Mastering the Plural Forms of German Nouns: A Simplified Guide

Hallo, Deutschlerner! So one day a student of mine asks a relatively mundane question in class. “How do you make things plural in German? Can I just add an S like in English?” You should have seen the look on his face when I told him that there are 9 different ways to change a noun from singular to plural listed in his textbook and that wasn’t even an exhaustive list. 

I probably scared that kid a bit more than necessary, but the general premise is the same. There ARE nouns in German that simply add an S to the end of the noun to become the plural version. But others add E. Some ER. Others an umlaut. So how do we decide which version to use? By the time you finish this lesson you will be an expert in the plural forms of German nouns and you’ll go from “Das kann ich nicht.” to “Das ist kein Problem.” in no time. 

How to Master the Plural Forms of German Nouns: A Simplified Guide
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What to Expect in this Lesson

In order to really understand plural forms of nouns, I’m going to teach you several things. First, I’ll lay the groundwork for how plurals act in the German language on a broad scale. Then I will show you the most common ways that singular nouns are changed into their plural forms. Once we get the common ones down, I’ll talk about some lesser used changes. In the end I’ll give you some tips and tricks that can make this whole system easier and require only 10% of your brain, so you can use the rest of your brain capacity for storing pictures of birds with arms. 

The Basics of German Plurals

Each German noun has at the very least a change in the article used in front of it. You are already familiar with the articles that are commonly associated with masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns; der, die, and das. 

The plural forms of German nouns require the article “die” when used as the subject or direct object of the sentence, i.e. when used in the nominative or accusative cases. The article changes to “den” in the dative case and “der” in the genitive case. If you are just learning about plural forms of nouns, however, there is a very high likelihood that you simply need to use “die” as the article for all plural nouns. 

Most German nouns have both a singular and a plural version.
Singular NounPlural Noun
die Karte (card, ticket)die Karten (cards, tickets)
der Hund (dog)die Hunde (dogs) 
Examples of Plural Nouns in German
Some nouns are almost exclusively used in the singular.
Singular Noun
das Geld (money)
der Käse (cheese)
der Hunger (hunger)
die Milch (milk)
das Chaos (chaos)
German Nouns with No Plural Form

There is a plural form of “das Geld”, “die Gelder” (monies), but this has a slightly different meaning. You can say “die Käse” (cheeses) for the plural of “der Käse”, but this is used in pretty specific circumstances. Most people would probably use “die Käsesorten” (types of cheese) instead. 

Some nouns only have a plural version.
Plural Noun
die Eltern (parents)
die Leute (people)
die Ferien (vacation, break) 
German Nouns with No Singular Form

To talk about one parent, you either use “der Vater” (father) or “die Mutter” (mother) or the word “das Elternteil” (parental unit), which has always sounded odd to me. 

Rules and Patterns of German Plurals

Before I get into the patterns that nouns follow when changing to the plural, it is important to note that there aren’t really any hard and fast rules. The patterns I am going to show you will help you a lot in memorizing the plural forms of nouns, because they work most of the time, but you are still going to have to learn them for each noun, just like you did for the genders of the nouns. 

By the way, I just made a lesson about how to master der, die, and das with the least effort possible, so you should check that out when you are done with this lesson. 

Pattern 1: Unchanged Forms

Some German nouns keep it simple: the noun itself does not change, but the article becomes “die”. This of course means that none of the feminine nouns are in this category, as the change would not be noticed.

Singular NounPlural Noun
der Computer (computer)die Computer (computers)
das Mädchen (girl)die Mädchen (girls)
German Nouns that Do Not Change for Their Plural Form
While there are very few absolutes in the German language, you can be assured that any noun that ends with the diminutive endings -chen or -lein, the plural form simply does not change.
Singular NounPlural Noun
das Mädchen (girl)die Mädchen (girls)
das Männlein (little man)die Männlein (little men)
das Bäumchen (little tree)die Bäumchen (little trees)
Plural Forms of German Nouns That End with Either -chen or -lein
A slightly less reliable rule is that nouns that end with -er usually don’t change in the plural.
Singular NounPlural Noun
der Computer (computer)die Computer (computers)
der Lehrer (teacher)die Lehrer (teachers)
der Rechner (calculator)die Rechner (calculators)
der Schüler (student)die Schüler (students)
Plural Forms of German Nouns Ending with -er
You can actually generalize this rule a bit more and say that masculine or neuter nouns that end with -el or -er don’t change the noun. Instead they simply change the article.
Singular NounPlural Noun
der Onkel (uncle)die Onkel (uncles)
der Löffel (spoon)die Löffel (spoons)
der Würfel (cube, die)die Würfel (cubes, dice)
Plural Forms of German Nouns Ending with -el
Singular NounPlural Noun
der Fahrer (driver)die Fahrer (drivers)
der Lehrer (teacher)die Lehrer (teachers)
der Schüler (student)die Schüler (students)
Plural Forms of German Nouns Ending with -er
Some masculine nouns add an umlaut in addition to changing the article to “die”.
Singular NounPlural Noun
der Apfel (apple)die Äpfel (apples)
der Bruder (brother)die Brüder (brothers)
der Garten (garden)die Gärten (gardens)
der Laden (shop)die Läden (shops)
der Schwager (brother-in-law)die Schwäger (brothers-in-law)
der Vater (father)die Väter (fathers)
der Vogel (bird)die Vögel (birds)
German Nouns That Add Umlaut for Their Plural Forms
There are no feminine nouns in the strict “no change” category, there are a couple that require only an umlaut.
Singular NounPlural Noun
die Mutter (mother)die Mütter (mothers)
die Tochter (daughter)die Töchter (daughter)
Feminine Nouns That Add Umlaut for Their Plural Forms

These are the only two that I have ever found that do this.

Pattern 2: Adding -e, ¨e, or ¨er

Here is a fun statistic: 80% of masculine nouns and 75% of neuter nouns will simply add -e to the end of the noun and change the article to “die” when creating the plural. In fact, if the noun ends with -ling, -ig, or -ich, it will definitely use an -e for the plural. Here are a few examples of that. 

Nouns Ending with -ling
Singular NounPlural Noun
der Flüchtling (refugee)die Flüchtlinge (refugees)
der Schmetterling (butterfly)die Schmetterlinge (butterflies)
der Zwilling (twin)die Zwillinge (twins)
Plural Forms of German Nouns That End with -ling
Nouns Ending with -ig
Singular NounPlural Noun
der König (king)die Könige (kings)
der Käfig (cage)die Käfige (cages)
Plural Forms of German Nouns That End with -ig
Nouns Ending with -ich
Singular NounPlural Noun
der Sittich (parakeet)die Sittiche (parakeets)
der Pfirsich (peach)die Pfirsiche (peaches)
der Teppich (rug)die Teppiche (rugs)
Plural Forms of German Nouns That End with -ich
Nouns Ending with -nis add -e and double the -s at the end
Singular NounPlural Noun
die Kenntnis (information)die Kenntnisse (information, knowledge)
das Geheimnis (secret)die Geheimnisse (secrets)
Plural Forms of German Nouns That End with -is
80% of masculine nouns and 75% of neuter nouns use -e for the ending.

Here are some examples that don’t end with the suffixes I mentioned. 

Singular NounPlural Noun
der Bleistift (pencil)die Bleistifte (pencils)
das Spiel (game)die Spiele (games)
der Freund (friend)die Freunde (friends)
das Heft (notebook)die Hefte (notebooks)
das Problem (problem)die Probleme (problems)
der Tag (day)die Tage (days)
der Tisch (table)die Tische (tables)
German Nouns That Add -e for Their Plural Forms
Some nouns require an umlaut in addition to -e.
Singular NounPlural Noun
der Ball (ball)die Bälle (balls)
der Hof (courtyard)die Höfe (courtyards)
die Stadt (city)die Städte (cities)
der Stuhl (chair)die Stühle (chairs)
German Nouns That Add an Umlaut in Addition to -e for Their Plural Forms
There are also a few nouns that add -er instead of just -e.

Those nouns will always have an umlaut in the plural form and will never be feminine.

Singular NounPlural Noun
das Buch (book)die Bücher (books)
das Fach (subject)die Fächer (subjects)
das Haus (house)die Häuser (houses)
German Nouns That Add an Umlaut in Addition to -er for Their Plural Forms

Pattern 3: Adding -n, -en, or -nen

The German language really likes adding -n to stuff. That is incredibly apparent in the way nouns become plural. There are three subcategories that all end with the word ending with -n. The first is the easiest, simply add -n to the noun and change the article to “die”. 

This generally happens with nouns that end in -e, which coincidentally are usually feminine nouns. Neither of those are hard rules, as not all nouns that end with -e are feminine and not all nouns that take -n for the plural end with -e. There are a bunch of nouns, however, that do follow that rule.

Singular NounPlural Noun
die Ecke (corners)die Ecken (corners)
die Note (note, grade)die Noten (notes, grades)
die Pause (pause, break)die Pausen (pauses, breaks)
die Woche (week)die Wochen (weeks)
die Schule (school)die Schulen (schools)
die Gitarre (guitar)die Gitarren (guitars)
die Hausaufgabe (homework)die Hausaufgaben (homework assignments)
die Tasche (bag)die Taschen (bags)
die Tante (aunt)die Tanten (aunts)
die Woche (week)die Wochen (weeks)
German Nouns That End with -e and Add -n for Their Plural Forms

The only noun that requires -n in the plural, but does not end with -e would be:

Singular NounPlural Noun
die Schwester (sister)die Schwestern (sisters)
The Only German Noun That Requires an -n for the Plural Form, but Does NOT End with -e
If a noun is feminine, but ends with a consonant, you will likely add -en instead of just -n.

