I. The noun is probably feminine if
1. It refers to an actual female person: die Mutter (mother), die Tochter (daughter). This does not work when the female person is a little girl, but we’ll get to this in a second.
2. It’s a number: die Hundert (hundred), die Tausend (thousand).
3. It’s a river in Germany: die Spree (the Spree), die Donau (the Danube). Interestingly, if it’s a foreign river, it’s probably masculine!
4. It ends in -in and identifies a female in a profession: die Kommissarin (inspector), die Architektin (architect).
5. It ends in -e: die Ecke (corner), die Seuche (edpidemic). Exceptions: There are quite a few. Some animals, like der Löwe (lion) and der Hase (rabbit), also der Name (name), das Ende (end) and some nouns that begin with ge- like das Gebäude (building).
6. It ends in -a: die Kamera (camera), die Cola (cola). Exceptions: There’s currently a debate raging in Germany as to whether it’s die Nutella or das Nutella. As Nutella is a product that enjoys incredible popularity, this debate is, obviously, extremely heated. I will slather it on my toast regardless.
7. It ends in –ei, -heit, keit, -ik, – ie, -ung, -tät, -ion, -schaft, -nz or -ur: die Fleischerei (butcher shop), die Gesundheit (health), die Möglichkeit (possibility), die Musik (music), die Familie (family), die Sicherung (safety/security), die Universität (university), die Union (unity/association), die Freundschaft (friendship), die Dekadenz (decadence) and die Kultur (culture).
Exceptions: Despite this rule, the words das Ei (egg) and der Schaft (shaft) are neuter and masculine respectively. Why, German?! Why?? Other Exceptions: das Knie (knee), der Tanz (dance) and der Schwanz (tail…but it also has another meaning…) and der Flur (hallway).
II. The noun is probably masculine if…
1. It refers to an actual male person or male animal (duh): der Vater (father), der Bruder (brother), der Stier (bull), der Hahn (rooster).
2. It’s a day of the week, a month or a season: Freitag, (Friday), April (April), der Sommer (summer). However, note that the word die Jahreszeit (season) is feminine.
3. It ends in –ich, -ig, -ismus, -ling and –us: der Teppich (carpet), der Honig (honey), der Sozialismus (socialism) der Frühling (Spring) and der Campus (campus). Exceptions: die Reling (railing) and maybe just one or two more.
4. It ends in –er or -el: der Arbeiter (worker), der Vogel (bird).
Note that the -er thing only works because the word describes an agent of an action derived from a verb. Otherwise you get words like “die Mutter” (mother), which fall into the “words that are always feminine” category. German is hard.
There are a lot of exceptions to this rule, but it’s still worth memorizing since 90% of the time it’s accurate.
Some of the most common exceptions for -er are: das Fenster (window) das Messer (knife) and das Zimmer (room). For -el there are also some exceptions, including: die Regel (rule), die Mandel (almond) and die Siegel (seal).
5. It’s a foreign word with the emphasis on the last syllable: der Soldat (soldier), der Sekritär (secretary). Exceptions: There are a handful, but two more common ones are: das Café (café), die Saison (season—but not the meteorological kind, more like how it’s used in the sentence, “it’s asparagus season.”)
Have fun getting use to the German articles.
We’ll get to the neutral in the next post.