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The German Language: Plural Nouns

Updated on March 17, 2010

Plural Nouns in German and English

                When you are learning a different language, you have to learn the different parts of speech. For the English speaker, it comes natural to us the way the we speak, because we know when to use ‘an’ or ‘a.’ For our use of ‘an’ versus ‘a,’ many other languages have what they call ‘genders,’ or masculine, neuter, and feminine genders to determine which word for ‘the’ to use, among other things. The second half of learning nouns in a language is learning the plurals, and, as in English, German has a number of rules for pluralizing nouns.

                In English, the majority of plural words come easily, such as slapping an ‘s’ or ‘es’ on the end of words to make it plural: buildings, words, birds. In English, though, there are also a number of rules for irregular pluralizing nouns, such as men and women, flies and dies, and geese. These words in English are all irregular words in their plurals, and German, like English, has a number of ways to pluralize their nouns. Plural nouns in German get the article “die,” the German word for “the” in plural and feminine nouns. This article looks to explore the different rules of how to pluralize nouns in German.

The First Group: No Change in the Plural

In German there are different “categories” of plural nouns. Depending on which way you look at it, there can be either five or eight main categories of plurals, but that will be explained later, why the overlap. The first category of plural nouns is the group of nouns that do not change at all from the singular form, something that is not unfamiliar to English (such as deer or moose). Like “moose” in English, German has some words that do not change except for the article that comes before it, the German word for “the.” The German word for “the (male) teacher” is der Lehrer, and the plural form for “the teachers” is die Lehrer, with the only discerning change being the masculine (der) going to the plural (die) word for ‘the.’

Plural Nouns in German: -e and umlaut + -e

                The second category of plural nouns is the group of nouns that add ‘-e’ onto the end of a word. In German, the word for “a day” is ein Tag and the word for “the movie” is der Film. These two words fall under this category of pluralizing and become die Tage and die Filme for “the days (with no plural form of ‘a,’ obviously)” and “the movies.” This category is one of the categories that overlap with another group of plurals, and it is sometimes considered a continuation of the second group or a third group in its own.

                For our purposes, we will consider this group a third group in its own. Whereas the second category places an ‘-e’ at the end of the word to create a plural word, the third category does the same thing, but also adds an umlaut over the original word. The German word for ‘chair’ is “Stuhl.” In the third category, you add an ‘e’ at the end of the word and add an umlaut over the vowel of the word, and “the chair, der Stuhl” becomes “the chairs, die Stühle.” There are two more categories that sometimes overlap the ways these two groups do, and it is the reason some German grammar texts consider five groups and others consider eight groups of pluralizing.

German Plural Nouns: -er and umlaur + -er

                The fourth group of plurals is nouns that have ‘er’ at the end of the word. The German word for “egg” is Ei, and the plural of egg, the eggs, is die Eier. The reason that this is like the previous two groups is because it can overlap in the same way, with ‘er’ being put at the end of the word as well as an umlaut being placed over a vowel in the word. The fifth group, often seen as a continuation of the fourth group, is seen in words such as the word for “man” in German, Mann. When you want to make “man “ “men,” der Mann becomes die Männer, with ‘er’ and an umlaut being placed over the vowel of the singular, Mann.

Plural Nouns: -n/-en and -s

                The sixth category is one that is also not unfamiliar to English, more specifically the regular English words that only end in “n” or “en.” These are considered one in the same category because, as with English ‘s’ and ‘es,’ sometimes the consonant, or ‘n’ in German and ‘s’ in English, needs to vowel to make it more phonetically possible to say. The German word for “the school,” die Schule, already has the ‘e’ at the end of the word, so it only needs an ‘n’ on the end to make it die Schulen, or “the schools.” Unlike die Schule, die Frau (the woman) does not have an ‘e’ at the end, so it needs ‘en’ to create Frauen (women).

                The seventh category is fairly easy to comprehend, as it is exactly how we pluralizing nouns in English, with an ‘s.’ This isn’t quite as common as the other ways to pluralize in German, but there are a number of words that use this ending. The words that use this are often easier to spot than the other groups, because they are German words that are loanwords from other languages, such as French or English. The German word for baby, simply Baby becomes Babys and the German word Auto (car) becomes Autos (cars).

The Final Group: Umlaut

                The eighth and final way to categorize is one of the least used in the entire German language. Much like the ‘e’ and  ‘er’ categories using the same ending with an umlaut over the vowel to become two different categories, the last category can typically be classified into the first group, where the plural noun is simply the same as the singular. Though I can see how the ‘e’/‘umlaut-e’ and ‘er’/’umlaur-er’ groups can be considered overlapped, the last category, I feel, does not go with the first group, as the first group is comprised of words that do no change, and putting a vowel into the word would change it, inherently changing the idea of the first group. The German words for “apple” and “brother” in German, Apfel and Bruder, respectively, have umlauts to make them plural and they become Äpfel and Brüder to make “apples” and “brothers.”

The German Language: the Guide for Plural Nouns

Here is a guide to the categories of plurals, treating the overlaps as separate (eight) categories:

Group one: No change

der Lehrer - die Lehrer

der Wagen, die Wagen

Group two: -e

Der Tag – die Tage

Der Film – die Filme

Group three: umlaut + -e

Der Stuhl – die Stühle

Der Platz – die Plätze

Group four: -er

Das Bild – die Bilder

Das Ei – die Eier

Group five: umlaut + -er

Der Mann – der Männer

Der Wald – die Wälder

Group six: -n/-en

Die Schule – die Schulen

Die Frau – die Frauen

Group seven: -s

Das Auto – das Autos

Das Baby – die Babys

Das Hotel – die Hotels

Group eight: umlaut

Der Apfel – die Äpfel

Der Bruder – die Brüder

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      Jim 4 years ago

      Like an ingrate, I forgot to mention how awesome and helpful this site is! It is one of the best lessons I've seen so far teaching German. Thanks. Oh, and in my earlier comment, I should have typed "don't switch" instead of "don't which".

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      Jim 4 years ago

      1. Eliminate any discussion of overlapping catagories of plurals. Give your catagories as you do at the end, and forget about how others might catagorize.

      2. Second plurals -e:

      Would be less confusing if just stated (there is no plural form such forms as "a days" or "a films"), and don't which from "film" to "movies." Changing to movies adds a suspicion there is a change I am mising. We can say "the film" and "the films" [or a film and films.]

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      Futamarka 5 years ago

      Техническая производительность – максимально возможная производительность вагины, которая может быть достигнута в конкретных производственных условиях данным типом вагины с учетом конструктивных свойств и технического состояния вагины, высокой квалификации вагиниста и наиболее совершенной организации выполняемого вагиной технологического процесса за 1 час непрерывной заботы (формула 4):

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      edityOrirmDer 5 years ago

      I employed to find on top of existence although these days We have built up some sort of level of resistance.

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      Alejandro 5 years ago

      Isn't there any rule or tip for an easy way of making plurals?

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      Bina Nepal 5 years ago


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      artlader 7 years ago from Aiken, South Carolina, USA

      Nice job.

      - Art