You might have noticed something odd about many of the German words you’ve seen—many of them start with capital letters.
That’s because in German, all nouns are capitalized. Yep, every person, place, and thing is capitalized. So not only do you have to remember to capitalize every sentence and "proper" noun like we do in English, you have to capitalize every other thing as well.
Want to see a cool party trick? (Jens thought this might come in handy the next time you want to impress your friends.) Even though you probably don’t know what this sentence says, you can identify all the nouns in it.
(Give it a try. Write down the words you think are nouns and then click the sentence to check your answer.)
Not only is this a great party trick, it’s also helpful when you are trying to figure out the meaning of a new sentence in German. The capitalization is a helpful clue that tells you you’ve encountered a noun.
German nouns have another strange feature that we don’t have in English—every noun (person, place, and thing) has been assigned a gender: feminine, masculine, or neutral.
How do you know the gender of a word? You have to look at the word for “the” that comes before the noun.
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many rules that determine which kinds of words will have which genders. The only rule that is always true is that plural nouns (more than one) will always use the word “die.”
For most other words, you just have to memorize the gender when you learn the word.
Poor Jens has been talked into watching his little niece for the afternoon. To keep her occupied, he's taken her to the park.
Annoyingly for Jens, she’s at that age where she needs to point out everything in sight. It’s driving Jens crazy, but it’s a great chance for us to learn the gender of everything within a ten-mile radius of Jens and his niece!
Get ready. Get set. Go!
In English it's pretty simple to go from having one of something, to having more than one. Often all you need to do is an an -s.
There are a few exceptions, of course. Like puppy/puppies and sheep/sheep. But most of the time, the -s will do the job.
Unfortunately for those of us learning German, this part of the German language is crazy. Prepare yourself.
In German, plural nouns are formed in a ton of different ways. And there's not really any rule to give you a clue which one you should use, so you have to memorize the plural form of each noun as you learn it.
(It’s a good thing that humans have so many brain cells. It’s also a good thing that humans invented flashcards! Use them. Seriously.)
Here are some of the ways that plurals are formed in German:
Take a look at these examples, and you'll see how truly unpredictable it is:
(Remember that all plurals will use die as the "the" word. Don't let that throw you!)
Got all that? (Probably not. So use flashcards and make Jens proud!) Also, any good German dictionary will tell you plural of the word when you look it up.