There are also a few masculine nouns that use -en for the plural form. 

Singular NounPlural Noun
die Arbeit (work)die Arbeiten (works, products of work)
die Uhr (clock)die Uhren (clocks)
die Tür (door)die Türen (doors)
der Herr (gentleman, lord)die Herren (gentlemen, lords)
Feminine and Masculine German Nouns That Add -n for Their Plural Forms
Some feminine nouns don’t end with a consonant, but will still require -en.
Singular NounPlural Noun
die Frau (woman)die Frauen (women)
German Nouns That End with Vowels and Add -en for the Plural Forms
Feminine versions of occupations that end with -in all add -nen.

When you start with the masculine version of something, usually an occupation or nationality, and you want to make a feminine form of that, you generally add -in and if possible an umlaut to create that feminine version. For example: 

Masculine OccupationFeminine Occupation
der Arzt (male doctor)die Ärztin (female doctor)
der Freund (male friend)die Freundin (female friend)
der Lehrer (male teacher)die Lehrerin (female teacher)
Comparisons Between Masculine and Feminine Occupation Nouns

All of those are just feminine versions of the masculine nouns. In order to make those plural, we add -nen. This is one of the rules that you can take to the bank. It will always work. If you have a feminine version of a noun that ends with -in, add -nen for the plural. 

Singular NounPlural Noun
die Ärztin (doctor)die Ärztinnen (doctors)
die Freundin (friend)die Freundinnen (friends)
die Lehrerin (teacher)die Lehrerinnen (teachers)
Plural Forms of Feminine Nouns That End with -in

Pattern 4: Cognates and Endings in -o, -a, -i

The last pattern that you can actually rely on is nouns that add -s for the plural. These include lots of English words that have been borrowed into the German vocabulary and almost every noun in the entire German language that ends with -i, -a or -o. For example: 

Singular NounPlural Noun
das Kino (movie theater)die Kinos (movie theaters)
das Auto (car)die Autos (cars)
der Radiergummi (eraser)die Radiergummis (erasers)
der Cousin (cousin)die Cousins (cousins)
der Krimi (detective story)die Krimis (detective stories)
die CD (CD)die CDs (CDs)
Plural Forms of German Nouns Ending with -o, -a or -i and English Cognates
-s is also the standard plural ending for abbreviations.
Singular NounPlural Noun
der LKW (semi-truck, lorry)die LKWs (semi-trucks, lorries)
der Pkw (passenger vehicle)die Pkws (passenger vehicles)
die DVD (DVD)die DVDs (DVDs)
das Navi (navigational system)die Navis (navigation systems)
das LCD (LCD)die LCDs (LCDs)
das GB (gigabyte)die GBs (gigabytes)
Plural Forms of German Abbreviations
There are a few words that end with -i, -a, or -o, but use a German plural ending.

These words have been around in German for long enough to have developed their own legitimately German plural endings, but there are some people that still use an S ending instead.

Singular NounPlural Noun
die Pizza (pizza)die Pizzas or die Pizzen (pizzas)
das Konto (account)die Kontos or die Konten (accounts)
Plural Forms of German Abbreviations

Miscellaneous Outliers

Technically speaking there are other plural patterns in German. These are usually words that are stolen from other languages and then they use a Germanized version of that language’s plural formation.

Singular NounPlural Noun
das Museum (museum)die Museen (museums)
der Kaktus (cactus)die Kakteen (cacti)
das Konzertsaal (concert hall)die Konzertsäle (concert halls)
Unique Plural Forms of German Nouns

These kinds of plural formations are so rare that it is in your best interest to simply commit them to memory when you encounter them. Or do like the Germans do and just make up your own version that sounds vaguely Germanic. I found out while researching this lesson that some Germans use the plural of “Kaktus” as “die Kaktusse”. 

If you are a super-nerd like me, you might be bored enough to look at the list of these kinds of nouns that I found on cafe-lingua.de, which is linked here

Summary

I hope you found this explanation enlightening and definitely a better answer than I gave that kid in my class way back when. Just remember that all plural nouns require the article “die” unless you are using the dative or genitive cases. Most nouns will either add -e or -n or some variation thereof. The other outliers can be learned when you learn the noun itself. 

Remember, practice makes perfect! Keep exploring and using these forms in your German language journey. Viel Erfolg. Viel Glück. Am wichtigsten aber, viel Spaß. Tschüss. 

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