  11. die Mongolei (Mongolia)
  12. der Köter (scoundrel)
  13. der Kommunismus (communism)
  14. das Fräulein (Miss)
  15. die Natur (nature)
  16. die Fabrik (plant)
  17. der Oktober (October)
  1. der Frühling (spring)
  2. das Bürschchen (stripling/laddie)
  3. die Gesellschaft (society)
  4. die Struktur (structure)
  5. das Quentchen (grain)
  6. das Management (management)
  7. die Logik (logic)
  8. das Museum (museum)
  9. die Information (information)
  10. die Minute (minute)
  11. der Körper (body)
  12. die Wohnung (flat)
  13. der Feigling (coward)
  14. September (September)
  15. der Meister (master)
  16. die Ewigkeit (eternity)

 

How many have you had correct?

Before: ______

After:   ______

 

00-11 points:    You could have gotten that much simply by guessing

12-22 points:    Not bad, but maybe you just have been lucky. 

23-33 points:    Gute Arbeit. You are on your way to becoming an German Artikelmeister.