12 Twists to the Gender Rules
(Please Note: The 'Zoot' website is a work in progress. There are sure to be temporary errors and updates. For an explanation of the word 'Zoot', please visit the 'Calidocious.com' website. Suggestions are always welcome. Please email email@example.com.
7. There a several pseudo-nouns that don't exist on their own, but do form the final syllables of multi-syllable nouns, such as '-dom' (province or "thing related to"- neuter gender), '-gram' (thing written- n. gender), '-log' (laying down- common gender (as in 'oorlog'-(war)), '-houd' (holding- n. gender), and '-voud' (multitude-n. gender). These pseudo-nouns confer their genders on the multi-syllable nouns.
Summary: If a word ending in '-er' doesn't belong to one of the broadly defined neuter classes, including Elements, Units of Measurement, or Gerund-like things, it will sound o.k. as a masculine word more than nine times out of ten.
d. There are two important "exceptions" that seemingly aren't covered by any rational: Offer-(victim) and Theater-(theater), which are strongly neuter in both Dutch and German. However, the anomaly of 'Offer' might be explained if it is considered to belong to the class of 'Children before puberty', in other words 'Human beings not subject to accountability' and who aren't responsible for their fates. (Fun Fact: Mel Gibson was born in the U.S.!)
'An Ode to New Zealand'
A. Grammatical function, for example, gerunds are given the neuter gender, even if they don't end in -en., B. Being part of one of the Classes, for example 'het Plastic' is a raw material, or C. There are some exceptional words like, 'het team' that are neuter for no apparent reason . These are included in the ' 't Ey-pictionary'.
Het Water (water) Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park.
Oloch-(hole) Earthquake damage
Het Teken-(sign, mark) Aboriginal Tree Scarring
Congratulations! You've concluded a major step in preparing for an adventure in the world of
the Dutch Language. (In Australia, a "Black Stump" symbolizes the end of a "civilized" area.)
Best wishes on your language walkabout!
The following list contains 100 common monosyllable neuter nouns that are almost identical in Dutch and German.
In these cases, the fact that a Limburgish/German masculine/common cognate exists is a strong indication that a student who incorrectly makes such words masculine/common won't sound too odd to a native Standard Dutch speaker. (Note: More than 3/4th of all Dutch-German cognates (similar nouns) have the same gender.)
Owerk-(work) Sheep shearers monument in Te Kiuti
Such '-er' words that are neuter in Dutch, but are masculine (or feminine)/common in German, include: Anker-(anchor), Karakter-(character, ie. something imprinted), Masker-(mask), Pantser-(armour), and Tonder- (tinder/igniter).
For its size, New Zealand is one of the most spectacular and varied countries on earth.
The reasons for this are: 1. there are still three distinct genders in German, 2. there is less correlation between German prefixes/suffixes and genders than in Dutch, 3. German nouns with a single meaning are never allowed to be assigned to more than one gender (Dutch sometimes allows this), and 4. there is an expectation when studying German students should strive to get genders entirely correct, so just 90+% would be unsatisfactory.
6. There are some rare multi-syllable nouns whose final syllable is neither a noun (although it begins and ends with a consonant) nor a characteristic ending. Usually the genders of these words can also be explained with a bit of homework using a comprehensive dictionary like 'van Dale's'. Examples include: 'export' (export)- common gender because it is derived from a verb, 'envelop' (envelope)- common gender due to its origin- both the English, and original French, variants still contain the missing 'e' that made it feminine, and 'protocol'- (protocol)-neuter gender due to the last syllable being accented. If in doubt, it's o.k. to go with the common gender nine times out of ten.
'The anomaly of 'Theater'-(theater) can be explained if 'Theater' is considered to belong the class of "Sports and Games". As in English, the Dutch words for "play" and "theater performance" are the same. .
Het Priesterschap-(priesthood -here Pope Franciscus). (Fun fact: In spite of Australia's strong ties to England, and hence to the Anglican (English) Church, Catholicism is almost twice as popular in the country as Anglicanism!}
Het Theater!(theater). Corroborees are ten thousand year old musicals. The picture is from '20 Years Before the Mast' by Charles Erskine.
-The pseudo-class 'Units of Measurement' includes the words: Nummer-(number), Cijfer-(cipher), Kaliber-(caliber), Kader-(framework), and Semester (semester).
Ohaus-(house) Movie set of Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings
1. Proper names, which begin with a capital letter in English, and which may seem to behave like Classes of things, aren't really Classes, but are actually just "flavors" of a single, gender specific, noun-item. An example is the twelve months, which are all masculine/common names for a single concept/word- 'month'. Neuter examples of this phenomenon include names of Cities, Countries, Languages, and Cardinal Directions (like North). To highlight the fact that months, cardinal directions, and languages are more like 'names for a thing' than 'things', they can be capitalized by students like they used to be in old fashioned Dutch from the 1900's.)
Unlike Australia, New Zealand, or Aotearoa, is a geologically "young" country with high mountains and ever-growing volcanoes.
2. There are two "pseudo-classes" of neuter nouns that aren't 100% predictable, but are significantly more than 50% predictable. so knowing them can help students master genders. They are 1. 'Raw Materials', which used to be called "stuffs" in English and are related to the Class of 'Elements', and 2.'Units of Measurement', which are related to 'Adjectives'.
'Raw Materials' include things like hout-(wood), zuur-(acid), and foodstuffs like vlees-(meat) (which includes names of animals that are commonly eaten in Europe, including rabbit, and horse). 'Units of Measurement' includes Weights and Bulk Numbers such as 'gros'-(large quantity) or 'dozijn'-(dozen). Note: Metric-system units ending in '-er', such as meter (meter), are the big exceptions to the 'Units of Measurement' pseudo-class and are all masculine/common.
Het Kuiken-(chicken) Emu Warning Sign (Actually a "freebie" because 'chicken' is a "foodstuff").
-Water-(water) and Leder- (leather- like 'leer') can be assigned to the 'Raw Materials' pseudo-class. (Fun Fact: No one is ever allowed to see Jim Jim falls at their prime from below! During the wet season the river fords in Kakadu park are impassable due to crocodiles, so visitors have to take helicopter tours to see the falls!)
Het Examen-(exam) Bora initiation ceremony photographed by Charles Kerry.
Oaas, Oall, Oamt, Obad, Oband, Obett, Obild, Obein, Obier, Oblatt, Oblut, Oblock, Obrot, Ochor, ODach, Odock, Odorf, Oerz, Oei, Oeis, Ofell, Ofest, Ofett, Ofleisch, Ofort, Ogas, Ogeld, Ogift, Ogips, Oglass, Ogleid, Ogut, Ogras, Ogros, Ohaar, Ohaupt, Oholz, Ohaus, Ojahr, Ojoch, Okleid, Okorn, Okraut, Oland, Olaub, Oleck, Olicht, Olied, Oloch, Olos, Omahl, Omark, Omoor, Onest, Onetz, Oobst, Opferd, Orad, Oreich, Oruss, Oros, Oschaf, Oschiff, Oschloss, Ospiel, Ostueck, Otal, Oteig, Oteil, Oveld, Ovolk, Owerk, Ozeug.
Het Idee- (Idea) 'New Idea' is Australia's premier "Soap Opera" magazine
Unfortunately, the ''t Ey-mnemonic' and the prefix/suffix tell-tails don't work as well with German genders as they do with Dutch genders, even though the two languages are so similar that about half of the neuter mono-syllable nouns are almost identical in German.
4. The suffix '-en' is the only suffix that cannot be strongly linked to a specific gender! It can only be broadly linked to the 'common gender' (excluding neuter '-en' gerunds). There are roughly the same numbers of male vs. female non-gerund '-en' nouns (although there are somewhat more male than female nouns.)
Also, as with nouns ending in '-er', there are a handful of exceptional neuter nouns ending in '-en', and which aren't gerunds. (Note: 'Kuiken' and 'Varken' can be considered to be food-'stuffs', and 'examen' actually ends in '-men', which is is a neuter suffix.)
Het Varken-(pig) Wild piglets.
Odach-(roof) Maori Waka House
10. 'Bodies of water' and 'Watercraft' are quite similar to the "Classes" listed on the 'Zoot A-N' page, however, they are not quite as consistent as true classes. They are better classified as "Groups of Cherishable Items", ie. things that are commonly referred to endearingly and are given a (usually) female or male gender. They can be described as 'cherished' nouns.
This is similar to the English custom of giving boats and storms names (which traditionally were exclusively female). (Note: The "female" class of 'Heavenly Bodies' can alternately be included here- it was listed as a true 'Class' on the 'Zoot A-N' page because it is almost 100% consistent. The main exception is 'meteoor'-masc.-(meteor) but even it has a colloquial feminine variant-'meteoride'.)
In addition to female items with links to water or the firmament (heaven), there a couple dozen common nouns that are also commonly treated as female (or male) nouns in an endearing way. Female examples include 'brug'-(bridge), 'kerk'-(church), 'krant'-(newspaper), 'school'-(school), 'stad'-(city), 'straat'-(street), and 'vlag'-(flag). Note: Such nouns are frequently given proper, ie. capitalized, names.
The historical female (or male) genders of "cherished" nouns can be found in old dictionaries including the on-line dictionary- 'van Goor's', or in definitive dictionaries like 'van Dale's'. The only critical male 'cherished' nouns are complex mechanical devices, such as guns or vehicles- particularly if they have proper names such as "Winchester" or "Ford".
Het Wonder! (miracle) John Gerovich scores the "impossible goal". Statue by Robert Hitchcock.
3. The suffix '-er' is the most inconsistent of all the suffixes because it can refer to either neuter, or common gender (male), nouns. Although the '-er' ending is highly associated with masculine/common words, there are a couple dozen widely-used neuter exceptions. Fortunately, it turns out that, except for the words discussed below, almost all other '-er' words can be treated as if they were male/common, even if they really aren't. The occasional errors that will result from doing this will sound like minor errors to a native Dutch speaker.
Footnotes: There are two masculine/common suffixes that were omitted from the list on the 'Dutch A-Z' page in order to illustrate how few masculine/common endings there are. Each of the two omitted suffixes occurs in only one word: '-ond' in 'avond'-(evening) and '-end' in 'ochtend'-(morning).
The ending '-as' actually occurs in slightly more neuter words than feminine words, even though it is treated a "feminine" ending on this web page. The justifications for considering it a "feminine/common" ending are: 1. all the Dutch neuter '-as' words were derived from (mostly) feminine, or masculine, French words, and 2. all of the '-as' words have either (mostly) feminine, or masculine, modern German cognates.
In order to pare down the number of masculine suffixes, the rare ending '-x', as in 'climax'-(climax), was included among the "-k" feminine/common endings which include -ijk, -iek, -eik, and -eek, instead of the masculine/common endings. A supplemental justification for doing this is that all monosyllable words ending in -aks, -eks, -iks, -oks, or -uks are feminine.
The ending '-aarn', which only occurs in the word 'lantaarn' (lantern) is incorrectly made neuter in order for it to follow the overall trend of neuter endings.
As a learning tool, students can temporarily use the archaic grammar technique of un-inflecting (or neutering) adjectives that come between possessive pronouns and neuter nouns. For example: "zijn smal rustbed"-(his narrow bed, ie. grave), or "haar ovaal gelaat"-(her oval face).
In summary, the core masculine endings can be considered to be just the six endings '-el, -er/-aar/-or, -em, and -on. Feminine endings are characterized by "gentle" or "bright" vowels, such as soft short, 'a's', 'e's, and 'i's, plus "bright" 'ii's and 'ee's, (which may end with a characteristically-feminine 'k' or 'ks' sound). Neuter endings are characterized by diminutives, 'triple-o,u,t's', and emphatic/stressed endings.
Finally, even if beginning students make some errors by applying these general rules, they will still get more than 90% of genders correct.
e. The one remaining big exception is the word Wonder-(miracle). That it is neuter is amazing!
12. There are numerous mono-syllable nouns in Dutch that can be assigned to either the neuter gender or common gender, such as 'kruim'-(crumb), so it's impossible to get them wrong! The easiest way for second language speakers to decide what to do in such cases is to try and find an argument favoring one gender or the other, or to simply opt for the common gender. (In the case of 'kruim', there is a common variant 'kruimel'-(little crumb), and because virtually no neuter words are ever modified via an '-el' ending, the common gender is probably the best choice. Plus, the German cognate "krume" is feminine, ie. common.) Note: There are even more multi-syllable nouns than mono-syllable nouns that can be assigned to more than one gender. This multi-gender phenomenon helps insure the 'Multisyllable Gender Rules' work as well as they do.
Ohaupt-(head) Figurehead on prow of a war canoe
Het ogenblik-(instant) The instant of a balloon festival launch. Although 'blik'-(glance) is a common gender word, 'ogenblik' is neuter.
a. Several of the "exceptional" '-er' words belong to the neuter "pseudo-classes" described in #3 above:
b. Another group of '-er' words that "should" be masculine/common according to the "rules", but which are are neuter in Standard Dutch, includes nouns linked to verbs which are actually masculine/common in some of the Dutch dialects in the province in Limburg which borders on Germany and which are also masculine in German.
