As I said in my last blog, there are 3 ways of saying ‘the’ (actually, there are lots more, but we ignore that for the time being!). Whether you need to say der, die or das depends on whether the word is masculine, feminine or neuter. ‘How can a thing be masculine, feminine or neuter?’ I can hear you ask.
Well, it’s not the item, it’s the word, for example, the table = der Tisch, that doesn’t mean the table is masculine, it means the word for table is masculine.
So how do we know?
Are there rules? Yes, there are.
Are they difficult? Yes, some are!
Why? Because for many of the rules there are exceptions and some of those are longer than the rules.
So what do we do? Most textbooks just suggest that you always learn the vocabulary with the gender, e.g. don’t learn table = Tisch, but table = der Tisch.
Good idea – if you have time to learn vocabulary. Unfortunately, most adults are so busy with work and family life, there is no time left to learn long lists of vocabulary.
Is there anything worth doing? Yes, a few rules are worth remembering:
Always masuline – der:
Male people, jobs & animals, names of cars & trains, precipitation, days, months & seasons, words ending in -ismus
Always feminine – die:
Female people, jobs & animals, names of aircrafts, ships & motorbikes, nouns ending in – heit, -keit, -tät, -ung, -schaft, -ie, -ik, cardinal numbers
Aways neuter – das:
Names of hotels, cafés and theatres, colours and infinitives used as nouns, nouns ending in -chen, -lein
If those lists don’t help, then there is only one option left: when speaking to Germans, mumble your gender, so that they all sound like ‘de’. With a bit of luck they won’t notice ;-))
Question for the weekend: what is the English translation of der Band, die Band, das Band?
Edit 2017: if you like to know more about gender, I have created an online course just for that: German grammar – gender: is it der, die or das?