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Forming Plural

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Singular nouns are those that describe one person or object: a boy, a girl, my house, their teacher, our party. Plural nouns describe more than one person or object: five boys, the women, a few windows, your parents, these flowers. In English, most nouns become plural by adding an -s. Some English nouns form their plural in other ways, such as one woman becomes ten women, a mouse becomes the mice.

A few German nouns form their plural by adding an -s like English. These nouns tend to be foreign words, such as:

singular                                     plural                                             English
das Auto                                    die Autos                                        cars
das Baby                                    die Babys                                        babies

Most German nouns, however, form their plural in other ways. Although there are general rules to follow when forming the plural of a German noun, it is best to consult a dictionary for complete accuracy.

Masculine nouns ending in -er, -en, or -el do not require an ending to form the plural. But some require the addition of an umlaut.

no umlaut required

singular                                     plural                                             English

der Lehrer                                die Lehrer                                      teachers
der Wagen                               die Wagen                                      cars

umlaut required

singular                                     plural                                             English
der Vater                                 die Väter                                         fathers
der Garten                              die Gärten                                       gardens

Other masculine nouns add an -e to form the plural. Some of these also require an umlaut.

no umlaut required

singular                                     plural                                             English
der Tisch                                  die Tische                                        tables
der Hund                                 die Hunde                                       dogs

umlaut required

singular                                     plural                                             English
der Sohn                                   die Söhne                                        sons
der Stuhl                                  die Stühle                                        chairs

Some masculine nouns traditionally form their plural with the addition of -en. Those masculine nouns that end in -e in the singular as well as those that are foreign words with the accent on the last syllable also form their plural by adding -(e)n.

traditional -en plural

singular                                     plural                                             English
der Mensch                              die Menschen                               people

words ending in -e in the singular

singular                                     plural                                             English
der Junge                                  die Jungen                                      boys
der Affe                                    die Affen                                         apes

foreign words with accent on last syllable

singular                                     plural                                             English
der Student                              die Studenten                                students
der Soldat                                 die Soldaten                                   soldiers

A few masculine nouns form their plural by adding -er. Many also require an umlaut.

singular                                     plural                                             English
der Geist                                  die Geister                                      spirits
der Gott                                   die Götter                                       gods
der Mann                                die Männer                                     men
der Wald                                die Wälder                                      woods

Feminine nouns in the plural generally end in -n or -en.

singular                                     plural                                             English
die Frau                                    die Frauen                                      women
die Arbeit                                die Arbeiten                                    jobs, labors
die Regel                                 die Regeln                                         rules
die Sitte                                   die Sitten                                          customs, habits

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But a small group of feminine nouns forms its plural by adding -e and an umlaut.

singular                                     plural                                             English
die Bank                                   die Bänke                                        benches
die Hand                                 die Hände                                        hands
die Luft                                    die Lüfte                                          airs
die Nacht                                die Nächte                                      nights
die Kuh                                   die Kühe                                          cows
die Stadt                                 die Städte                                         cities

A few feminine nouns that end in -er in the singular form their plural by an umlaut or the addition of an -n.

singular                                     plural                                             English
die Mutter                               die Mütter                                      mothers
die Tochter                             die Töchter                                     daughters
die Schwester                        die Schwestern                              sisters

Feminine nouns having the suffix -in form their plural by adding -nen.

singular                                     plural                                             English
die Ärztin                               die Ärztinnen                                 physicians
die Studentin                        die Studentinnen                            students

Neuter nouns that are diminutives with the suffix -chen or -lein do not require an ending to form the plural.

singular                                     plural                                             English
das Mädchen                          die Mädchen                                 girls
das Röslein                             die Röslein                                      little  roses

This is also true of neuter nouns that end in -er, -en, or -el. However, infinitives, which end in -en and are used as nouns, are always neuter. But they do not form plurals.

singular                                     plural                                             English

das Messer                              die Messer                                      knives
das Kissen                              die Kissen                                        pillows
das Einkommen (an infinitive, no plural)                                income

A large group of neuter nouns forms the plural by adding -er. This plural form requires an umlaut when an umlaut vowel (a, o, u) is present in the noun.

no umlaut vowel

singular                                     plural                                             English
das Kind                                   die Kinder                                      children
das Ei                                        die Eier                                            eggs

umlaut vowel

singular                                     plural                                             English

das Haus                                 die Häuser                                      houses
das Buch                                 die Bücher                                       books

Another large group of neuter nouns adds the ending -e to form the plural.

singular                                     plural                                             English
das Boot                                   die Boote                                         boats
das Jahr                                   die Jahre                                          years
das Haar                                 die Haare                                         hairs or hair
das Geschäft                          die Geschäfte                                  businesses

All plurals, no matter from what gender they are derived, use the definite article die.

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