German Definite Article
What is a noun?
A noun is a word that names a person, an animal, a thing, a place or an idea. They can either be singular or plural. Nouns in German change their form in the plural as they do in English.
Oma ⇨ grandma
Omas ⇨ grandmas
You can now learn even more on this topic with the help of a fun animation and a grammar quiz. Simply check out our Family Lesson in level A1.
The Definite Article – der, die and das
In English, there is only one definite article; the. In German, however, there are three articles which all mean the.
All German nouns are either masculine, feminine or neuter. This is called their gender. Which article you choose depends on whether the noun is masculine, feminine or neuter and whether it’s singular or plural.
Table: Definite Article der, die and das
|Masculine Nouns||Feminine Nouns||Neuter Nouns|
- The article der is used with masculine singular nouns:
der Vater ⇨ the father
der Neffe ⇨ the nephew
- The article die is used with feminine singular nouns:
die Mutter ⇨ the mother
die Tante ⇨ the aunt
- The article das is used with neuter singular nouns:
das Mädchen ⇨ the girl
das Baby ⇨ the baby
- The article die is used with all masculine, feminine and neuter plural nouns:
der Neffe ⇨ die Neffen
die Tante ⇨ die Tanten
das Baby ⇨ die Babys
Should I use der, die or das?
This is one of the first questions that you will ask yourself when learning German; which article should you use – der, die or das? The first thing you need to understand is it’s not related to the perceived gender of the noun it is attached to. Here are a couple of quick examples:
- der Bikini ⇨ the bikini
- die Krawatte ⇨ the tie
As you can see, traditionally a bikini is worn by women so your first instinct would be that it’s a feminine item and therefore would use die. Also, ties are associated more with men and therefore you would normally perceive the gender as masculine and use the der article. As you can see from the two examples above, these are the opposite of what you would expect. Therefore it’s important to get the idea out of your mind straight away that the articles der, die or das have anything to do with the noun itself.
As a general rule, you should try to learn the correct article with each noun as you learn them. When learning a word, learn the article too and test yourself on the noun including the article. However, there are a few general rules you can learn to help you in those situations where you don’t know whether to use der, die or das. Most of the rules relate to the ending of the word as this is often what denotes which article you should use.
Guidelines when to use der, die and das
All these guidelines below are great to learn to give you a good head start when trying to decide whether a noun is der, die or das. If you are stuck in a situation where you don’t know the article and it doesn’t fit one of the rules below, then guess der as the majority of German nouns are der words.
There are some really good short cuts to help you select the correct article when dealing with der type nouns. There are groups of noun endings that when you spot them, you will know the noun is a der noun. Let’s have a look at these word endings more closely:
Nouns that end in the following are always der nouns:
- mus – e.g. der Egoismus (egoism)
- ner – e.g. der Champagner (champagne)
- ich – e.g. der Strich (line)
- ig – e.g. der König (king)
- ling– e.g. der Frühling (spring)
Nouns that end in the following are usually der nouns:
- er – e.g. der Teller (plate)
- ist – e.g. der Polizist (policeman)
These endings are really useful and give great security when selecting der from the der, die and das confusion. However there are also some more tips that can give you a helping hand. Some groups of words are mostly der nouns. These groups are:
- All nouns which refer to a male person or animal – der Mann (man), der Stier (bull)
- Job titles which refer to a male person – der Kellner (waiter)
- Days / months / seasons – der Montag (Monday), der September, der Winter
- Points of the compass – der Westen (west)
- Chemical elements / minerals / stones – der Sauerstoff (oxygen), der Diamant (diamond)
The article die also comes with some helpful guidelines to help you choose die from the der, die, das conundrum.
Nouns with the following endings are always die nouns:
- heit – e.g. die Gesundheit (health)
- keit – e.g. die Ewigkeit (eternity)
- ung – e.g. die Rechnung (bill)
- tät – e.g. die Universität (university)
- schaft – e.g. die Freundschaft (friendship)
- ei – e.g. die Bäckerei (bakery)
Nouns with the following endings are usually die nouns:
- ik – e.g. die Politik (politics)
- in – e.g. die Lehrerin (teacher)
- ie – e.g. die Familie (family)
- e – e.g. die Tasse (cup)
There are some groups of words that are also mostly die nouns. These groups are:
- All nouns which refer to a female person or animal – die Frau (woman), die Kuh (cow)
- Job titles which refer to a female person – die Kellnerin (waitress)
- Names of trees, fruit and flowers – die Eiche (oak), die Banane (banana), die Rose (rose)
- Names of rivers – die Wolga (Volga)
There are quite a few rules and patterns that can help you pick das from the der, die, das question.
When the noun ends in the following, you can be sure it’s always a das noun:
- chen – e.g. das Mädchen (girl)
- lein – e.g. das Fräulein (Miss)
- nis – e.g. das Geheimnis (secret)
Nouns with the following endings are also usually das nouns but be careful, there are exceptions:
- o – e.g. das Kino (cinema)
- tum – e.g. das Eigentum (property)
Also most words starting with Ge are das words:
- das Gerät (gadget)
There are some groups of words that are also mostly das nouns. These groups are:
- Nouns which refer to a small person or animal – das Baby, das Lamm (lamb)
- Colours when used as a noun – das Rot (the red)
- Verbs and Adjectives when used as nouns – das Schwimmen (swimming), das Gute (the good thing)
- Names of hotels and theatres – das Hilton (the Hilton)
All plural nouns, regardless of whether they are der, die or das become die. This will help you choose the correct article on many occasions as you will know the exact article to use when it’s plural.
- der Junge – die Jungen
- die Oma – die Omas
- das Mädchen – die Mädchen
Nouns with more than one Gender
Some German nouns have more than one gender. A few of them have two genders as a result of different German-speaking regions. Other nouns have two genders and more than one meaning.
der Leiter ⇨ leader, manager
die Leiter ⇨ ladder
der See ⇨ lake
die See ⇨ sea
Unfortunately there is no logic why a word has more than one gender. The only way to keep track of them is through memory.
A compound noun is a noun made up of two or more words. These nouns always have the gender of the last noun.
der Tennisball (das Tennis + der Ball) ⇨ tennis ball
die Handtasche (die Hand + die Tasche) ⇨ handbag
das Fußballspiel (der Fußball + das Spiel) ⇨ football match
How to refer to masculine, feminine and neuter objects?
In English gender distinction is natural which means you need to know only whether the noun refers to a female being, a male being or an object.
This is my friend Anna. She lives in Munich.
My husband was sick last week but he‘s feeling much better now.
Have you seen my wallet? I think I lost it?
In German, er (he, it), sie (she, it) and es (it) are used to refer to things, animals and people. Er is used for masculine nouns, sie is used for feminine nouns and es is used for neuter nouns.
Wie ist der Film? Er ist gut. ⇨ How is the movie? It‘s good.
Wie ist die Musik? Sie ist gut. ⇨ How is the music? It‘s good.
Wie ist das Buch? Es ist gut. ⇨ How is the book? It‘s good.