German Language Notes

Like many other pages here, this is mainly for my own information. It's stuff I like to refer to ever so often instead of trying to find it (again!) in a book.

German Noun

I have this to get an overall look at the declensions of German nouns.

Old High German had these declensions:

  • a-declension. This corresponded to the Latin, Greek, and Indo-European o-declension. It also included the ja- and wa-subdeclensions.
  • ō-declension. This is the Latin and Indo-European ā-declension. This had jō- and -subdeclensions.
  • i-declension
  • u-declension
  • n-declension
  • r-declension. This is the Indo-European s-declension.
  • ter-declension. This only included family member nouns.
  • nt-declension
  • Root noun only

Masculine Nouns

The "normal" ending for masculine plural nouns is probably -e. These were probably mostly a-stems. About half of these take will take Umlaut if they can. These were probably ja- or i-stems.

Most masculines in -el, -en, or -er do not add -e to form a plural, but they had in the past and so are essentially in the same group as the above and have a "normal" ending. About twenty of these have a plural with an Umlaut: Acker, Apfel, Boden, Bogen, Bruder (actually an old ter-stem), Faden, Garten, Graben, Hafen, Hammer, Kasten, Laden, Mangel, Mantel, Nagel, Ofen, Sattel, Schnabel, Schwager, Vater (another ter-stem), Vogel.

There are some masculines in -¨er: Geist, Mund, Vormund, Gott, Rand, Wald, Irrtum, Reichtum, Wiking, Leib, Ski, Wurm, Mann, Strauch. Compounds with -mann often have -leute as a plural when talking about a group of people generally. But these will have -männer if referring to individuals: Seemänner/Seeleute

Feminine Nouns

The "normal" feminine singular is in -e and the plural in -en. This is a new declension in New High German from the n- and ō-declensions. Some feminines do not have -e in the singular (die Arbeit/ die Arbeiten).

There are feminine plurals in New High German with -¨e. They come from various declensions, but perhaps most were i-stems: Angst, Axt, Bank, Braut, Brust, Faust, Frucht, Gans, Gruft, Hand, Haut, Kraft, Kuh, Kunst, Laus, Luft, Lust, Macht, Magd, Maus, Nacht, Naht, Not, Nuss, Sau, Schnur, Stadt, Wand, Wurst, Zunft.

Neuter Nouns

Surprisingly, most neuters form their plurals in -e. Only one takes an Umlaut: das Floß/die Flöße

Only about 25% of neuters take -¨er. These are the s-stems. Many of them were not originally s-stems.

[Other stuff that needs to be cleaned up]

It should be noted that much below makes more sense if one realizes that unstressed vowels in Old High German (OHG) often became e in MHG.

German has very little of the Indo-European declensional system left. There were five vocalic (or strong) declensions:

  • a-declension (Latin and Greek o-declension). This had two sub-declensions in ja and wa. These were masculine or neuter only. This was the main noun type. The endings of the masculine nouns did not cause umlaut in the nominative plural, thus, today we have der Tag/die Tage. The neuters had no suffix in the plural so the singular and plural were the same. Some of these, however, became like Tag/Tage through analogy. Others took the -er ending. There is not much left of the ja-type. They were mostly collectives with Ge- and a few others: das Netz/die Netze. Netz was netze in MHG. Little is to be found concerning wa-stems.
  • i-declension. These were masculine or feminine. These nouns had -i in the plural in OHG and so caused umlaut. This -i became -e in MHG, so there is now der Gast/die Gäste and die Kraft/die Kräfte. Thus, they can be confused with the Tag type above.
  • u-declension. Nothing really is left of this. It contained nouns of all three genders.
  • ī-declension. These were feminine abstracts. These mostly went over to the weak declension. (They often had an -n- in their suffixes anyway.)
  • ō-declension. This was made up of feminine nouns and corresponded to the Latin and Greek ā-declension. These had -en in MHG in the genitive plural (and, of course, dative plural) already, so most went over to the weak declension.

The weak declension (or consonantal) declensions included all three genders. By MHG, masculines and feminines had -e in the nominative singular and -en in all other forms. The neuter had -e in the nominative and accusative singular and -en in all other forms.

The monosyllabic stems were any gender. These were lost very early on and fell into the newer types above: die Nacht/die Nächte. Der Mann was also in this group but this word and some neuters fell into the type below.

