8 Section 1-8

18: Plurals

So far, you have learned that German nouns have a grammatical gender (der, die or das). Now you will learn how to make them plural. In English, we usually add an –s or –es to the end of the word:

  • book→books
  • computer→computers
  • hobby→hobbies

In German, however, there are several different endings to form plurals. You will need to learn the plural form when you learn new words. The dictionary form of German nouns will show letters that come after the noun. These should be added to the word to form the plural.

75-90% of masculine and neuter nouns add -e

  • der Tisch, -e→die Tische
  • das Papier, -e→die Papiere
  • das Heft, -e→die Hefte
  • der Filzstift, -e→die Filzstifte

Occasionally, these words will add an umlaut in addition to –e.

  • der Stuhl, –¨e→die Stühle
  • der Rucksack, -¨e die Rucksäcke

75-90% of feminine nouns add –n or –en.

  • die Tafel, -ndie Tafeln
  • die Uhr, -endie Uhren
  • die Landkarte, –en→die Landkarten
  • die Türdie Türen
  • die Taschedie Taschen

Occasionally, these words will add an umlaut in addition to –n or –en.

  • die Maus, -¨e→die Mäuse
  • die Wand, -¨e→die Wände

Feminine words ending in –in that denote people also add –en or –n but add an extra –n- between the noun and the plural ending.

  • die Professorin, -nendie Professorinnen
  • die Studentin, –nen→die Studentinnen
  • die Lehrerin, –nen→die Lehrerinnen

Shortened forms and borrowed words tend to add an –s.

  • das Handy→die Handys
  • der Kuli→die Kulis
  • der Laptop→die Laptops
  • der Gummi→die Gummis
  • das Hobby→die Hobbys
  • das Auto→die Autos

Masculine and neuter words that end in –er often do not add anything to form the plural, especially words denoting people.

  • der Lehrer, — →die Lehrer
  • der Wischer, — →die Wischer
  • der Kugelschreiber, — →die Kugelschreiber
  • das Poster, — →die Poster
  • der Computer, — →die Computer

A smaller percentage will simply have to be memorized. As always, the dictionary entry will show how to make the plural.

  • der Professor, –en→die Professoren
  • der Student, –en→die Studenten
  • das Buch, –¨er→die Bücher

Note that the definite article of every German plural automatically becomes die, whether it is masculine, feminine, or neuter.

  • der Tisch   BUT    die Tische

History of the English language:

You may be thinking that it is unnatural to add anything besides an –s or –es to plurals, as we do in English. However, English has plenty of irregular plurals…and this used to be the rule instead of the exception. Here are a few that we still use today that have Germanic roots.

English adds an “umlaut.” An umlaut is as a change in the vowel sound. German adds two dots above the vowel to show this. English does not; English writes the change as a different vowel.

  • mouse→mice
  • foot→feet
  • goose→geese
  • louse→lice
  • man→men
  • woman→women

English adds no ending.

  • moose→moose
  • deer→deer
  • sheep→sheep

English adds –en.

  • ox→oxen
  • child→children

English changes final –f to –v + es.

  • wife→wives
  • roof→rooves


Ex. A: Wie viele haben wir? Make a tally of how many of the following things you see in the room. Then form a complete sentence using the verb haben, the number, and the plural form of the item. If you have none of the items, write the word “keine” in front of the noun plural, i.e. “no items.”

       Beispiel: der Bleistift

                  →Wir haben fünfzehn Bleistifte.

                       der Laptop

                  →Wir haben keine Laptops.

  1. der Stuhl
  2. der Tisch
  3. das Fenster
  4. die Uhr
  5. das Buch
  6. das Heft
  7. die Wand
  8. die Tafel
  9. der Student
  10. das Heft
  11. der Kuli
  12. der Bleistift
  13. der Computer

Ex. B: Wir üben! Give both the singular and plural forms of the words below, including the definite articles.

                      Beispiel: board

                        →die Tafel, die Tafeln

  1. table
  2. door
  3. paper
  4. cell phone
  5. chair
  6. pencil
  7. pen
  8. notebook
  9. backpack
  10. book
  11. board
  12. window
  13. clock
  14. computer
  15. laptop
  16. mouse
  17. eraser (on a pencil)
  18. poster
  19. map
  20. professor (male)
  21. professor (female)
  22. student (male)
  23. student (female)
  24. wall
  25. whiteboard eraser
  26. purse/bag

EXTRA PRACTICE: Need more practice with noun plurals and classroom objects? Click on Germanzone.org’s website to do more. As always, it will grade your answers.

Ex. C: Die Familie. Here are some words denoting family members and their plurals. Practice making plurals with them.

  • die Mutter, —¨    (mother)
  • die Schwester, –n     (sister)
  • der Vater, —¨    (father)
  • der Bruder, —¨    (brother)
  • die Tochter, —¨    (daughter)
  • der Sohn, —¨e    (son)
  • der Onkel, —    (uncle)
  • die Tante, —    (aunt)

Compound nouns

Like English, German frequently uses compound nouns.

Wasser + Fall = Wasserfall                  Hand + Schuh = Handschuh

       (Water) + (Fall) = (Waterfall)                (hand)+(shoe)= glove

In English, sometimes these compound nouns are written all as one word, but other times they are written with a space in between.

                    football         BUT      swimming pool

                   (no space)                  (space between words)

In German, compound nouns are never written with a space.

                    Fußball                        Schwimmbad

This is why German often gets the reputation of having long words. Many long German words are nothing more than smaller words put together as compound nouns. Several words denoting family members follow this pattern. 

  • die Großmutter
  • der Großvater
  • die Urgroßmutter
  • der Urgroßvater
  • die Halbschwester
  • der Halbbruder
  • die Stiefmutter
  • der Stiefvater
  • die Stiefschwester
  • der Stiefbruder

The definite article (der/die/das) will be the same as the LAST word in the compound noun. For example, “die Halbschwester” is still feminine because the last word in the compound, “Schwester,” is feminine. No matter how many words make up a compound word, the gender is ALWAYS determined by the last word.

 

Video. Easy German. Compound Words. Click to see more examples of how to make compound words in German.

Ex. D:  Video: Nicos Weg. Folge 2: Kein Problem!” Watch episode 2 and do the online activities.

 

 

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German 101 by Rebecca Linam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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