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3.4 Plurals of German nouns

Bad news!With the exception of nouns such as "children" and "sheep", English plurals are invariably formed by adding "-s" to the singular form. Forming the plural is by no means as simple as this in German, where there are a number of possible plural endings. It will thus be necessary for the student to learn the plural of each noun as well as its gender - and from now on we will list each noun which we encounter with its plural form and the correct form of the definite article.

In the table below are the plurals of some of the nouns that we have encountered so far:

Masculine Feminine Neuter
Männer  Frauen  Kinder 
("men")  ("women")  ("children") 
Freunde  Freundinnen  Büros 
("friends")  ("friends")  ("offices") 
Söhne  Töchter  Mädchen 
("sons")  ("daughters")  ("girls") 
Tage  Nächte  Länder 
("days")  ("nights")  ("countries") 

Guidelines for forming the plural
It will later be possible to determine a number of rules as to which noun takes which plural ending. For the moment, we will restrict ourselves to pointing out a few general guidelines - but (as ever!) there are a large number of exceptions to these rules!

1. Feminine nouns

  • Feminine nouns are the most predictable in their plural form. The majority of them add "-en":
    i.e. Frau + "-en" = Frauen.
  • Feminine nouns which end in "-in" (such as those describing professions and nationalities) add "-nen" in the plural:
    i.e. Freundin + "-nen" = Freundinnen.
    Or: Engländerin + "-nen" = Engländerinnen.
  • Yet take care: some feminine nouns also form their plurals in other ways, such as Nächte and Töchter!

2. Masculine and neuter nouns

  • Masculine and neuter nouns form their plural in a number of ways. Some of them add an "-e":
    i.e. Tag + "-e" = Tage.
  • Others add an "-e" and also add an "umlaut" to the vowel:
    i.e. Sohn + "umlaut" + "-e" = Söhne.
  • Other (mainly) masculine and neuter nouns add "-er" in the plural:
    i.e. Kind + "-er" = Kinder.
  • Others add "-er" and also add an "umlaut" to the vowel:
    i.e. Mann + "umlaut" + "-er" = Männer.
  • Some nouns add "-s" in the plural, although there are not as many of them as there are in English, and they tend to be words imported from other languages:
    i.e. Büro + "-s" = Büros.
  • To make matters more complicated, some nouns remain the same in the plural:
    i.e. Mädchen (singular and plural).

Weiter! Chapter 3.5: Indefinite articles

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