I consider myself German fluent, but sometimes it feels like it is going rusty, so I am doing a Duolingo course to get some refreshing. I built up a way to memorise weak nouns and I would like to show it to you. If there are mistakes, feel free to correct me, my learning method in the times I studied German formally were not that kind when we examin repetitive tables tirelessly. There will be a short exposition and a long exposition.
SHORT EXPOSITION OF WEAK MASCULINE NOUNS IN -E
Masculine nouns ending in short -e are usually weak nouns. They are suffixed -en in singular accusative and dative forms. In genitive singular, animate nouns are still -en, while the inanimate are -ens. Regardless of case, they are all ended in -en in plural forms.
There are there important exceptions to be learned, though: der Käse (cheese; which is masculine and ends in short -e but is not a weak noun), and das Herz (heart; which is not masculine, does not end in -e, but still behaves somehow similarly).
Masculine nouns ending in short -e are usually weak nouns. To demonstrate what we have learnt in the short exposition, let us go with masculine, accusative, dative and genitive forms side by side. Singular, then plural. Our animate noun (which is usually a person or an animal) here will be der Junge (the boy). Our inanimate noun will be der Name (the name).
- Der Junge, den Jungen, dem Jungen, des Jungen
- Die Jungen, die Jungen, den Jungen, der Jungen
- Der Name, den Namen, dem Namen, des Namens
- Die Namen, die Namen, den Namen, der Namen
This rule works with other weak masculine nouns. Let us see, for instance, the singular declension of der Drache (the dragon, which is a very, very animate thing!) and der Glaube (the faith, inanimate).
- Der Drache, den Drachen, dem Drachen, des Drachen
- Der Glaube, den Glauben, dem Glauben, des Glaubens
Now, it is time to take a look at exceptions.
Firstly, der Käse. There is nothing special about this noun, it just declenses as any other would. Der Käse, den Käse, dem Käse, des Käses. Plural always Käse. Some French loans ending in mute -e, such as der Service, will also follow under this classification, but this should be self-evident from the mere fact this letter is not even pronounced. In a similar way, nouns ending in long [e], such as der See (the sea) are not expected to be weak either.
Secondly, the odd noun "das Herz", as odd as the feelings we usually associate to it. In the same way weak masculine nouns did, this neuter noun will get a genitive singular -ens and a uniformal plural -en. In the same fashion the "das" article does not change in the accusative form, though, neither does "Herz". There is, however, a problem with the logical dative singular form, "dem Herzen". So weird was that irregularity that spoken German ended up making it "dem Herz", as a regular noun. The usage "dem Herzen", however, survives both in formal use of language and in expressions such as "Operation am offenen Herzen" ("open-heart surgery") or "vom Herzen" (wholeheartedly). The declension for this noun is, therefore...
- Das Herz, das Herz, dem Herz/Herzen, des Herzens
- Die Herzen, die Herzen, den Herzen, der Herzen
SHORT EXPOSITION OF WEAK MASCULINE NOUNS NOT ENDING IN -E
Those nouns can be split in two groups: some of them are recent borrowings from other languages, some simply are not. Although those words do not have -e in their singular nominative forms, this letter must be added for every other declension.
Long exposition of the borrowings
Among those that were borrowed, sometimes we can recognise them from their suffixes, such as -ist (der Gitarrist, der Kommunist), -at (der Diplomat, der Soldat), -nt (der Elefant, der Präsident). Some others, such as der Architekt or der Pilot, should just be picked up, either by long, boring lists, or by simply absorbing it out of usage. An example:
- Der Gitarrist, den Gitarristen, dem Gitarristen, des Gitarristen
- Die Gitarristen, die Gitarristen, den Gitarristen, der Gitarristen
An important thing to be reminded of is that, although some of those foreign words do refer to inanimate beings, those do not receive -ens in their genitive plural form. See, for instance, the declension of der Satellit:
- Der Satellit, den Satelliten, dem Satelliten, des Satelliten
- Die Satelliten, die Satelliten, den Satelliten, der Satelliten
Long exposition of the rest of them
Now this is where it gets a little complicated. Some masculine animate nouns do not end with an -e and this is it. They should be learned either out of cram or of usage (the latter is way more recomendable). A German speaker will very hardly fail to understand you for a weak noun mistake, but it is good to be well-informed.
Let us start with common nouns which are always weak: der Herr (the gentleman, sir), der Held (the hero) and der Tyrann (the tyrant). We will start with der Herr to demonstrate a common feature that, after the sound of [r], [e] might be dropped off a following suffix. Usually, this rule does not apply to the plural form of Herr, which makes it a pretty irregular word.
- Der Herr, den Herrn, dem Herrn, des Herrn
- Die Herren, der Herren, den Herren, der Herren
- Der Held, den Helden, dem Helden, des Helden
- Die Helden, die Helden, den Helden, der Helden
- Der Tyrann, den Tyrannen, dem Tyrannen, des Tyrannen
- Die Tyrannen, die Tyrannen, den Tyrannen, der Tyrannen
Some nouns, however, exist both in strong and weak forms. Those usually have their weak declension as a formal use, with their strong declension tending towards colloquial language. Sometimes, though, both are acceptable in formal language. We will use two examples here: der Mensch (the man; which is weak, but sometimes goes mistakenly strong in informal language) and der Nachbar (the neighbour; which is formally acceptable both in weak and strong forms).
- Der Mensch, den Menschen, dem Menschen, des Menschen
- Der Mensch, den Mensch, dem Mensch, des Menches... this is WRONG
- Die Menschen, die Menschen, den Menschen, der Menschen
- Der Nachbar, den Nachbarn, dem Nachbarn, des Nachbarn
- Der Nachbar, den Nachbar, dem Nachbar, des Nachbars... this is okay, too
- Die Nachbarn, die Nachbarn, den Nachbarn, der Nachbarn
The only thing that strikes me as wrong right away is the plural of Käse - I had a hard time figuring out how it should sound though. In the end, I just looked it up: http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Kaese (pural nominative is "die Käse").
I can't really imagine someone saying that though. Usually, "Käse" isn't treated as a countable noun (but technically, it is countable) but more like "information" in English. It's more natural to use it in phrases like "zwei Scheiben Käse", "zwei Laibe Käse" or "zwei Sorten Käse", not "zwei Käse".
The only instance where it sounds normal to me is "Vier Käse" as the translated version of "Quattro Formaggi" in the proper name for pizza or pasta dishes.
So weird was that irregularity that spoken German ended up making it "dem Herz", as a regular noun. The usage "dem Herzen", however, survives both in formal use of language and in expressions such as "Operation am offenen Herzen" ("open-heart surgery") or "vom Herzen" (wholeheartedly).
Two comments on this:
- I think "von Herzen" is more common than "vom Herzen" (for example, google for danke dir herzen to find hits for "danke dir von Herzen" or "danke dir von ganzem Herzen" but not with "vom", at least on the first page)
- I just realised that I would say in meinem Herz as "in meim Herz" but in meinem Herzen only "properly" as "in meinem Herzen" - which does fit your categorisation of the "Herzen" form as "formal" - when I use that form, the adjective automatically becomes clearer and less colloquial!
Wow, thanks very much for the great post (and to mizinamo for linking to it from another discussion thread).
Apologies for the trivial correction/clarification, but should the accusative plural for Herr be "die Herren", not "der Herren" as written? That would fit with the old "die, die, den, der" mantra!
I think you are right. And so do these folks: