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How is a "full" noun identified?

Looking over the German lesson on plurals, I saw that nouns ending in a full vowel will take an "s" in the plural. Then, the lesson said that "-e" is not a full vowel.

I've looked all over the Internet, but cannot find a breakdown of:

  1. Exactly what a full vowel is - is it the same thing as a long vowel?
  2. Which vowels in German are full or not

There are articles which are loaded with linguistic jargon and then others which are more understandable but claim that a long vowel is followed by a single consonant while a short vowel is followed by a consonant cluster, but this does not make sense to me if we are referring to vowels by themselves. The "-e" in this lesson would presumably be at the end of the word, so it cannot be followed by any consonants.

Can someone elaborate? Thanks!

April 5, 2018



No idea what a full noun is, but this full or not full vowel refers to something that's called "Kümmerlaut" in German, as in the original germanic words without any pre- or suffix there were usually two syllables, but the latter is kind of stunted or better reduced by time. So there are lots of words with a fully pronounced first syllable and a weak last syllable with a sound that is called "Schwah" [ə] or "Tiefschwah" [ɐ], like

  • gehen [ˈɡeːən] (follow the link to find the sound)
  • fahren [ˈfaːʀən]
  • essen [ˈɛsn̩]
  • viele [ˈfiːlə]
  • Wasser [ˈvasɐ]
  • Vater [ˈfaːtɐ]
  • Messer [ˈmɛsɐ]

As you can see, in some words the last e is even absorbed by the following n, like in essen [n̩], where the n gets vocalized.

I'd say the Schwah sounds like the article "a" in "a bear", while the Tiefschwah is more like the "aw" in "awful" or better the first "o" in "obvious".

For the letter "e" it's pretty clear that in the first syllable it's [e] or [ɛ], while in the last syllable it's [ə] or [ɐ].

This is not the same as short and long vowels, as you can see that for example "a" can be short or long n the first syllable, like in Wasser (short, double consonant) and Vater (long, single consonant).


Usually a trailing e is never a full vowel but always reduced. If it's supposed to be a full vowel, there will be an

  • "ee" (Tee, Kaffeee, Haschee),
  • "eh" (Weh, Taipeh)
  • or some kind of accent like "é" (Saté, Café).

All those words are anyway foreign. And the e is always long here.


a long vowel is followed by a single consonant while a short vowel is followed by a consonant cluster, but this does not make sense to me if we are referring to vowels by themselves.

An important feature of the German language is that we have a set of letter for the vowels are aeiouäöü and a set a spoken sounds [aeɛəɐ....] and so on where each letter can have differents sounds depending on what follows, and some sounds can even be produced by two different letters.

So the difference in pronouncing the "a" in different words is defined by the following consonants

  • Wasser (short [a], double s)
  • Vase (long [a:], single s)
  • Akte (short [a], consonant cluster)
  • Gras (long [a:], not clear from the written word)
  • Masern (long [a:], single s, sounds like [z])
  • Maß (long [a:], followed by a [s], not [z], but still a single consonant)

  • Aachen (long [a:], double a)

  • Achern (short [a], single a, consonant cluster)
  • Acker (short [a], consonant cluster)
  • Magd (long(!) [a:], even if there's a cluster behind, but this word lost an e between the g and the d)

A has just the possibility to be short or long, but the sound is always [a]. Others like o change their sound depending on if they're short or long (Ostern [ˈoːstɐn], Osten [ˈɔstn̩]), there is no long [ɔ:] and no short [o]. The letter e can have most different sounds, as there are [eɛəɐ], that can all be written as "e". Here the choice depends on the position in the word (last syllable or before) and the following letters. "eh" and "ee" are always a long [e:], "e" followed by a double consonant is a short [ɛ], for clusters it's not not clear ("Erde" =[ˈeɐdə] vs. "Ende" = [ˈɛndə]).


there are not many nouns ending with a vokal in german(in singular form) i really had a hard time remembering even one. but here is what i think:

there are 5 vokals in total: i, a,e,o,u

nouns ending with e often get an n in the ending for the plural form.

die Ente (duck)- die Enten

das Ende (the end)- die Enden

die Harfe (harp)- die Harfen

nouns with o,i or a in the ending either get an s in the ending or the vokal is changed for an e +n. like:

das Konto(account)-die Konten

das Auto(car)- die Autos

die Oma (grandma)- die Omas

das Taxi - die taxis

as the others mentioned before: the nouns which get an s in the ending for the plural form are usually foreign words which made their way into our daily language.

nouns ending with u have mostly 2 vokals in the end (au, eu) and get +en for the plural

die Frau (woman) - die Frauen

sometimes it is even +ten

der Bau (the construction)- die Bauten

you can find the rules of pluralisation here ( it is in german though):



i'm no expert, but i think that only foreign imports get an s in the plural (like babys)


Yes, the plural-s is rather rare in German, it's a last resort when we don't know how to say it (as in many foreign words and abbreviations), or in dialect (das Kind, die Kinners). Good examples of plural-s are

  • Autos (abb. of Automobile)
  • Mofas (abb. of Motor-Fahrräder)
  • Sofas (foreign)
  • Mamas (formal "Mütter")
  • Papas
  • Muftis (foreign)
  • Gruftis
  • Gelees
  • Tütüs
  • Menüs (thanks to 7hAu0bvY ;-) )
  • Kanus [ˈkaːnuːs]
  • ....

, where the proposed rule holds true. But they're all foreign, abbreviations (Autos is an abbreviation of a foreign word) or rather cute....

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