The grammatical number

(Number, quantity, singular, plural of the noun)

Table of contents – number

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Explanation of the term number
  2. Singulare tantum and plurale tantum
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What is the grammatical number?

The grammatical number (in German: Numerus) indicates the quantity of something. The German language distinguishes between the quantity one (the singular) and every larger amount (the plural). To use nouns, verbs, adjectives, articles, and pronouns correctly, it is essential to know the correct count.

Compare the following example sentences that display the number in German grammar:

  • On the one hand, the number can mean singular:
    • „Das Haus ist schön.“ (The house is beautiful.)
      • noun
    • „Ich gehe ins Schwimmbad.“ (I’m going to the swimming pool.)
      • verb, 1st person singular
    • „Dies ist ein großer Apfel.“ (This is a big apple.)
      • adjective
    • Das Buch ist sehr spannend.“ (The book is very exciting.)
      • article
    • Er hat sehr viel Geld.“ (He has a lot of money.)
      • pronoun
  • On the other hand, it can also express the plural:
    • „Die Häuser sind schön.“ (The houses are beautiful.)
      • noun
    • „Wir gehen ins Schwimmbad.“ (We’re going to the swimming pool.)
      • verb, 1st person plural
    • „Dies sind große Äpfel.“ (These are big apples.)
      • adjective
    • Die Bücher sind sehr spannend.“ (The books are very exciting.)
      • article
    • Sie haben sehr viel Geld.“ (They have a lot of money.)
      • pronoun

What do singulare tantum and plurale tantum mean?

Besides the nouns that can be used regularly in both grammatical numbers, some exceptions exist. Nouns that can appear either only in the singular or plural are called singulare or, respectively, plurale tantum. Compare the following examples:

  1. Singulare tantum; some examples of nouns that exist only in the singular:
    • das Fleisch (meat)
    • der Ärger (trouble)
    • das All (space)
    • der Schnee (snow)
    • der Frieden (peace)
    • der Hunger (hunger)
    • der Urlaub (holiday)
    • das Glück (luck)
  2. Plurale tantum; some examples of nouns that occur only in the plural:
    • die Leute (people)
    • die Kosten (cost)
    • die Kanaren (the Canaries)
    • die Einkünfte (income)
    • die Eltern (parents)
      • In specialized language, the singular form ‘der/das Elter’ is also possible, otherwise ‘Elternteil’ (parent).
    • die Geschwister (siblings)
    • die Ferien (holidays)
    • die Lebensmittel (groceries)
  3. Careful: The German ability of a noun to be in the singular or plural or only either of which does not mean that the counterpart in English has the same grammatical number and, thus, behaves likewise. Example:
    • The word ‘Polizei’ (police) is always singular in German, whereas in English, it is always plural:
      • German singular: „Die Polizei kommt schon.“
      • English plural: Police are already coming.”

Further explanations referring to the ‘Grammatical number’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘The grammatical number (quantity, singular, plural) in the German language’ and could therefore be interesting too: