Some Rules of Noun Formation

Nouns that describe an occupation or a type of person are usually masculine. Many of them are formed by attaching an er ending to a verb or noun. These er nouns have no change in the plural:

die Musik
music
der Musiker
(male) musician
die Musiker
multiple (male) musicians
lehren
to teach
der Lehrer
(male) teacher
die Lehrer
multiple (male) teachers

Even the ones that don't fit the er pattern tend to be masculine. But their plural forms can vary:

der Arzt
(male) doctor
die Ärzte
multiple (male) doctors
der Matrose
sailor
die Matrosen
multiple (male) sailors

The feminine version is formed by adding an in, and it always has the same plural. With the non-"er" forms, they often add an umlaut:

die Musikerin
female musician
die Musikerinnen
multiple female musicians
die Lehrerin
female teacher
die Lehrerinnen
multiple female teachers
die Ärztin
female doctor
die Ärztinnen
multiple female doctors
die Matrosin
female sailor
die Matrosinnen
multiple female sailors

Like many other languages, German is struggling a little to create modern gender-neutral noun forms; a construction like "Lehrer/in" is a common approach, but it doesn't always work: you can't say "Arzt/in," because you'd be leaving out the umlaut on the feminine form. Sometimes you'll also see the present participleLehrende: "[those who are] teaching." Another particular problem in German is that there's no single form for a mixed-gender group: for example, speeches in East Germany often began with the awkward Liebe Genossen und Genossinnen ("Dear male comrades and female comrades").

There are many other standard noun formations, but for now we'll just cover two of the most common. The first is the ung ending, which converts a verb to a noun. These nouns are always feminine, they all have the same en plural, and they include some of the most common words in German:

wohnen
to live
die Wohnung
home, apartment/flat
die Wohnungen
homes, apartments
zahlen
to pay
die Zahlung
payment
die Zahlungen
payments
regieren
to rule, govern
die Regierung
government
die Regierungen
governments
impfen
to vaccinate
die Impfung
vaccination
die Impfungen
vaccinations

This looks like the English "ing" ending, but as you can see above, it rarely translates that way. And in the other direction, "-ing" verb forms in English (walking, talking) generally do not translate to "ung" nouns in German. See our sections on present participles, gerunds and the progressive aspect for more on this.

Finally, there are the endings heit and keit, which convert an adjective into a noun and roughly correspond to the English "ness." As with ung, these endings always make the noun feminine and always take an en plural:

krank
sick, ill
die Krankheit
sickness, illness
die Krankheiten
illnesses
möglich
possible
die Möglichkeit
possibility
die Möglichkeiten
possibilities
schwierig
difficult
die Schwierigkeit
difficulty
die Schwierigkeiten
difficulties