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Lesson 7: Shopping and Clothing

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The plural form of German nouns

We already told you in our last lesson a little bit about the plural in German. You even studied some food related vocabularies and exclusively learned their plural forms instead of memorizing the singular form (e.g. 'die Erdbeeren' = the strawberries).

The plural in German is something difficult, since there are very few rules and guidelines to follow if you want to form the plural of a noun. On the contrary, in English, as you know, it's very easy to do so: Simply add an 's' to the end of the noun and you get the plural form. But wait! Is it that easy?

Irregular plural in English: One fish and ... many fish.

Look at the following table, listing some examples of the plural in German. Most of the words in the table were already covered by the previous lessons. By looking at the singular and plural forms, can you see at least some regularities and make rules out of them?

die Bananedie Bananenthe banana
die Erdbeeredie Erdbeerenthe strawberry
die Deckedie Deckenthe ceiling
die Gitarredie Gitarrenthe guitar
die Jackedie Jackenthe jacket
die Hosedie Hosenthe pants
die Wohnungdie Wohnungenthe apartment/flat
der Studentdie Studententhe student
der Lehrerdie Lehrerthe teacher
der Vaterdie Väterthe father
der Manndie Männerthe man
der Supermarktdie Supermärktethe supermarket
der Tischdie Tischethe table
der Löffeldie Löffelthe spoon
der Zoodie Zoosthe zoo
der Anorakdie Anoraksthe anorak
das Hausdie Häuserthe house
das Jahrdie Jahrethe year
das Tierdie Tierethe animal
das Autodie Autosthe car
das Radiodie Radiosthe radio

The first rule is that the definite article for plural nouns is always 'die'. There is no exception to this rule. Also, like in English, there is no plural indefinite article in German (1 car = 'a car'; 2 cars = 'two cars' => no article).
RULE: The definite article for all plural nouns in German is 'die'. There is no exception to this rule. Like in English, there is no indefinite plural article in German. Possessive pronouns in the plural are the same as the singular/feminine forms (e.g. meine, deine, seine, ihre, etc..).

When, we look at the endings, we find that most of the plural forms in German somehow have an 'e' in their ending. According to the above table, most plural endings will be 'er', 'en', 'el' and 'e'.
GUIDELINE: Plural forms of nouns usually have an 'e' in their ending. Possible endings for plural nouns are 'er', 'en', 'el', and 'e'.
An exception to the above guideline are words that have a foreign origin (e.g. 'Auto', 'Zoo', 'Restaurant') or nouns that end in a vowel (e.g. 'Sofa', 'Kamera', 'Foto' ...). Those nouns simply add an 's' to their singular to form the plural: 'Autos', 'Zoos' or 'Fotos'.

Another useful rule is the following:
RULE: Feminine nouns that end in 'e', simply add an 'n' to form the plural. Examples: 'Gitarre' and 'Jacke'.

The following few guidelines might also be helpful in determining the plural forms of certain nouns in the future:
GUIDELINE: Some nouns change their stem by transforming an 'a', 'o' or 'u' in the stem to their respective umlauts 'ä', 'ö', or 'ü'. Examples: das Haus, der Mann.

GUIDELINE: Many nouns with only one syllable simply add an 'e' to form the plural (e.g. das Jahr, das Tier, der Tisch). However, there are many exceptions to this guideline.

GUIDELINE: Nouns that end in 'el' or 'er' in the singular often do not change in the plural or only change their stem to an umlaut (see guideline above). Examples: der Löffel, der Vater, der Lehrer

All together, the plural is a tough thing to learn. It is so difficult, because - like the genders of nouns - there are so few rules and guidelines to follow and those rules that do exist usually have a lot of exceptions. Let's now look ahead and practice the plural through some exercises. The only save way of properly memorizing plural forms is through repetition and exercising.

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