The last type is surviving s-stems. This is the das Kalb/die Kälber type. The s became an r very early on in early OHG. Prokosch believes that the neuter nouns in this group ended up here from the a-stems because there was a distinction between the nominative singular and plural. Some masculines ended up here, too.

Old and Middle High German Compared Table

Here's the table I told myself I was not going to fool around with(!):

Vocalic Stems
(Masculine or Neuter; corresponded to Latin and Greek o-stems)
a-stems properja-stemswa-stems
Nom. Sing. - - -i-e-(o) -
Gen. Sing.-es-es-es-es-wes-wes
Dat. Sing.-e-e-e-e-we-we
Acc. Sing. - - -i-e-(o) -
Nom. Plur.-a-e-a-e-wa-we
Gen. Plur.-o-e-o-e-wo-we
Dat. Plur.-um-en-um-en-wum-wen
Acc. Plur.-a-e-a-e-wa-we
Masculine or Feminine
Nom. Sing.----
Gen. Sing.-es-es-¨i-¨e, -
Dat. Sing.-e-e-¨i-¨e, -
Acc. Sing.----
Nom. Plur.-¨i-¨e-¨i-¨e
Gen. Plur.-¨o-¨e-¨o-¨e
Dat. Plur.-¨im-¨en-¨im-¨en
Acc. Plur.-¨i-¨e-¨i-¨e
Masculine, Feminine, or Neuter
These were almost all lost to other declensions even in the OHG period.
Consonantal or Weak Declension
Masculine, Feminine, or Neuter
Nom. Sing.-o-e-a-e-a-e
Gen. Sing.-en-en-ūn-en-en-en
Dat. Sing.-en-en-ūn-en-en-en
Acc. Sing.-on-en-ūn-en-a-e
Nom. Plur.-on-en-ūn-en-un-en
Gen. Plur.-ōno-en-ōno-en-ōno-en
Dat. Plur.-ōm-en-ōm-en-ōm-en
Acc. Plur.-on-en-ūn-en-un-en
Feminine only
Nom. Sing.-a-e
Gen. Sing.-e
Dat. Sing.-u-e
Acc. Sing.-a-e
Nom. Plur.-e
Gen. Plur.-ōno-en
Dat. Plur.-ōm-en
Acc. Plur.-e
Neuter only
Nom. Sing.--
Gen. Sing.-(ir)es-es
Dat. Sing.-(ir)e-e
Acc. Sing.--
Nom. Plur.-(¨)ir-¨er

Correct Adjective Endings!

Of course:
When attributive adjectives are preceded by nothing: strong endings.
When attributive adjectives are preceded by the definite article, alle (pl.), sämtliche (pl.), derjenige, derselbe, jeder, jener, mancher, and welcher, the weak endings are used.
When attributive adjectives are preceded by the indefinite article, possessives, or kein, use the mixed declension.

Sources of confusion: In the plural, adjectives after einige, etliche, einzelne, folgende, mehrere, viele, and wenige, take strong endings. These words do not weaken following adjectives. For all practical purposes they are simply regular adjectives. If a determiner precedes, use appropriate endings: viele alte Dörfer, but die vielen alten Dörfer

(Einig takes strong endings, but weak endings may be found colloquially.)

(Manche can take strong or weak endings, but the strong ones are more common.)

Also, some of the above words have shortened forms. Use strong endings after these: viel deutsches Geld

Ander is treated just like any other adjective, but for some odd reason it triggers a weak ending in the dative singular (masc. and neut.): aus anderem wertvollen Material (no -em on wertvoll).

Etwas (invariable) is followed by strong adjectives, usually used as nouns: Etwas ganz Neues, von etwas ganz Neuem

Niemand can be invariable or take case endings: niemand, niemand(e)s, niemandem, niemanden. Ich sehe niemand./Ich sehe niemanden. The forms with cases endings are apparently slightly more common in writing. If an adjective follows, then it uses strong endings and niemand doesn't take endings: niemand Neues (nominative), but niemand Neuen or niemand Neues in the accusative. The dative is of course niemand Neuem. Niemand isn't capitalized except at the beginning of a sentence. Niemand can't be used in the genitive with an adjective for some reason.