5. The genders of loan words that have recently been borrowed from English, (and usually sound or look non-Dutch), can almost always be determined with a bit of homework with a Dutch-English-Dutch dictionary. Authors Amand Berteloot, Nicotine van der Sijs, and others have described how this can be done. Normally a loan word is given the common gender. However, there are three ways the gender can be neuter instead:
Het Offer (offering or victim) The great Australian actor Mel Gibson is at his best in roles where he is a victim of fate.
c. Next, there is a handful of neuter nouns which are treated somewhat like gerunds (nouns made from verbs and which are always neuter.) They express ongoing states of action. An example is 'Klooster'-(Monastery- from 'being kept apart/isolated')
The German equivalent of the "'t Ey-Pictionary"
11. There is slight tendency in Dutch for male or female multi-syllable common-gender words to gradually become neuter over time. An example is the word 'Idee'-(idea) which used to be feminine, but has gradually become almost exclusively neuter.
Two other examples are the word 'Ogenblik'-('glance of an eye' or instant) which used to be male, but is now neuter, even though the word 'blik'-(glance) remains male/common, and 'soort'-(sort) which used to be female. Being neuter is so important in these cases that a student will sound odd to a native speaker if she or he doesn't use the neuter gender.
Het osoort-(sort) There are several sorts of wool on a sheep! They used to be sorted by hand.
However, a ' 't Ey-' type of mnemonic can still be a powerful teaching aide with High German. But because Australian pictures, plus the ' 't Ey ' prefix, have has already been "claimed" for use with the Dutch neuter gender, German will have to make do with pictures from New Zealand, and an alternate prefix-sound.
Het Wapen-(weapon) The discovery of bows and arrows never reached pre-colonial Australia, so spears were the "ultimate" weapons. Picture from Ridpath's Encyclopedia
That's just kidding, but it turns out pictures from New Zealand, plus a 'prefix-memory-hook' of 'O-', can provide an effective mnemonic for learning German Neuter- Gender nous- even if those 'memory hooks' aren't as potent as the 't Ey-' prefix and pictures from Australia. The prefix 'O-' provides a link to the Maori language, or 'Te Reo'-(pronounced 'Tay Ray-oo'-(where the 'ay's are pure vowels).
9. A "classic" suffix begins with a vowel and ends with a consonant. A true suffix can't begin and end with a consonant because in germanic languages a consonant-vowel-consonant combination forms a complete word-building-block and is a stand-alone thing. There are several "suffixes" that are included in the "suffix lists" that do begin with a consonant. They can alternately be considered to be "pseudo-nouns".
They are: '-nis' (-ness (state of being)- female), '-heid' (-ness- female), '-teit' (-ness- female), and '-ment' ('thing made concrete', or 'thing turned from concept into reality'- neuter).
The neuter diminutive suffix '-sel', on the other hand, doesn't qualify as a "pseudo-noun" because the 's' can be considered to be a holdover from the preceding consonant.
The masculine "suffix" '-em' only exists as part of either '-dem' or '-sem'. As such, '-dem' and '-sem' could be considered to be "pseudo-nouns" meaning "-ness". However, this leads to some exceptions. A simpler way to deal with '-em' is to consider it a suffix, and the preceding 'd' or 's' to be holdovers from the preceding syllable.
Military terms for groupings of soldiers are also neuter. These include 'Leger'-('Army'- referring to the number of soldiers that can lay down (sleep) in a field and 'Eskader'-('squad' or group of soldiers arranged in a square).
8. There is one exceptional monosyllable word ending that isn't tightly linked to a single gender: '-schap'-(-ness, -ship, -hood). In Dutch, both feminine/common and neuter endings are about equally prevalent, (however, in German, '-schap' is always feminine.)
The '-schap' ending is linked to the feminine/common gender if the preceding syllable is an adjective, adverb, or an abstract noun, such as 'beterschap'-(improvement). These words often end in '-ness' in English. (Note: 'vriendschap'-(friendship) and 'vijandschap'-(enmity) are included among the common-gender nouns).
When the syllable before the '-schap' suffix is a person, and in which case the English equivalent is often rendered using '-hood' or '-ship', the word is neuter. These words are similar to gerunds because they refer to an "ongoing set of actions associated with a role". For example, 'Priesterschap'- (the priesthood) is "the ongoing/continuous activities associated with being a priest", in other words "priest-doing" or "priest-being".