Forming the plural of German nouns is a quite complex issue. But there are rules that I am going to explain in this post. 🙂
Plural Depends on Gender!
Like other languages that decline nouns, such as Greek or Russian, also in German this topic depends on the gender of the noun, in most cases.
1. Feminine Nouns
Just as with the rules for gender, also the plural of the feminine gender is the easiest and most regular. About 95% of the feminine nouns finish in -n.
Depending on their ending, there are 4 variations but the important fact is all of them end in -n:
- All the nouns (even masculine and neutral ones!) finishing in -e just add -n. die Tasche ➜ Taschen (der Junge ➜ Jungen, das Auge ➜ Augen).
- Feminine nouns in -er or -el also add only -n: Schwester ➜ Schwestern, Mauer ➜ Mauern, Tafel ➜ Tafeln. The only exceptions are Mutter ➜ Mütter, Tochter ➜ Töchter.
- Feminine nouns ending in a consonant (also Frau) add -en: Universität ➜ Universitäten, Kreuzung ➜ Kreuzungen, Frau ➜ Frauen.
- The most typical feminine (or feminized) nouns ending in -in (nationalities, professions, some feminine animals) add -nen. Spanierin ➜ Spanierinnen, Rezeptionistin ➜ Rezeptionistinnen, Löwin ➜ Löwinnen.
Exceptions from this regular feminine plural are the following nouns: Angst, Axt, (Sitz-)Bank, Braut, Brust, Faust, Gans, Haut, Kuh, Kunst, Maus/Laus, Hand/Wand, Wurst, Nuss, Luft, Kraft, Macht, Nacht, Naht, Schnur, Stadt, Sucht, -kunft. They add Umlaut and -e: Kuh ➜ Kühe, Hand ➜ Hände, Maus ➜ Mäuse, Ankunft ➜ Ankünfte (being the “masculine plural”⬇︎).
2. Masculine Nouns
Very important: masculine and neutral nouns normally don’t end in -n in Plural. Only in dative plural they add an extra-n on their regular plural: der Stuhl ➜ die Stühle (regular plural) ➜ von den Stühlen (dative plural).
- a) The most typical ending of masculine nouns is Umlaut (if they contain a, o, u) and -e. Schrank ➜ Schränke, (Schreib-)Block ➜ Blöcke, Tisch ➜ Tische, Film ➜ Filme.
- b) But not all of them add Umlaut dots. The following nouns add only -e in plural (this we have to learn): Ort, Wal, Laut, Mond, Hund, Halm, Bund, Schuh, Pfund, Pfad, Triumph (Ort ➜ Orte, Hund ➜ Hunde).
2. Nevertheless, there are also some masculine nouns that end in Umlaut + -er (also this is to learn!): Mann, Wald, Rand, Mund, Strauch (Mann ➜ Männer, Rand ➜ Ränder).
If the noun ends in -er/-en/-el, normally it adds nothing in plural (meaning the plural is invariable): der Spanier ➜ die Spanier, der Lehrer ➜ die Lehrer, der Rasen ➜ die Rasen, der Deckel ➜ die Deckel.
But there are some nouns that add Umlaut dots (learn these as well): Vater, Bruder, Schwager, Hafen, Faden, Vogel, Apfel, Nagel, Bogen, Boden (Bruder ➜ Brüder, Faden ➜ Fäden, Bogen ➜ Bögen).
Exceptions from these rules are the nouns belonging to the so-called n-declension. Please read my post about this topic.
3. Neutral Nouns
The most typical ending of neutral nouns with 1 syllable is Umlaut + -er: Buch ➜ Bücher, Dach ➜ Dächer, Glas ➜ Gläser.
Neutral nouns with more than 1 syllable add just -e in plural: Telefon, Problem, Regal, Geschenk, Gespräch, nouns in -ier (Telefon ➜ Telefone, Problem ➜ Probleme, Papier ➜ Papiere). Exception: Gesicht ➜ Gesichter.
As to the Latin nouns, ending in -um, there are 2 different plural forms, depending on how long they have been used in the German language:
- Borrowed from Latin long time ago: they change -um to -en (Album ➜ Alben, Museum, Datum; also Virus ➜ Viren).
- Rather modern words: they maintain the Latin plural changing -um to -a (Antibiotikum ➜ Antibiotika, Praktikum, Visum, Kurrikulum, also Lexikon ➜ Lexika).
Something similar happens with Greek words, ending in -ma. Formerly, only the Greek plural adding -ta was used but nowadays, in very common words, we use also a German plural (like in Thema ➜ Themen) or the English plural (like in Komma ➜ Kommas).
- Komma: die Kommas und Kommata
- Koma: die Komas und Komata
- Schema: die Schemas und Schemata, also Schemen
- Paradigma: die Paradigmen, also Paradigmata
4. Plural in -s
The plural in -s is not a typical German plural ending! Normally, the -s is used in genitive masculine and neutral (des Bruders, des Buch[e]s).
But there many borrowings from other languages (mostly English and French), i.e. international words that were taken together with their plural.
- All the nouns ending in vowel (except for -e), including -y and -ee: Videos, Radios, Sofas, Kameras, Menüs, Taxis, Hobbys, Partys, Tees.
- International words ending in consonant (except for -er): Restaurants, Hotels, E-Mails, Trainings.
- Family (=last) names: Oskar und Hanna Meier ➜ die Meiers.
As to basic German nouns that seem to have a plural in -s, this is a linguistic innovation and is considered slang: der Junge ➜ die Jungs, das Mädchen/Mädel ➜ die Mädels, der Onkel ➜ die Onkels.