An Initial Impression of the German Language: Gender-Based Nouns Are Just Awful

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“Der, die, das? …NEIN.” — Photo by fdecomite (http://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/)

I have something to say to all of the German people on this planet. All of them.

Your gender-specific nouns are unnecessary.

Look, I love the German language — I really do. In fact, I am trying to learn it just as hard as I can. However, I am absolutely baffled as to why your nouns must have genders, and why these genders must be expressed through articles. Oh, and your nouns aren’t just masculine or feminine either; they can also be neutral (or “neuter,” as it is castratingly spelled in German). Next, you add indefinite articles and negations to the mix — also subject to these 3 genders — plus the 4 cases (Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative), and suddenly you’ve given me over 16 different ways to show an entire country full of people I have the linguistic prowess of a mason jar.

It’s hard enough to memorize the nouns of a foreign language — must I also memorize entirely random genders associated with them? “Oh look, a bird!” No no, that’s not just a bird; that’s a male bird (der Vogel). “Wow, I’m talking to a know-it-all genius!” Nope; that’s a neutral genius (das Genie). “How strange. Is this a gun I am suddenly pointing at you?” Foolish American, that’s a female gun (die Pistole).

People of Germany, I must conclude your articles were designed specifically to confuse and embarrass me. That said, I will continue to learn your language, but I will do it the American way; with turdcutter stubbornness and deep-fried, ham-fisted bravado.

Mark Twain wrote the ultimate bitchfest on the German Language. Check out his essay, The Awful German Language, and witness the true master at work.

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10 thoughts

  1. This is absolutely hilarious and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been learning German for year, but I still get messed up ALL the time with the grammar because the case of the nouns is always different depending on the type of sentence, placement in the sentence, whether it’s the indirect or direct object, etc. It’s quite frustrating someti-…well…all the time.

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      1. Basically, yes. That and conjugating verbs always leaves me confused. I know exactly what form of each word to use in English, but when switching to German a lot of the time I’m just like “Uhmmmmm…yeah…”

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  2. “it’s as if they designed their language just to mess with us.”

    harr harr harr, that was our evil plan all along :)

    But hey: Latin, for example, has not only 3 genders, but 6 casi. And if I rememer correctly 5 different declination.
    And Finish has got 15 casi.

    So always remember: IT COULD BE WORSE :).

    (Funny blog, btw :).)

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  3. Trust me, we are not happy with this either. I teach german to immigrants, and telling them why on earth a bus is male, but the road is female is well, difficult. You see, the bus looks like a… a… a..
    Anyhow the trick is to only use d’ instead of der, die and das. D’Bus, D’Strasse and so on.

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  4. No matter how good your German becomes you’ll always mess up your articles. Even if you know what it is in the nomative singular form, by the time you get to dative or dative plural, in a normal paced conversation, forget it! 13 years later and I’m still correcting myself after I speak. I manage mostly to get the articles right, but mumble the endings of the adjectives.
    My favorite trick is to make things end with -chen or just plural.
    Even the Germans get confused and will give new words two genders cause they can’t decide.
    Don’t give up! It’ll give you new insight into the way your wife’s brain works.

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  5. One of my professors at college, a very, very talented man and an avid learner, has been living in Germany for 20 years. He has mastered German phonetics to a point where he almost always sounds like an educated northern German (being a phoneticist, it isn’t THAT surprising), but he still messes up the grammatical genders. Even among us Germans, what gender a word is is the most frequent linguistic discussion in everyday life. Because…well…it doesn’t make sense. ;)

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