Nouns describe people, animals, things, concepts and ideas. Just as in English, German nouns can be common or proper, count or mass, singular or plural. German nouns, however, have two additional characteristics: they are always capitalized and they can be masculine, feminine or neuter:
Common vs. proper nouns
Common nouns refer to a general person, animal, object or concept.
|der Korb||the basket|
|das Mädchen||the little girl|
|die Mutter||the mother|
Proper nouns represent specific individuals or places.
|Rotkäppchen||Little Red Riding Hood|
|Schlossallee 18||Schlossallee 18|
Count vs. mass nouns
Nouns can also be categorized according to whether they can be counted or not. Nouns that can be broken down into individuals are count nouns.
|die Blume/die Blumen||the flower/the flowers|
Nouns that denote items that cannot be broken down into individual units are mass nouns.
|Rotkäppchens Großmutter trinkt gern Wein.||Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother likes to drink wine.|
|Der Wolf ißt gern Fleisch.||The wolf likes to eat meat.|
German nouns also all have a grammatical gender that sometimes overlaps with the biological gender (masculine or feminine), as in the following examples:
|der Jäger (masculine)||the hunter|
|die Großmutter (feminine)||the grandmother|
But most often the grammatical gender is independent of biological gender, and the only thing to do with them is to learn them when you learn your vocabulary.
|der Wald (masculine)||the forest|
|die Tür (feminine)||the door|
|das Waldhaus (neuter)||the house in the forest|
All nouns in German and English are marked for number: singular (one) or plural (more than one). Typically, in English there is some kind of ending that marks the plural, for example an -s: stone => stones; tree => trees. There can be other kinds of plural markers, such as a different word form as in child => children. In German the situation is the same, there is typically some kind of ending that indicates whether we are talking about one item or more:
|der Stein, die Steine||the stone, the stones|
|der Baum, die Bäume||the tree, the trees|
Mass nouns only have one form and cannot be made into the plural. Here are some examples from Rotkäppchen's life: der Lärm (noise).
Similarly, nouns that refer to abstract concepts do not have a plural:
|der Hass (hatred)||der Humor (sense of humor)||die Intelligenz (intelligence)|
|die Liebe (love)||die Verachtung (disdain)|