Gender of compound nouns

(Determining the gender of compound nouns in German grammar)

Table of contents – gender of compound nouns

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Determination of the gender
  2. Further explanations and exercises

How can you determine the gender of compounds?

A particular feature of the German language is the possibility of combining words (compounding), mostly nouns. In doing so, the meanings of the individual parts combine into one word. These connected nouns may have different grammatical genders (in German: Genus), the one of the resulting compound, however, is determined by its final part. Consequently, the last noun in the series always indicates the gender. Determiners, such as articles, have to be chosen accordingly. In detail:

  • The compound adopts the grammatical gender of its last noun it contains. Compare the examples:
    • der Einkaufswagen (the shopping cart)
      • ‘der Einkauf’ (the shopping) is the first part.
      • der Wagen’ (the cart) as the last part determines the gender as masculine.
    • die Zugfahrkarte (the train ticket)
      • ‘der Zug’ (the train) is the first part.
      • ‘fahr’ is an additional part based on the verb ‘fahren’ (to ride) in the middle.
      • die Karte’ (the ticket) as the final part reveals the feminine gender here.
    • das Verkehrsschild (the traffic sign)
      • ‘der Verkehr’ (the traffic) is the first noun.
      • The last noun ‘das Schild’ (the sign) shows the neuter gender.
  • In German, it is widespread to form very long word combinations. Such compounds help to sharpen the message. Irrespective of the length of the newly formed noun, the gender rule applies here as well:
    • der Sommerferienlagerbetreuer (the supervisor at a summer holiday camp)
      • der Sommer (the summer)
      • die Ferien (the holiday)
      • das Lager (the camp)
      • Again, ‘der Betreuer’ (the supervisor) being the final noun in the nominal composition determines the gender as masculine in this instance.

Further explanations referring to the ‘Gender of compound nouns’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Determination of the grammatical gender of compound nouns in German’ and could also be interesting: