Can you imagine a world without plurals?
We’d never be able to talk about anything unless it was on its own again…
There’d be no point in numbers anymore, and it’d be really confusing talking about groups of things. Sounds ridiculous, right?
Thankfully, we live in a world where we do use plurals, making our everyday lives much easier.
To get you there, this post will guide you through five ways to build German plurals. You’ll soon see that it’s as easy as learning 1,2,3… promise!
How to Learn German Plurals
You could just sit down at your desk one day and try to learn German plurals parrot-fashion–that is, constantly repeating words until they just stick in your head—but that wouldn’t be very effective, and would no doubt bore you to tears. So why not try one of these methods of learning your plurals? They’re a lot more jazzier than the ways you might have learned in class!
Download online puzzles, games and quizzes. There are numerous websites out there that offer free resources for learning plurals (and most other grammar topics), many of which are fun quizzes and games. Some of my favorites are Funtrivia, Hello, Resolven and Babel Nation. Most of these can be played online, but there are also some which you can download or print off. Why not invite your friends to play these games together? You can help each other out trying to nail the German plural!
Listen for plurals in TV shows, music and movies. You’re watching German movies for listening practice right? And catching up on your favorite German TV shows? And let’s not forget pop music! While you’re watching, keep an ear out for any plurals and write them down. Not only is this improving your listening skills, but the writing will also help you brush up that all-important spelling! This is another method you can get your friends involved with too.
Cover your room in plurals. Are you ready for your room to be redecorated? I know a way that’s cheap and will help your German. Write a noun and its plural down on large pieces of paper. Color them really brightly if you want. Then, stick a few of these sheets of paper on your walls—in fact, stick them anywhere you can. Maybe even in your bathroom! You’ll be seeing these all day as you go around your usual daily business. After they’ve been up for a week, test yourself to see if you can remember the noun’s plural. You’ll be surprised by how much unknowingly sinks in when you aren’t taking too much notice! Once you’ve remembered a plural, switch it for a new one.
5 Straightforward Ways to Form Plurals in German
In English we have it easy. We usually only need to add an “s” on to the end of nouns to create plurals: “dog” becomes “dogs” and “tree” becomes “trees.” As with every grammar rule, there are a few exceptions—”sheep” is both the singular and plural noun.
In German, things ain’t so easy. There’s more to it than adding on a letter to a word, and there are various ways to create a plural.
There is one golden rule to remember when building your plurals, however: Plural nouns always use die as their definite article. You’ll notice this when looking over all the examples in this post!
Here are the five main ways to create a plural in German.
1. Add an -e Ending
This is the most common way to form a plural—simply add an -e to the end of the word, much like how we add an “s” in English! This is how most masculine nouns (around 89% in fact) form their plurals. It’s also the main way to change feminine nouns into a plural, as around three quarters create theirs this way.
One thing to bear in mind with feminine nouns is that if they form a plural with an added -e, they will also take an extra umlaut. Most masculine nouns do too, but that’s not such a hard-fast rule. Here are a few examples:
der Koch → die Köche (chef → chefs)
Der Koch is an example of a masculine noun which adds an -e for its plural. You’ll also notice that it adds an umlaut to its “o.” This is the case for most masculine nouns which follow this pattern.
der Hund → die Hunde (dog → dogs)
Here we have an example of a masculine noun that does not add an umlaut to its stem word.
die Gans → die Gänse (goose → geese)
All feminine nouns that take an -e ending will add an umlaut to their stem word.
das Pferd → die Pferde (horse → horses)
Neuter nouns that follow this pattern hardly ever add an umlaut.
2. Add an -er Ending
The following pattern is popular among neuter nouns. It also occurs in masculine nouns, but very rarely. If a neuter noun ends in -tum then it will always follow this pattern. Don’t forget to add an extra umlaut to the stem word—this almost always occurs.
das Haus → die Häuser (house → houses)
We need to add an umlaut to the “a” in Haus before we add the -er ending.
der Mund → die Münder (mouth → mouths)
Mund is one of the few masculine nouns that follows this plural pattern.
3. Add an -n/en Ending
If a masculine and neuter noun ends in -e, we need to add on an -en ending to craft the plural. This is also the case for a few neuter nouns that end in -e (but careful, not all of them!) If a feminine noun ends in -el or -er, it wouldn’t sound right just adding an -e for pronunciation reasons, so we need to add an -n.
Here are a couple of examples to clarify:
das Auge → die Augen (eye → eyes)
We don’t add an umlaut when following this pattern.
der Name → die Namen (name → names)
die Lehre → die Lehren (doctrine → doctrines)
4. Add an -s Ending
Ah, this part is easy peasy for the English speaker! We just add an -s like we do in our own language! This almost always applies to words that have been taken from English, Dutch or French; abbreviations; peoples’ names; and words that end in an unstressed vowel. You never need to add an extra umlaut to any of these plurals.
das Kino → die Kinos (cinema → cinemas)
As Kino ends in an unstressed vowel, we just add an -s for the plural.
die CD → die CDs (CD → CDs)
CD is an abbreviation so it takes an -s ending.
das Radio → die Radios (radio → radios)
Radio needs an -s ending because it comes from English.
der Jula → die Julas (Jula → Julas)
Because Jula is a name, when we have more than one we add an -s.
5. No Change
Just like in English, German also has some nouns which do not change when creating a plural.
der Onkel → die Onkel (uncle → uncles)
If you’re ever unsure how to create a plural, you can always look it up in a dictionary. Just search for the singular noun, and the plural will usually also be listed either in italics or brackets next to the singular. You can see in this dictionary entry here, the plural is listed straight after the singular noun. However in this dictionary, they do not list the plural and it is only mentioned under the translations in the example sentences. So sometimes you have to hunt out the plural!
So there we have it—no more need to worry about living in a world without plurals!
And One More Tip for Learning German Grammar
What’s the key to speaking German the right way?
Immersive content and tools.
You’re not going to pick it up from your textbooks alone.
You’re going to learn it from real-world German videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring speeches. The kind made by and for actual native speakers.
Well, there’s an app that’s focused on just that: FluentU. FluentU takes great videos and turns them into personalized language learning experiences so that you can learn real German as people really speak it.
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocabulary list.
And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. This is a level of personalization that hasn’t been done before.
After studying German and Philosophy at The University of Nottingham, Laura Harker relocated to Berlin in 2012. She now works as a freelance writer and is also assistant editor at Slow Travel Berlin.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.