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The plural ( Latin [numerus] pluralis 'plural' , derived from plures 'several'; abbreviation : Plur., Pl. ) Is the grammatical term for plural (abbreviation: Mz. ). Opposed to the plural is the singular , the singular. In some languages ​​there are other forms of counting, see Numerus .

The plural in German

In the German language there is the plural in different parts of speech, for example in the verb (verb, activity word), in the noun ( noun ), in the article (gender word ) and in the pronoun (pronoun).

In German, related phrases or individual components within a phrase congruent with one another in terms of number. Wrong would be e.g. B. "You ride across the lake." Because the verb is here in a different number than the corresponding subject; correct is "You are driving across the lake."

Further examples:

  • They drive. ( Subject and predicate )
  • I drive over the great lakes. ( Object , related article)
  • We drive through the woods. (Combination of both types)
  • Mom and Dad drive. (If the noun phrase consists of several singular nouns, the plural is also marked at the verb.)
  • The students or the teacher enter the classroom. (In the case of mixed numbers of the subject, the plural is used in the verb.)

Plural formation of the article

The definite article that indicates the gender of the word in the singular (der, die, das), has the unit form die in the plural . For masculine and neuter, in their specific use, there is already a number difference due to the article form.

The indefinite article (ein) does not usually have a plural form in German: a chair - chairs . The form some can only be used to emphasize the indeterminacy : a chair - some chairs that, analogous to the other quantity attributes such as none, few, some, many, all inflected, whereby the number zero can be both singular and plural: no chair / no chairs , with which none acts like a possessive pronoun (mine, yours, his, hers) . In addition, the indefinite article corresponds morphologically and semantically to the number word one and the other numeralia (cardinal numbers) inflect accordingly in the plural: one chair - two chairs, ...

Plural formation in nouns

While the inflectional ending of a German article or adjective depends on gender, number and case, i.e. three unit categories are combined in one ("Fusion"), the suffixes in nouns may appear one after the other ("Agglutination"). The actual stem can be followed by substantive derivative morphemes , each of which has a fixed gender, and a plural suffix can be appended to it, followed by a dative suffix.

Specifically, the following linguistic means are used to form the plural in the German language:

  1. additive-agglutinating (namely the suffixes -e , -er , - (e) n and -s , see table)
  2. modifying (namely umlaut: the stomach - the stomachs )
  3. morphosyntactic (namely the article distinction in the case of zero plurals: the carriage - the carriage ).

The following table gives an overview of the plural formation of inherited words and loan words :

Plural morph
Masculine Feminine Neutra
without umlaut with umlaut without umlaut with umlaut without umlaut with umlaut
-e Dog - dogs Tower - towers Wilderness - wilderness Hand - hands Year - years Raft - rafts
-he Spirit - spirits Worm - worms - / - - / - Egg - eggs Office - offices
- (e) n Peasant - peasant - / - Blackboard - blackboards Workshop - workshops Ear - ears - / -
-s Cockatoo - Cockatoos - / - Boa - boas - / - Radio - radios - / -
-∅ Citizen - Citizen Father - fathers Hot peppers - hot peppers Mother mothers Knife - knife Monastery - monasteries

As can be seen, the types of plural formation are varied and arbitrary; Unambiguous rules cannot be predicted either from the gender or from the sound form of the noun. There are, however, some connections between the gender and the plural form of a noun.

Relationship between gender and plural

Jacob Grimm stated that the plural formation in general depends on the gender of the word and mostly

  • Masculine the ending -e
  • Neutra the ending -er
  • Feminine the ending - (e) n

receive. The distribution of the individual allomorphs is morphologically determined, i. This means that no general rule can be given with which one could infer the plural from the appearance of the singular. Only the choice between -n and -en is phonetically conditioned.

Double forms in the plural formation

Sometimes there are different plural forms of a word, for example

  • the word - the W ö rt he or the word e

There is a difference in meaning in the standard German language: the words relate to the word as a statement, while the words relate more to the grammatical meaning of "word".

  • the park - the parks or the parks (CH)
  • the tunnel - the tunnels (see zero plural ) and the tunnels (see s-plural , from English tunnel )
  • the balloon - the balloons and the balloons

The e- plural

This plural is typical for the German language, albeit unevenly distributed among the genera. There are over 200 masculine words from the hereditary vocabulary that form an e- plural, but only about 60 neutrals and 40 feminines. While the latter always show umlaut where this is possible, the umlaut occurs irregularly with masculine and neuter.

Within the Indo-European and even the Germanic languages , the e- plural is rather rare; However, it also occurs in Danish (probably due to German influence).

  • Feminine without umlaut: all feminine in -nis (plural with final doubling : -nis )
  • Feminine with umlaut: fear , ax , bank , bride , heat , chest , fist , flight (e.g. evasion ), fruit , goose , crypt , hand , skin , gap (also n- plural), strength , cow , -kunft , art , louse , air , lust , power , maid , mouse , night , seam (also n -plural), need , nut , sow (also n -plural), cord , city , addiction , wall , sausage , guild .

Some feminines are in the process of switching from the e - to the n -plural, a development that has already completed the simplex Flucht ( escapes , but still: evasions ), furthermore the words Saat or Schlucht (* Säte , SchluchtenSaaten , Schluchten ).

The n plural

Feminine especially form a plural in German on -n; they typically end in -e , -el or -er in the singular :

  • the pea - the peas
  • the ladder - the ladder
  • the particles - the particles

Feminines on -er or -el behave differently from uniform masculine or neuter because the plural can only be expressed by the ending and not, as with those, by changing the article.

In addition, some masculines form an n -plural; these are predominantly animate nouns ending in -e , e.g. B. the boy , the boy , the raven , the lion , the Greek , the Swede; as well as a few nouns ending in -er , such as the farmer , the Bavarian , the cousin .

Another group of mainly masculine words with the plural ending in -n are words of Latin or Greek origin with final stress or stress on the penultimate syllable, which denote persons, e.g. B .:

  • on -at: the lawyer , the pirate , the soldier
  • on -et: the poet , the prophet , the proletariat
  • on -or: the doctor , the juror , the professor

Finally, there is a group of neutral loanwords, which also mostly come from Latin or Greek and show an end-stressed stem form in the singular; these take a plural to -ien , e.g. B .:

  • the fossil - the fossils (next to: the fossils )
  • the clue - the clues
  • the utensil - the utensils

as well as the only inherited word:

  • the gem - the gems (next to: the gems )

Most of these words have repelled their singular morph -um ; however, some keep this suffix and thus show suffix changes in the formation of numbers:

  • the museum - the museums
  • the sanatorium - sanatoriums

But see also the subsection on the plural of foreign words.

The r plural

The plural in -r originally only affects a small class of neuter (designations for young animals) and was transferred from there to other words by analogy . Today about a dozen masculines and several dozen neuter inflections according to this pattern, which was productive only in Middle High German ; umlaut is always used where possible.

  • Masculine without umlaut: spirit , body , ski / ski .
  • Masculine with umlaut: God , man , mouth , edge , bush , -tum (e.g. wealth ), forest , worm .
  • Neutra without umlaut: beast , picture , board , egg , field , money , mind , gender , face , ghost , child , dress , lid , song , nest , regiment , cattle , shield , sword , creature .
  • Neutra with umlaut: carrion , office , bath , sheet , book , roof , village , subject , salary , chamber , taste , garment , glass , grave , grass , good , main , house , wood , horn , chicken , kaff , calf , Korn , Kraut , Lamm , Land , Mahl (also e- plural), -mal (also e- plural, e.g. monument ), mouth , wheel , horse (also e- plural), castle , hospital , valley , trump , Cloth , people , word .

Feminine r -plurals are not used in standard German. In Austrian German , however, there is a singular for “tomato”: the Paradeis with the associated plural, the Paradeiser . However, the Paradeiser is often used as a singular.

The s plural

The plural formation with -s is in Standard German in the 17th and 18th centuries. Century, first with family names and later with the call and place names. In these cases it goes back to the genitive ending -s , e.g. Müller's family, Meier's people . Another source is the s-plurals of Low German , such as the buddies, the boys, which, like the other North Sea Germanic languages , such as Dutch and English, she has known for ages.

Today the s ending is part of the standard of German plural formation. It is used, for example, with some acronyms , with many foreign words, especially those of English or French origin, as well as with compound sentences:

  • the CD - the CDs
  • the car - the cars
  • the battery - the batteries
  • the cousin - the cousins
  • the job - the jobs
  • the cell phone - the cell phones
  • the farewell - the farewell

The s -plural is also used to identify groups with the same family name:

  • the Müllers (several members of the Müller family)


  • the miller - the miller (profession)

The zero plural

The plural of many masculine and neuter forms ending in -el , -en or -er is endless and has the same form as the singular :

  • the belt - the belt
  • the cake - the cake
  • the vice - the vices (in the sense of 'trucks')
  • the vice - the vices (in the sense of ' vice ')
  • the ward - the ward
  • the living being - the living beings

Zero plural also show neuter to -e; these are mostly collective nouns with the prefix ge z. B. buildings , structures , mountains and also the word cheese .

Some Latin words such as case and status are a special case. Singular and plural are spelled the same here (the status - the status), but with different endings: singular with short u , plural with long u . The long u in the plural is sometimes also marked, e.g. B. as Kasūs (with macron ).

The (pure) umlaut plural

Two-syllable masculines on -el , -en and nouns on -er distinguish the singular form from the plural form, often by umlauding the stem vowel:

  • the apple - the apples
  • the floor - the floors
  • the father - the fathers
  • the mother - the mothers
  • the monastery - the monasteries

The plural of wagons appears both with and without umlaut : die Wagen / die Wagen .

The combined umlaut plural

Umlaut also occurs in the plural formation of nouns that use a plural morph; Typically it is masculine with e- plural or neuter with r- plural; Umlaut is mandatory for monosyllabic feminine with e- plural. Other feminines do not show any umlaut in the plural, with the exception of compound nouns on -statt (plural: -stätten ).

In connection with the n -plural, apart from this case, no umlaut occurs; The same applies without exception to the s -plural.

Special plural forms of foreign words

Words from technical languages ​​sometimes have unusual plural forms, which are due to the foreign origin of these words:

  • the visa - the visas
  • the sphinx - the sphinxes or the sphinxes
  • the pharaoh - the pharaohs
  • the embryo - the embryos or embryos
  • the kibbutz - the kibbutzim or the kibbutz
  • the seraph - the seraphim or the seraphs
  • the codex - the codes (or: the codex - the codices )
  • the index - the indices (or the indices )

Original plural forms of foreign words

In the case of foreign words , plurals are also formed in German, which in morphology (but not necessarily in pronunciation) are based on the plural form of the language of origin of the word in question:

  • the espresso - the espressi (original plural) next to the espressos (Germanized plural)
  • the pizza - the pizzas or the pizzas (both Germanized plural), rarely: the pizzas (original plural )
  • the case - the cases (scholarly plural based on the Latin model: singular with short, plural with long u )
  • the Tenuis - the Tenues

Unusual and over-marked plural forms

The following words form a plural in German by inserting a dental sound -d- or -t- between the stem and the plural:

  • the building - the buildings (next to the buildings )
  • the time course - the time course [t] e

In a prompt sentence , an additional -s is sometimes added to the already marked plural; these types of endings come from Low German :

  • Child - child
  • Boys - boys , even boys
  • Woman - woman

A parallel over-marking can be seen in the equivalent to German “Kind” in Dutch (het kind - de kinderen) and in English (child - children) .

The latter arose after the older plural form childer , which is equivalent to the German form, with the plural ending -er, was no longer clear; therefore the new plural ending -en was added, which was still productive at the time (cf. the relict form ox - oxen ). Sometimes the unrecognized form of childrens is used today, with a third ending, namely today's standard ending -s .

Plural of compound words

For compound nouns, that is, compound nouns, the rule in German is that only the respective hind link forms a plural:

This does not apply in some German dialects, for example in Bavarian , where sometimes the front term can also form a plural:

  • Åpfibàm - Äpfibàm (next to Opfibàma and Äpfibàma )

Plural constraints

Units of measure and quantity descriptions

In the case of units of measurement, quantities, currencies and the like that are masculine or neuter, no plural is used for numbers. Examples: 100 grams, 30 degrees of heat, 5 percent, 100 euros; but: 5 miles, 10 rupees (feminine). This also applies to some nouns that have a plural form in other contexts: two glasses of wine, three kegs of beer, three liters of beer, five sheets of paper, ten rounds of ammunition, thirty men lost, a piece of ore the size of two fists .

The plural is sometimes omitted when referring to a single portion unit: 2 coffees for the men at the front left table .

Singular tantum

Some words do not have a plural, one then speaks of a singular tantum .

Plural tantum

A noun that is only used in the plural is called a plural tantum .

  • Holidays, costs

For some words that only exist in the plural, the singular has disappeared in the standard German language, but can still be present in dialects .

  • Debris (singular was Trumm )

If this form can be transformed into a singular with a further suffix, one speaks of a singulative (rarely in German).

  • Special feature: the merchant - the merchants or the colonel - the colonels (outdated: colonel - colonel )

Shift in meaning

For some words, a change in meaning is expressed in the plural :

  • the water (designation of an indefinite amount of water)
  • the water (different types of water, rivers, lakes etc.)
  • the waters (different types of drinking water)


A word that appears formally in the singular but semantically denotes a plural is called a collective . This usually means an indefinite set that does not have a grammatical plural:

  • the branch - the branches - the branches
  • the bush - the bushes - the bushes
  • the worm - the worms - the worm

Plural for adjectives

In the attributive adjective ( adjective ) the plural occurs in accord with the corresponding noun and is declined accordingly :

Not on the other hand with the predicative adjective:

  • The chairs are red .

The noun can also be omitted if it is clear from the context :

  • Where are the chairs? The yellow ones are at the door.

Plural of personal pronouns

The personal pronouns have different stem forms in the singular and plural, only the plural stem of the 3rd person corresponds to one of the gender-dependent singular stems, namely the feminine. The forms of declension are also irregular with changes of stem, whereby in the 3rd person they largely follow the pattern of adjectives and articles.

  1. I ↔ we
  2. you ↔ her
  3. he, she, it ↔ she

The plural in other languages

Many languages ​​in the world have a morphological number distinction and therefore also know the plural category. However, there are also languages, e.g. B. Chinese , which do not know the category number and therefore do not have a plural. The plural is then printed using independent counting words. The Pirahã language is said to have no way of distinguishing the plural.

Plural in Indo-European languages

Most Indo-European languages usually form plural forms through inflectional morphological processes, primarily through suffixation . A typical suffix for the Western Romance languages , for example ; compare, for example, the respective word for "tongue" in the following languages:

  • French: langue - langues
  • Catalan: llengua - llengües
  • Spanish: lengua - lenguas
  • Portuguese: língua - línguas
  • Romansh: lingua - linguas
  • Sardinian: limba - limbas

The Eastern Romansh behave differently ; here a suffix change can be seen, just like in Latin :

  • Latin: lingua - linguae
  • Italian: lingua - lingue
  • Romanian: limbă - limbi

The Slavic languages ​​also have a comparable suffix change, at least for feminine and neutral nouns; compare the word for "head":

  • Bulgarian: glava - glavi (also applies to Macedonian)
  • Slovenian: glava - glave (also applies to Serbo-Croatian)
  • Slovak: hlava - hlavy (also applies to Czech)
  • Polish: głowa - głowy (also applies to Lower Sorbian)
  • Upper Sorbian: hłowa - hłowy
  • Russian: golova - golovy
  • Ukrainian: holova - holovy

The Greek has, similar to Latin, Suffixwechsel in all case on such. B.

  • Nominative: δήμος (dímos) - δήμοι (dímoi)
  • Genitive: δήμου (dímou) - δήμων (dímon)

In the Germanic languages , on the other hand, other suffixes have established themselves as plural markers that are comparable to the German ones. In Dutch, Low German and Frisian, the plural ending in - (e) n is very common, while in the Scandinavian languages the plural ending in - (e) r . The English plural on - (e) s is a further development of this Scandinavian plural. Compare the word for the "arm":

  • Dutch: poor - poor
  • Frisian: earm - earmen
  • Swedish: arm - armar
  • Norwegian: poor - poor
  • English: arm - arms

A multitude of possibilities for plural formation can be found in Albanian and the Celtic languages in addition to German . The Kymrische about even shows the specificity of a so-called subtractive plural, in which any existing singular suffix is deleted:

  • mochyn "pig" - moch
  • pysen "pea" - pys
  • psygodyn "fish" - pysgod
  • blodyn "flower" - blodau

However, a large number of umlaut plurals are also documented in Cymric :

  • arth "bear" - eirth
  • carreg "stone" - cerrig
  • troed "foot" - traed

Or a combination of both (deletion of the singular suffix and the resulting omission of the umlauts):

  • plentyn "child" - plans
  • aderyn "bird" - adar

The Icelandic language shows similarly complex umlaut forms :

  • fjörður "fjord" - firðir
  • mörður "Marder" - merðir
  • bróður "brother" - bræður

Plural in other language families

In other language families too, plural formation takes place by means of suffixation; take, for example, the plural of "tooth":

  • Turkish : diş - dişler (suffix -lar / -ler )
  • Hungarian : fog - fogak (suffix -ak / -ok / -ek / -ök )

The distribution of the suffixes in both languages ​​is largely based on the principles of vowel harmony .

Some languages ​​have no plural forms at all, such as Chinese , Thai and Vietnamese .

In Arabic , a distinction is made between internal and external plurals. External plurals are formed by suffixing, internal ones by restructuring the word base :

  • external plural: معلم / muʿallim teacher -معلمون / muʿallimūn (suffix -ūn , masculine),سیارة / sayyāra car -سیارات / sayyārāt (suffix -āt , mostly for feminine words)
  • internal plural: قلم / qalam pen -أقلام / aqlām (base qlm ),مدرسة / madrasa school -مدارس / madāris (base: mdrs ) etc. It is seldom possible to predict which scheme will be used.
In addition, there is a collective singular for words that denote sets of things: تفاح / tuffāḥ apples (a lot of them, e.g. one kilogram) -تفاحة / tuffāḥa (a single) apple -تفاحات / tuffāḥāt (several individual) apples (e.g. three). The single singulars are regularly formed by the collective singular with the feminine ending -a, and the single plural ending with -āt.

In Malayo-Polynesian languages , plural formation through reduplication is characteristic. The Polynesian languages ​​mark plurals not with endings but with the article, as in Māori te tamaiti - nga tamaiti (the child - the children). As an exception, some words have their own extended vowel plural forms, for example Hawaiian te wahine - nā wāhine (the woman - the women).

Plural in planned languages

In planned languages , the plural is often formed by a general principle, for example in Esperanto by adding a -j to the noun : domo "house" - plural: domoj . There are no deviating or irregular plural forms.

Differentiation between inclusive and exclusive plural

In some languages ​​(e.g. the Dravidian languages , the Tupí-Guaraní languages and the Algonquin languages ) the plural category is semantically more finely-grained than in German, for example: There is a plural morphem that is used when the speaker and his group but not the listeners are meant (exclusive) and a plural morpheme that is used when the speaker, his group and the listeners are meant, see inclusive and exclusive we .

Special functions of the plural

There are some cases of using the plural, which are characterized by the fact that only a single person is actually meant, but the plural is still used. In linguistics, the following distinctions and terms have become established for these cases:

  • Pluralis auctoris (= author plural ): Here the author of a text speaks in the "we" form in order to involve the reader more strongly; Typical example, for example in the introduction to a scientific paper: "In this paper we will deal with the special problems of ...".
  • Pluralis benevolentiae (also: Pluralis sanitatis or nurse's plural ): In this case, the “we” form is used by a person entrusted with care tasks (doctor, nursing staff, parents ...) to indicate his sympathy to the person in need of care; typical example: "How are we today?"
  • Pluralis majestatis (also: Pluralis majestaticus ): This involves the use of the “we” form by persons with sovereign rights to indicate that they have a special, sovereign position; typical example: "We, by God's grace ... have rested ..."
  • Pluralis modestiae (= plural of modesty ): personal contribution or third-party negligence are put in the background by the generalization; Examples: "We have already prepared something here." Instead of "I did it all by myself!" Or "We made a mistake." Instead of "Colleague XY made a mess!"
  • In addition to other forms of politeness , the plural is used in many languages ​​to express respect or deference or even just distance from the person addressed. In English, the original plural form of address you has even completely replaced the singular thou .

See also

  • Collective singular (a singular form for a plural)


  • Heide Wegener: The nominal inflection of German - understood as a subject of study (= series German Linguistics. 151). Niemeyer, Tübingen 1995, ISBN 3-484-31151-7 .
  • Peter Eisenberg : Outline of the German grammar. Volume 1: The Word. 3rd, revised edition. JB Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 2006, ISBN 3-476-02160-2 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Plural  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: plural  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Eisenberg: Outline of the German grammar. Volume 1: The Word. 3rd, revised edition. 2006, p. 163 ff.
  2. Damaris Nübling : s-plural is not a language import. Universities, students, CDs, cars, ups and downs and Buddenbrooks: plural formation on "s" is originally German and goes on 17/18. Century back. 2011.
  3. Beate Kirchner, Jonny Rieder, Renate Wolf: Ostseestädte. Cruises between Kiel, St. Petersburg and Copenhagen. 4th updated edition. Trescher, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-89794-215-8 , p. 381, quote: "with their 14 Kasūs."
  4. Ursula Blank-Sangmeister: Intra. Teacher's volume II. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-525-71827-8 , p. 81, quote: "In German the Kasūs cannot be reproduced literally."
  5. Duden - The grammar. 8th edition. Duden-Verlag, Mannheim / Vienna / Zurich 2009, ISBN 978-3-411-04048-3 , pp. 175ff.
  6. Duden - The grammar. 8th edition. Duden-Verlag, Mannheim / Vienna / Zurich 2009, ISBN 978-3-411-04048-3 , p. 175.
  7. Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler-Lexikon Sprach. 4th, updated and revised edition. JB Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02335-3 .