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As a noun , partly also as a noun , German as a main word , Dingwort , subject word or name word is referred to in the grammar a part of speech , together with the verb results in the most fundamental distinction in the field of speech. It is assumed (although the discussion about this is not closed) that the noun-verb distinction in all languages ​​is marked in some way (i.e. it represents a universal ), while other part-of-speech distinctions may vary in comparison with other languages. Nouns typically designate objects, as opposed to events or properties, i.e. i.e., stand for the particularly time-stable terms. They can typically (possibly in connection with articles ) be used to lecture , i. H. linguistically refer to things in the world. They can thereby serve as the object of the predication , i.e. H. form the counterparts to verbs and adjectives and are then assigned a semantic role or property. However, nouns can also appear as part of a predicate ( predicative use ).

The named properties of nouns, to serve as a reference or as an object of predication, are often shared with pronouns . The difference to the latter is that nouns are “content words”, i.e. express terms or concepts of objects, while pronouns purely refer to an individual without specifying further properties. In some part-of-speech classifications, pronouns are not distinguished from nouns or articles, but they are separated, especially in traditional approaches. As content words, nouns also form an open class ; This means that the vocabulary in this area can be freely and regularly expanded; this in contrast to articles and pronouns.

Nouns together with their additions (in German including articles, adjective and prepositional phrases as well as subordinate clauses ) form larger syntactic units, which are usually referred to as noun phrases or noun groups. Such a noun phrase can also be used as a complement to a noun; in many languages ​​it is then marked with a genitive case.

As a category icon in formal grammars is N used (of " noun " and "noun").


The term noun is shortened from the late Latin nomen substantivum "noun related to a substance". The basic meaning of nouns is "name"; In the Romance languages ​​(French nom, Spanish nombre , etc.) the term for 'noun' also always has the meaning of "name". With substance about "self-existing entity" is meant here, as opposed to features and processes that do not exist independently, but - in the form of adjectives and verbs - substances are attributed.

Under the nouns fall traditionally next to the noun substantive , the nomen adjectivum ( adjective ), the nomen numeral ( numeral ) and the pronoun . Among these, the noun is the noun par excellence, as the literal meaning of noun is "name", which does not fit the other subcategories of the noun. Therefore, the noun in English (besides called substantive ) since the 20th century mostly noun , in French nom and similar in some other languages. This usage has also come into German since the 1960s, so that nouns are often not used as a generic term but as a synonym for noun .

In German grammar , noun has been translated as thing word, noun, noun and noun as name word, noun . However, the term noun is ambiguous, because it is also a term for concrete in contrast to the term or abstract .



The two operations of reference and predication are essential to human speech. They are coded in grammar in different ways, including in particular in the two parts of speech 'noun' and 'verb'. A distinction between a nominal and a verbal category is apparently made in all languages, while there are definitely differences with regard to the individual nominal parts of speech.

Like all parts of speech, the noun category has semantic and structural features. The essential semantic characteristic of the noun is its referential function, i.e. H. its potential to refer and to face the predicate as a referential expression. Primarily in this function, above all, temporally stable entities appear, i.e. entities that are designed to be immutable over a long period of time. These are primarily concrete objects such as things, living beings, etc. These semantic categories, however, are not constitutive for the concept of the noun, but rather follow from the primary function of referentiality. Often you will also (typically less time-stable) will talk to entities that fall into any of these categories, such as on "beauty", "examining", etc. But then substantiation (of beautiful , investigate ) nouns (beauty, examination) provided (see below for word formation).

Due to the criterion of lexical meaning, the noun stands opposite the pronoun , which under certain circumstances can fall into the same syntactic category as the noun (in German the personal pronoun has the same distribution as the proper name ), but in any case has no lexical meaning (but a grammatical function) .

The structural characteristics of nouns vary between languages. Nevertheless, on the basis of the semantic properties mentioned, the category of the noun can be identified across languages.


Nouns can be classified mainly according to semantic, syntactic and morphological properties. The result is largely independent classifications. A purely syntactic classification is based exclusively on distributional criteria, e.g. B. the combinability of a noun with the definitive article . According to this criterion, for. B. Personal names in High German (Hans) , English (John) and French (Jean) in a different class than in colloquial German (Hans) and Portuguese (o João) .

Semantic classification

The traditional (e.g. in school grammar) established classification attempts to secure semantic classes with syntactic criteria. It gives the following taxonomy :

  • Noun (lat. Nouns substantive , even briefly substantive )
    • Abstractum (Latin noun abstractum ), e.g. B. Art , love , mention , kindness
    • Concrete (Latin noun concretum )
      • Proper name (Latin noun proprium ), e.g. B. Vanessa , Danube , Berlin , Alps
      • Generic name (or generic name, appellative [um]; Latin nomen appellativum or nomen commune )
      • Collective name (or collective ; Latin noun collectivum )
      • Substance name (or substance name; Latin noun materiale )

Sometimes collective names are subordinated to generic names, or collective and substance names are listed as sub-terms of generic names. Furthermore, countable nouns ( countable nouns ) and uncountable nouns ( uncountable nouns, non-count nouns ) can be distinguished.

  • An abstract is an appellative that refers to something abstract. Typical abstracts are nouns and do not form a plural , like hostility .
  • A concretum is an appellative that relates to concrete objects.
  • A proper noun is a noun that has only specific reference and refers to a single entity without subsuming it under a term. The entity can also be a collective (see below), like Alpen .
  • An appellative is a noun that refers to entities by subsuming them under one term. It can have specific or generic reference.
  • A collective is a (typically concrete) appellative that combines a set of individuals as a complex entity, such as mountains , police . In German, the collectives are divided into two syntactic classes, namely mass nouns and individual nouns. According to the syntactic criteria that apply to them, mountains , families and ostriches are individual nouns, while police , poultry and fruit are mass nouns.
  • An individual noun is a concrete that refers to a delimited object. In German, individual nouns form the plural ( grains ) and are combined with the indefinite article (one grain) , with cardinal number words (two grains) and the quantifier many (grains) .
  • A mass noun is a concret that refers to a "continuous" object; H. one whose parts fall under the same concept as the object itself. (Part of water is again water; but part of a table is not a table.) In German, mass nouns either do not form a plural (* Blute) or a variety plural ( wines are not examples, but varieties of wine). They are not combined with the indefinite article or cardinal number words (* one blood, * two blood) , unless varieties are again meant (one wine, two wines) . They are also combined with the quantifier a lot (a lot of blood / wine) .

Morphological classification

Morphological criteria include: a. the declination class and word formation status are used. The latter gives the following classification:

  • noun
    • primary noun, e.g. B. madness, friend, grain
    • secondary noun, e.g. B. Mention (of mention ), kindness (of kind ), porter (of wear ).

A secondary noun is one that is formed by derivation , namely nouning. A primary noun is morphologically simple, i.e. neither derived nor compound.

The noun in the German language


In German , the noun can be defined by the following structural criteria:

  1. It declines, d. i.e., it inflects after number and case (the latter as opposed to the verb).
  2. It has a fixed gender (as opposed to the adjective).
  3. It can - possibly in combination with the definitive article - form a nominal syntax and therefore a referential expression.

Of course, these criteria characterize a prototypical term . Numerous nouns such as cheerfulness do not obey the first criterion ; a few nouns with variable gender, such as yoghurt , do not obey the second . These are counted due to partial similarities with the prototypical nouns in the same class.

Sentence functions

The noun forms the semantic core of the nominal syntagma : a beautiful picture , the little ones , the man who knew too much . The head helps to determine the grammar of this group of words by passing gender characteristics on to their changeable parts and by, as a member of one of the above-mentioned subclasses of the noun, helping to determine the use of determinants.

A nominal syntagma in the sentence u. a. take on the following functions: subject (sentence object), object (addition), adverbial determination (circumstance), attribute (addition), predicate noun (see predicative ). A nominal expression does not refer as a predicate noun; d. i.e. in this position a noun does not have the primary function as defined in the definition.



The noun does not decline according to gender, but the gender (in the lexicon) is fixed for each noun. The gender is not regularly coded on the noun, but instead on parts of speech congruent with a noun , in particular articles , pronouns and adjectives. Therefore, since ancient grammar, the simplest and most common (if not the scientific) method of indicating the gender of a noun has been to combine it with the definitive article. So instead of saying “ Caraway has masculine gender”, one says “it's called caraway ”.

Since gender cannot generally be seen on the noun, it must be learned with this. Sub-regularities in gender allocation help here . The gender of derived nouns is almost completely regular, because the derivation suffix brings with it a gender that the derived noun inherits. For example, all nouns derived from -chen such as Herrchen and Mistress are neuter. Correspondingly, the feminine gender of the nouns derived from -anz , - (t) ion , -heit , -keit , -ung , - (i) ity , etc. depend on these same derivative operators . And most with overall -derived nouns are Neutra: babble, waters, mountains ; but: the thought .

The German nouns either belong to the gender masculine (male, standard genus) with the definite article der , the feminine (female) with the definitive article die or the neuter (neuter) with the definitive article das . Exemplary word fields

  • for masculine : points of the compass, weather conditions (east, monsoon, storm ; but: the thunderstorm) , spirits (vodka, wine, cognac) , minerals, rocks (marble, quartz, granite, diamond) ;
  • for feminine: ships and aircraft (Germany, Boeing ; but: the Airbus) , cigarette brands (Camel, Marlboro) , many types of trees and plants (oak, poplar, pine ; but: the lilac) , numbers (one, million ; but: the dozen) , most of the inland rivers (Elbe, Oder, Danube ; but: the Rhine) , ...;
  • for neutras : cafes, hotels, cinemas (the Mariott, the Cinemaxx) , chemical elements (helium, arsenic ; but: the sulfur , masculine elements on -stoff) , letters, notes, languages ​​and colors (the orange, the A, the English) , certain brand names for detergents and cleaning agents (Ariel, Persil) , continents, countries (the articleless: (old) Europe ; but: Lebanon, Switzerland  ...).


