declination of German adjectives

 

How to decline German adjectives

 

What is considered an adjective?

Adjectives are words that describe the qualities or states of nouns: loud, cute, smelly, green, big...

They can also describe the quantity of nouns: a few, two, several, two thousand.

Most students learn that adjectives are words that describe nouns. "How" is something? In the answer, we usually use an adjective. However, adjectives do not modify verbs, adverbs or other adjectives.

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In the sentences above, the adjectives are easy to spot because they come immediately before the nouns they modify. But adjectives can do more than modify nouns. They can also serve as complements to linking verbs or the verb to be. A linking verb is a verb that describes a state or sensory experience like to feel, to seem or to taste.

This cow is really happy. It smells disgusting in the changing room. Driving a car is faster than walking. The technical term for an adjective used in this way is predicate adjective.

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Adjectives modify nouns. In German grammar, there are three types of adjectives: predicative (predicative), adverbial (adverbial) and attributive. Predicative adjectives and adverbs do not change their form, while attributive adjectives change their ending depending on the noun they modify.

Learn about the different types of adjectives in German grammar with the GermanMind method and then test your grammar knowledge in our exercises.

Predicative adjectives and adverbs
Predicative adjectives and adverbs always have the same form, regardless of the gender of the noun and whether it is singular or plural:

  • Predicative adjectives are adjectives that come after the verbs to be/to remain/to become.

Example: Der Hund ist niedlich. The dog is cute.

  • Predicative adverbs are adjectives that come after other verbs (not to be/stay/become).

Example: Der Hund liegt müde auf dem Boden. The dog is lying tired on the floor.

Attributive adjectives

  • Attributive adjectives are used between the article and the noun. These adjectives are declined and their endings are changed according to the gender of the noun or whether it is singular or plural.

Example: Er ist ein sehr freundlicher Hund. He is a very friendly dog.

Example: So einen freundlichen Hund sieht man selten. You rarely see such a friendly dog.

All attributive adjectives MUST have a declension! 

What ending does it need?

There are many ways to understand and learn adjective endings: if you simply memorized a table, you'd have to memorize 48 different possible combinations - but it would work if that's your preference. Instead, let's try to approach adjective endings in a more logical framework, with a set of rules.

What is considered an article?

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Why do we decline adjectives in German?

Either the article or the adjective itself must show the gender of our noun. "Der Mann" clearly shows that man is masculine; "ein Mann," on the other hand, does not, because the article "ein" is used for masculine and neutral nouns. When the article does not show the gender of the noun, the adjective/adjective ending must do it.

Important: Some articles immediately show that the noun is no longer in the nominative case, others do not. In the sentence "Ich habe einen Hund." one clearly sees that dog is no longer in the nominative case. In the sentence "Ich kaufe ein Buch" we don't immediately see whether the noun is masculine or neutral.

This distinction is important in deciding which adjective ending to use.

 

1. Does your adjective have an article in front of it?

 
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NO (there is no article): Use the ending your definite article would have. Note the gender and case of the noun. 

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YES (there is an article) -> go to question 2.

  Deutsche Autos sind schnell. German cars are fast. 

  Ich mag kleine Hunde. I like small dogs.

2. Is the article in the original form?

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NO - add -en to your adjective. 

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YES (the article is in the original form) -> go to question 3.

Ich trinke den kalten Tee. I drink the cold tea. 

Ich gehe mit dem kleinen Hund spazieren. I walk the small dog.

3. Is the noun singular?

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NO - add -en to your adjective. 

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YES (the noun is singular) -> go to question 4.

Ich kaufe die roten Schuhe. I buy the red shoes.

Der Mann singt die deutschen Lieder. The man sings the German songs.

4. Does the article show the gender of the noun?

This refers to the article "ein". "Der, den, dem" show the gender of man, but "ein Mann" does not. In "das, dem, einem" Buch the gender of book is visible, but in "ein Buch" it is not. "Die, der, eine" Frau shows that the noun is feminine. The only articles that do not show gender directly are "ein" and its equivalents ("mein, dein, sein, ihr, unser, euer, euer").

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NO - add -er for masculine nouns, -es for neutral nouns.

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Yes - add -e.

Er ist ein fleißiger Student. He is a hardworking student.

Du hast ein schönes Auto. You have a nice car.

Das ist der brave Hund. That´s the well behaved dog.

Wo ist eine neue Bushaltestelle? Where is a new bus stop?

That's all! If you follow these rules carefully, you will succeed with all German adjective endings.

 
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Important:

UNSER. Remember that the -er in unser is part of the article our, it is NOT a separate ending (unser Hund ist klein; unsere Blumen sind schön; unser Auto ist schnell).

"Unser Auto" is equivalent to "mein Auto".

When adding an adjective, it must be declined: "unser schnelles Auto" shows that car is neutral; "unser kleiner Hund" shows that dog is a masculine noun.  EUER (your, pl.) has the same ending, and the -er is part of the article itself. So in their base forms, our and your do not indicate gender.

 

VIELE (many) is an adjective and not an article. The same is true for EINIGE (a few, some), MEHRERE (several), and WENIGE (few, not many). Therefore, these words, as well as any adjectives that follow, must be declined (viele kleine Kinder, einige nette Nachbarn, wenige schnelle Sportler)

 

Two or more adjectives: If more than one adjective modifies the same noun (the nice old man), each adjective acts independently and takes the appropriate ending (der nette alte Mann, ein netter alter Mann). Thus, all adjectives in a chain have the same endings.

 
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Exercises - Übung macht den Meister!