Differences in German and English Mass Nouns (non-count nouns!)

Just like in English, the following German nouns are “non-count”. They’re what we call “mass nouns”. They can only be used in the singular form.

the luggage das Gepäck
the weather das Wetter
the furniture die Möbel
the jewelry der Schmuck
the gold das Gold
the music die Musik
the ice das Eis
the mathematics die Mathematik
the trash/rubbish/garbage der Müll
the braces (BE)/ the suspenders (AE) die Hosenträger

 

These English mass nouns have a German singular and a German plural form!

 

ENGLISH DEUTSCH/EINZAHL DEUTSCH /MEHRZAHL
information die Information die Informationen
feedback die Rückmeldung die Rückmeldungen
advice der Rat die Räte, die Ratschläge
news die Nachricht die Nachrichten
homework die Hausaufgabe die Hausaufgaben
work die Arbeit die Arbeiten
education die Ausbildung die Ausbildungen
data die Data die Daten
help die Hilfe die Hilfen
knowledge die Kenntnis die Kenntnisse
pollution die Umweltverschmutzung die Umweltverschmutzungen
evidence der Beweis die Beweise

 

These English mass nouns only use the plural form!  German has a singular and a plural form.

 

ENGLISH (non-count) DEUTSCH/EINZAHL DEUTSCH /MEHRZAHL
clothes die Kleidung die Kleidungen
scissors die Schere die Scheren
jeans eine Jeans zwei Jeans
 glasses die Brille die Brillen
binoculars das Fernglas die Ferngläser
pliers die Zange die Zangen
pants, trousers die Hose die Hosen
police die Polizei die Polizeien
tights die Strumpfhose die Strumpfhose
*braces die Zahnspange die Zahnspangen

 

*British English uses the word „braces“ for “Hoseträger” AND for the German word “Zahnspange”. One “braces” holds your pants up and the other “braces” holds your teeth in place. Cool!  American English has one word for “Hosenträger” and that’s “suspenders”.  They help to “suspend” our pants above the waist, I guess!

 

The following German words do not have an English equivalent. They’re considered “Sammelbegriffe” and always start with the prefix “Ge-“. The article is always “das”. English has singular and plural forms for these words.  Of course, we also have “foliage” and “mountain range”, too, but I personally think English speakers are quicker to use the plural forms.  To all you German learners, English speakers would say “Vegetables ARE healthy” Germans would say “(Das) Gemüse IST gesund”!

DEUTSCH ENGLISH/SINGULAR ENGLISCH /PLURAL
das Gebirge the mountain the mountains
das Gemüse the vegetable the vegetables
das Gebüsch the bush the bushes
das Gebäck the pastry the pastries
das Gewitter the storm the storms

 

EXAMPLE SENTENCES

I see a lot of mistakes made by foreign speakers (Germans learning English, mostly), and I have here a collection of sentences I often have to correct. Feel free to learn from these!

  • I would like some information.

BUT NOT: I would like some informations.

  • Would you give me some advice?

BUT NOT: Would you give me an advice?

  • Give me your feedback.

BUT NOT: Give me a feedback.

  • A company uses wood to make its products.

BUT NOT: A company uses woods to make its products.

“Wood” (Holz) wird nur im Singular benutzt. “Woods” heißt eine Gruppe von Bäumen. „He got lost in the woods”.  Er hat sich im Wald verirrt. Andere Stoffe, die keine Mehrzahl haben: gold, silver, lead, cotton, steel

  • My teacher gave us homework in Geometry.

BUT NOT:  My teacher gave us a homework in Geometry.

  • Many fish live in the ocean.

BUT NOT: Many fishes live in the ocean.

The word “fish” is also used as the plural form. There used to be the form “fishes” but it’s fallen out of usage. There’s also no plural form for animal words deer, sheep, trout, shrimp or moose. However, English often uses the following collective nouns to describe groups of more than two:

a school:  a school of fish, a school of trout

a herd:  a herd of buffalo, a herd of sheep, a herd of moose, a herd of cattle

  • There are a lot of mice in the barn.

BUT NOT: there are a lot of mouses in the barn

“Mice” is the irregular form for “mouse”. Now you might be asking, “What about a computer mouse?”  If you want to talk about the input device “mouse”, then you can say, for example, “two mouse devices”. That way, you can avoid the awkward use of “mice” to describe what we use to click around with!

  • This store sells nice clothes.

BUT NOT: This store sells nice clotheses.

The police are in the building.

BUT NOT: The police is in the building.

  • He fell off his bike and broke two of his teeth.

BUT NOT: He fell off his bike and broke two of his tooths.

There’s a few nouns that have an irregular form. Words whose middle changes to “ee” are  goose – geese, foot – feet, tooth – teeth

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