Like other nouns, nouns in languages ​​such as German (including Latin, Russian and Arabic) inflect after cases (cases). The German cases are nominative , genitive , dative and accusative . The German case declination is highly irregular and syncretistic . In terms of the number of cases, German ranks in the middle.


The numbers are singular (singular) and plural (plural). While Konkreta i. a. declining according to both numbers, numerous abstracts (such as peace ) and proper names (such as Kilimandjaro and Iran ) have no plural; and few nouns like parents don't have a singular. A noun that has only one singular is a singular tantum (singular word); one that occurs only in the plural is a plural tantum (plural word).

Word formation

Formation of nouns

By derivation (noun)

Nouns can be derived from members of any part of speech, but hardly from adverbs. If the base is not a noun, the process is called substantivation (in the narrower sense). Substantivation in the broader sense then includes the derivation of a noun on the basis of a noun. According to the criterion of the part of speech of the base, the following classification of derived nouns results:

  • desubstantivic (denominal) noun: Schrift-tum, Knapp -schaft, Frau-chen, Löw-in
  • deverbal noun: teaching-e, mentioning
  • thejectival noun: friendliness, wisdom, curiosity .

On the syntactic level, it is sufficient to combine a word with the definitive article in order to substantiate it (compulsorily), as in the Greens, arguing, the ego .

By composition

By composing two stems , new noun stems ( noun compounds) can be formed, e.g. B. as in traffic, robins, fine gold, poet composer . As a rule, the second component of a noun is the head : it turns the entire word into a noun, its gender determines the gender of the compound and it provides i. d. Usually the meaning category, which is only specified in more detail by the first part.

Formation of other parts of speech from nouns

Nouns themselves can provide the basis for the formation of stems of other parts of speech:

  • denominal / desubstantive verb: to house, to color
  • denominal / desubstantive adjective: cloudy, effeminate
  • denominal / desubstantivic adverb: in the morning, in rows .


German nouns begin with a capital letter. There are numerous exceptions to this rule, especially when a noun is not used as a noun.

The noun in the English language

Of the criteria relevant to the German noun, only the following are relevant to English: The noun

  1. declined, d. i.e., it inflects according to number
  2. can - possibly in combination with the definitive article - form a nominal syntax and therefore a referential expression.

The gender of nouns does not exist in English; and case only exist with pronouns. Overall, the declension in English is even more reduced than the conjugation .

Web links

Wiktionary: noun  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Dürr, Schlobinski: Descriptive Linguistics. 2006, p. 78: "The distinction between nominal and verbal is essential, since it is probably the only one that exists in almost all languages."
  2. Talmy Givón: On understanding grammar (Perspectives in Neurolinguistics and Psycholinguistics). Academic Press, New York et al. a. 1979, ch. 8th.
  3. ^ William Croft: Syntactic categories and grammatical relations. The cognitive organization of information . Chicago University Press, Chicago 1991, ch. 2.
  4. L. Georg: Elementary grammar of the English language with gradually inserted translation tasks, reading pieces and speaking exercises along with two complete dictionaries. A practical-theoretical guide to understand, speak and write the English language in a short time . Fourth unchanged edition, Leipzig 1869, p. 71 ( at ).
  5. a b Elke Hentschel, Harald Weydt: Handbook of German grammar . 3. Edition. de Gruyter Study Book, 2003, pp. 147, 148 ( at ).
  6. Grammar for German Lessons (edition for Switzerland). Klett, ISBN 978-3-264-83402-4 ( reading sample (PDF) ).
  7. Oxford Dictionaries: countable and uncountable nouns
  8. Kürschner: Grammatical Compendium. 4th edition. 2003, ISBN 3-8252-1526-1 , p. 119.
  9. Duden, The Grammar. 7th edition. 2005, ISBN 3-411-04047-5 , Rn. 219: "Part of speech with a fixed grammatical gender, with a specific number and case ."
  10. ^ Kessel, Reimann: Basic knowledge of German contemporary language. 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 65: a word that "can be declined and articulated, but cannot be compared"
  11. Duden, spelling and grammar - made easy. 2007, p. 127.
  12. Questions to the onion fish: Why is the Rhine male and the Elbe female? : "Of 72 German rivers with a length of more than one hundred kilometers, only eight are male."
  13. Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (nouning).
  14. ^ So Kürschner: Grammatical Compendium. 4th edition. 2003, ISBN 3-8252-1526-1 , p. 73.
  15. For details, see Upper and Lower Case of Nouns in the Wiktionary .