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What gender are foreign words supposed to be when they're used in the German language?

Hello. While in Berlin I regularly ordered a "pain au chocolat" in cafes but I didn't know what gender "pain" should be in German so I just used "ein" for "a" as though it were a masculine noun. Is there a rule for this? For example are all French words considered masculine? Cafe menus in Germany are full of foreign words, like they are in English, (bolognaise, latte, croissant etc) so it'd be helpful to know. Do they keep the gender of their own language? Does anyone know?

June 24, 2017



Unfortunately, there is no rule. I would consider "pain au chocolat" neutrum, but other people may disagree. (I guess my inner reasoning is that it's "das Brot").

I remember when email was invented, I wrote "das E-Mail". Most people around me, however, said "die E-Mail". Now it seems that "die E-Mail" is established. I lost that "battle". LOL Ah, not quite: Duden accepts my old version too: http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/E_Mail


I agree with Heike. I would also use "das" because of the association with "das Brot" and "das Brötchen". But you can't base it on association alone. For example it is "der Song" but "das Lied". I think it is most important that it sounds right to my "German ear". So basically it is a gut feeling - which can deceive you though. In my case I got "die E-Mail" right but I say "ein Brioche" and I've just checked with Duden - it's "die Brioche". Maybe because the French say "la brioche" which is feminine. But then it's "le croissant" (masculine) in French and we say "das Croissant" in Germany. So you have every right to be confused. You are not the only one! :)


It is an interesting question. Many foreign words are "das", but they can decide based on the ending, so if the word ends with -er, likely it will be masculine.

Germans cannot agree what genter is Nutella.

I recently read "der hate" in a comment. Well, its German equivalent is der Hass, maybe thats why.

I found this: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~deutsch/Grammatik/Wortbildung/Fremdwoerter.html


I'm a german native speaker and I really don't know which gender foreign words should have in German. If the words originally from languages I know, I try to use the gender of this language if it's not already established otherwise ( I had a lot of discussions that it's not "die Latte macchiato" after learning Italian). If I don't know the language or it doesn't have genders, I usually try to avoid it. It's quite funny actually, to order "Einmal pain au chocolat bitte, dann noch zweimal Köfte ..."


Thank you so much for all the feedback!

I asked a French person something similar years ago and he answered "I don't know". It seems that assigning a gender to a word happens everywhere through consensus over time. It's amazing to me how quickly a norm seems to be established and accepted by millions of people who never actually discuss it. (except nutella it seems)

I will try das pain au chocolat next time and after that stick to the gender that the word would be in the original language if I have to guess.


I think that's a good approach (it seems to be the one that we as native speakers follow, too ;-))


I'm surprised about French, since they are usually quite strict with their gender based on word endings. (Stricter than us Germans anyway.)

As a general rule with foreign words and in case of no information available, you're safest with neutrum ('das'), as that is often an allowed gender, in addition to whatever it turned out as when finally officialized.

For the 'official' version, in addition to being either based on word ending, original gender in the source language or even original gender in that language's source language, as well as gender of a corresponding translation in German, the problem is exacerbated by regional differences in those gender preferences.


I don't know how true this is, but it seems most of the time that is feminine if it's based on a foreign word.

I'd just leave off the article entirely if I was ordering, lol!


That's a good idea! Also if you order more than one, you work around the problem and get more. ;-)

I wouldn't venture a guess as to whether we tend to use feminine for foreign words ... "Der Joghurt" (Duden allows all three genders! http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Joghurt), "der Cappuccino", Hm. ...


Duden erzählt viel.


And still it's usually right. The gender for "Joghurt" for instance also depends of the part of the German speaking area. In most of Austria it's "das Joghurt", in at least parts of Germany and (very) Western Austria I heard "der Joghurt". I don't know who says "die Joghurt", but - well, I haven't seen every German speaking part of the world yet.


I don't know who says "die Joghurt",

My mother used to say that in my early childhood, about 50 years ago. But then (without a conscious decision she told us about ;-)) she started saying "der Joghurt".

I think this is like agreements that people settle on, influenced by the speech of their environment, advertising, in this case recipes they read ...


I found this about word gender and I think it's quite useful: http://mein-deutschbuch.de/files/grammatik/nomen/artikel.pdf

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