The Fool’s Plural – Do you make this mistake in German?

I want to quickly explain a mistake which I see ALL THE TIME!

I call it “the fool’s plural.”

Let me explain.

If you have a noun in the dative case, for example due to a preposition or verb that requires the dative case (like zu, von, helfen or geben), and that noun happens to be plural, then you need to be extra careful!

There is a rule that says that dative plural nouns add an extra –n unless they have one already.

mit den Blumenwith the flowers
mit den Kindernwith the children
zu den Anderento the others

The problem is, lots of nouns form their regular plural form with an –n anyway, so this dative –n is often invisible:

die Blumethe flower
die Blumenthe flowers
mit den Blumenwith the flowers

Nothing to see here!

The fool’s plural is when you see a dative plural noun and assume the –n is just a regular plural –n:

der Hundthe dog
mit den Hundenwith the dogs

Someone might see this and then say:

Ich mag Hunden! (WRONG!)

They have fallen for the trap and used the fool’s plural! How embarrassing…

I see this especially often with Jahre/Jahren:

das Jahrthe year
die Jahrethe years
seit vielen Jahrensince many years
Wir haben viele Jahre in Berlin verbracht.
(Accusative plural!)
We spent many years in Berlin.
Wir leben seit vielen Jahren in Berlin.
(Dative plural!)
We have been living in Berlin for many years.
Ich habe viele Jahren in Berlin gelebt.
(WRONG!)
“I have lived in Berlin for many year.” 😆

The plural form of Jahr is Jahre. You only use Jahren after the dative prepositions (aus, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu, gegenüber, außer), or the two-way prepositions when there is no movement (an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, zwischen.)

Another common mistake is forgetting the dative –n when there is no article:

EnglishIncorrect GermanCorrect German
with windowsmit Fenster (!)mit Fenstern
with childrenmit Kinder (!)mit Kindern
for yearsseit Jahre (!)seit Jahren
to friendszu Freunde (!)zu Freunden

Plural Formation

Remember that it’s usually feminine nouns that form their regular plural with –n:

SingularPluralEnglish
die Blumedie Blumenflowers
die Katzedie Katzencats
die Fernbedienungdie Fernbedienungenremote controls
die Maschinedie Maschinenmachines
die Bananedie Bananenbananas
die Mutterdie Mütter
(but not all feminine nouns!)
mothers

By contrast, it’s actually quite rare for masculine and neuter nouns to form their plural with an –n or –en.

Usually they form their plural with an –e or sometimes other things like an –er, –e + umlaut, an umlaut on its own, or nothing at all.

SingularPluralEnglish
der Manndie Männermen
der Vaterdie Väterfathers
der Witzdie Witzejokes
das Buchdie Bücherbooks
der Tischdie Tischetables
das Fensterdie Fensterwindows
das Hausdie Häuserhouses
der Fußdie Füßefeet
der Zahndie Zähneteeth

There’s a nice list of plural rules here.

Don’t forget to add the dative –n to masculine and neuter nouns if necessary, and whatever you do, don’t confuse it for the regular plural!

SingularDative PluralEnglish
der Mannmit Männernwith men
der Witzvon den Witzenfrom the jokes
das Buchaus Büchernfrom books
der Tischauf den Tischenon the tables
das Fenstermit Fensternwith windows
das Haushinter den Häusernbehind the houses
der Fußunter meinen Füßenunder my feet
der Zahnzwischen meinen Zähnenbetween my teeth

I hope this clears things up. Make sure you never use the fool’s plural again!

Drop me an email at info@learngerman.io if you need any help.

That’s it for today! 🙂