Guten Morgen Grammar: Weak masculine nouns, and other life truths reflected in grammar

Cartoon of Affe and Furst, both weak masculine nouns

Der Affe and Der Furst. Both weak. Pathetic, really.

You guys: first of all, I am sorry for the delay in posts at the moment. As I’ll explain in an upcoming entry, life has taken an unfortunate u-turn and I haven’t had much time to blog. But more importantly, this post has been a long time coming because I have been working on a very special present for all of you. At the end of this post. Now you just HAVE to read on.

Today in Guten Morgen Grammar we’re going to talk about a special kind of noun in German which tends to catch a lot of people out. You see, in German, there are a fairly large number of masculine nouns which are described as weak masculine nouns. That’s right: even German, as an inanimate concept, knows that men are weak and it’s all about the chicas. That’s why it’s such a brilliant language and you should learn it.

Why are weak masculine nouns called ‘weak’, anyway? Well, it’s because they’re not strong enough to stay the same in every case and number. They’re weak because, whenever they are NOT in the nominative singular form (so, almost always), they add an -n or an -en at the end of the noun. It’s dead easy, actually. You’ve probably seen or heard examples of this happening all the time already:

Hast du heute den Herrn gesehen?

Ich rede gerade mit einem Kunden.

Der Anzug des Präsidenten sah schlecht aus.

See? It’s one of the easiest rules to remember in German.

If it’s not singular and nominative, it’s got an -N-ding.

As you can see, I’ve made a delightful portmanteau of ‘-en’ and ‘ending’ to make it slightly catchier. Did it work?

Anyway, unfortunately the hard part isn’t remembering the rule; the hard part is remembering which nouns are weak and which aren’t. A lot of them describe men in different political or job roles, because men are especially weak when in positions of power, polishing that glass ceiling. Some of them are endings from other languages like Greek or Latin, because blah blah something sexist and racist.

Firstly, there are a number of different noun endings which tend to make a noun weak:

-e – e.g. der Affe, der Franzose, der Junge

-log (often -loge) – e.g. der Psycholog, der Monolog, der Geologe

-ant – e.g. der Diamant, der Praktikant, der Trabant

-ist – e.g. der Polizist, der Anarchist, der Kolumnist

-nom – e.g. der  Astronom, der Metronom, der Gastronom

-on – e.g. der Dämon…I can’t think of any others

-krat – e.g. der Bürokrat, der Demokrat, der Aristokrat

-aph – e.g. der Paragraph, der Autograph, der Oceanograph

-ent – e.g. der Präsident, der Dirigent, der Student

-et – e.g. der Planet, der Alphabet, der Magnet

-arch – e.g. der Monarch, der Plutarch, der Oligarch

-at – e.g. der Automat, der Beirat, der Soldat (but generally only for things which carry out an an action, or people; der Salat is not weak, for example)

To make this easy for you, I’ve listed the most obvious examples of each ending above. Some of these endings are REALLY common (-e, -ent, -ist), so just try to remember those if you are really pressed for time. There are a few other endings too, but they don’t pop up too often ( -ann, -ad, -urg, -nz, -ik, -ik).

Secondly, there are a few other nouns without these endings which are weak:
der Bär – bear
der Bauer – farmer
der Bayer – Bavarian person
der Bub – kid, boy, lad
der Fink – finch
der Furst – prince
der Graf – count
der Held – hero (yep, heroes are weak)
der Herr – man, husband, master (also ‘lord’ as in God. Don’t overinterpret)
der Hirt – shepherd
der Mensch – person, human, man
der Nachbar – neighbour
der Narr – fool
der Oberst – colonel
der Papagei – parrot
der Spatz – sparrow

And that’s all there is to it!

Err…not quite. There are also eight masculine nouns which are irregularly weak, in that they behave exactly like masculine nouns in every single way, except for in the singular genitive, when they add -ns.Like this:

Ich spiele mit dem Gedanken, ein Eis zu kaufen.
I’m toying with the thought of buying an ice cream.

Der Ursprung dieses Gedankens ist, dass ich an einer Eisdiele vorbeigegangen bin.
The root of this thought is that I just walked past an ice-cream shop.

Yeah, I know: sounds pointless learning this tiny fact, but trust me – these words are really common and if you use them right you will sound like a German Jedi master. The irregular masculine nouns are:

der Glaube – belief
der Name – name
der Same – seed
der Gedanke – thought
der Wille – will
der Funke – spark
der Buchstabe – letter of the alphabet
der Friede – peace

And, finally, we have one special guest tonight, who deserves all of our devoted attention. Das Herz. Das Herz is a special snowflake – a Germanomaly, if you will (snarf snarf), because it is the ONLY NON-NEUTER WEAK IRREGULAR NOUN. It behaves exactly like a masculine irregular noun, but it’s neuter. The heart is the most special noun in the German language. Aww.

I know that this all seems rather dull and you might think it will be a gruelling slog to memorise these nouns. I’ve been there: sitting for hours in a cramped, oddly-smelling student bedroom with pus-yellow walls, chanting these nouns to myself like a weird Scientologist prayer. I sympathise. And THAT IS WHY I have made this COLOUR-IN POSTER for you all to download, print out and stick up on your wall. If you’re embarrassed to have it on your wall, stick it on the inside of your wardrobe door. If you’re embarrassed to do colouring-in as an adult, f**k it, just admit that colouring-in is awesome and fun and makes learning better. It’s a big image, so you’ll need to print it on a few A4 sheets and stick it together, or take it to a shop and get it in glorious A1. This poster helps you visualise figures for all the most common weak masculine nouns or common endings for weak masculine nouns, as well as the irregulars. I hope this helps you to learn and remember just HOW PATHETICALLY WEAK AND USELESS MEN ARE, the chauvinist BASTARDS.

*cough cough*… Click here to download.


Rose T