(Using nouns in German grammar)

Table of contents – nouns

On this page you will find the following:

  1. What are nouns?
  2. Finding nouns
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What are nouns?

Nouns (in German: Nomen or Substantive) are words that describe things, objects, persons, animals, terms, facts, etc. In the German language, they are always capitalised, and their grammatical gender can be male, female, or neutral. Besides, they can be singular or plural, inflected or declined and are often used together with articles (determiner). Compare:

  1. Generally, grammar distinguishes between two types of nouns:
    • Concrete nouns; these are material, i.e., ‘tangible/graspable’:
      • Haus (house), Baum (tree), Glas (glass), Waschmaschine (washing machine)
    • Abstract nouns; these are not material, i.e., not ‘tangible’:
      • Frohsinn (glee), Liebe (love), Leidenschaft (passion), Höflichkeit (politeness)
  2. Furthermore, nouns can have three different grammatical genders (Genus). It is important to note that all three German articles ‘der, die, das’ correspond to the English article ‘the’:
    • Male (masculine) nouns, which have the article ‘der’:
      • der Mann (the man), der Grund (the reason), der Tisch (the table)
    • Female (feminine) nouns, which have the article ‘die’:
      • die Schaukel (the swing), die Lampe (the lamp), die Vernunft (the reason / common sense)
    • Neutral (neuter) nouns, which go with the article ‘das’:
      • das Fahrwerk (the chassis), das Rätsel (the riddle), das Etui (the case)
  3. In sentences, nouns adopt the role of different constituents or parts thereof, such as subjects, objects, attributes, or adverbials:
    • Noun as the subject of a sentence:
      • „Die Staßenbahn fährt täglich bis 23 Uhr.“ (The tram runs until 11 o’clock daily.)
    • Noun as an object:
      • „Sabrina isst den Kuchen.“ (Sabrina is eating the cake.)
    • Noun as an attribute:
      • „Das Dach des Hauses muss erneuert werden.“ (The roof of the house needs to be repaired.)
    • Noun as an adverbial:
      • „Markus sitzt am Tisch und liest.“ (Markus is sitting at the table and is reading.)
  4. Depending on their role in the statement, nouns appear in one of the four grammatical cases. According to this case, the specific noun is declined, which is often determined by the associated article (see also the declension of nouns):
    • „Ich habe dem Vertreter einen Brief geschrieben.“ (I have written a letter to the representative.)
      • dem Vertreter’ (the representative) is in the dative case.
      • einen Brief’ (a letter) is in the accusative.

How can nouns be identified?

To avoid possible difficulties in the identification of nouns, you may look at the respective ending for guidance. Words that have the following suffixes are nouns and therefore capitalised:

  • Words ending in …
    • -keit:
      • Heiterkeit (cheerfulness), Einsamkeit (loneliness)
    • -heit:
      • Freiheit (freedom), Frechheit (cheekiness)
    • -mut:
      • Armut (poverty), Demut (humility/modesty)
    • -nis:
      • Erlebnis (experience), Versäumnis (failure)
    • -schaft:
      • Erbschaft (inheritance), Eigenschaft (property)
    • -ung:
      • Forschung (research), Überdachung (roofing)
    • -tum:
      • Reichtum (wealth), Altertum (antiguity)
    • -ling:
      • Feigling (coward), Pfifferling (chanterelle)
    • -sal:
      • Schicksal (fate), Trübsal (sorrow)

Further explanations related to the ‘Nouns in German grammar’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Using and identifying nouns in German’ and may be interesting too:

  • Inflection in German grammar
  • Grammatical categories of German nouns
  • The number of nouns
  • The biological gender