German Adjective Endings – The things we don’t hear

Screen Shot 2011 07 17 At 13 32 09

German Adjective Endings – The things we don’t hear

Adjective endings are the bane of most German learners. This is true because as a learner you are expected to get them right, but when you go out into the street you never really hear them from native speakers. This is especially true in Switzerland, but generally from all speakers. Like in English the spoken language differs from the written language and certain words lose their endings. This is also why many speakers do no clearly say “der, die, das…” but merely a “de” sound. If you want to hear German spoken clearly, you best bet is to listen to newscasters because they read a script and have better pronunciation. Check out Deutsche Welle online for news and even the news read slower for German learners.

Let’s tackle adjectives. Adjectives provide additional information about nouns and pronouns. We differentiate between two basic types of adjectives: those that take an ending and those which do not.

Adjectives without endings

When adjectives come after linking verbs like sein, werden, bleiben, and gelten als, we call them predicate adjectives and they do not take an ending.

Ex.

  • Das Handy ist neu.
    • The mobile phone is new.
  • Dieses Problem wird jetzt kompliziert.
    • This problem is now becoming complicated.
  • Der Arbeitskollege gilt als sehr kompetent.
    • The work colleague is considered to be very competent.

**Note many adjectives in German can also be used as adverbs (words that describe verbs). When they are used in this form they also do not take an ending. Because there is no difference between the two in German, many German speakers tend to say their adjectives in English with an -ly ending (adverbs).

Adjectives with endings

When adjectives come before the noun they are are modifying/describing, we call them attributive adjectives. We can split these into three categories:

  1. Adjectives after der-words
  2. Adjectives after ein-words
  3. Adjectives that are not preceded by an article

Adjectives after der-words

The definite articles “der, die, das…” give us the most grammatocal information about the word they are describing (number, gender, case). Therefore the adjective ending for these words has to do very little. In fact there are only two possibilities “-e” and “-en”.

Adjectives after "der-words"

**Don’t forget that dieser, jeder, jener, mancher, solcher and welcher act like definite articles

Adjectives after ein-words

First off, ein-words also include kein, mein, dein, sein, ihr, unser, euer, ihr and Ihr. These articles convey less grammatical information than the definite articles. We know that in the nominative there is no distinction between masculine (ein Wagen) and neuter (ein Buch), so the adjectives have to help us clarify this. Here we have two more possible endings to the “-e” and “-en” with the definite articles. We also have “-er” and “-es”.

Adjectives after "ein-words"

Here is a summary of the adjective endings for adjectives preceded by either der-words or ein-words.

Summary of preceded adjective endings

If you have to guess, and I know this happens, your safest bet is “-en”. But I highly recommend learning these so you don’t have to guess.

Adjectives that are not preceded by an article

Because there is no article to convey any grammatical information about the noun that is being described the adjective ending has to convey more information. Generally the endings resemble the definitive article. So “-er” for “der”, “-es” for “das”, “-em” for “dem” etc. The exceptions are the masculine and neuter genitive forms, which are “-en” and not “-es” as would be expected. But remember that nouns in these cases have an “-s” ending so we see they are singular and genitive in the noun.

Non-preceded adjective endings

Here are a few additional rules or things to watch out for.

  1. All adjectives in a series take the same ending.
    • Du hast schöne blaue Augen.
    • Ich mag deine schönen blauen Augen.
  2. Adjective stems ending in “-er” and “-el” drop the stem “e” when thet have adjective endings
    • teuer: ein teurer Wagen
    • dunkel: eine dunkle Ecke
  3. The adjective “hoch” drops the “c” when it has an adjective ending.
    • hoch: ein hoher Turm
  4. The adjectives “beige”, “lila”, “orange”, “rosa” and “prima” don’t take adjective endings.
    • ein rosa Kleid
    • ohne den lila Pulli
    • mit einer prima Idee
  5. The adjectives “halb” and “ganz” do not take endings before names of towns, countries and continents, unless the name requires an article
    • halb Europa (half of Europe)
    • ganz Österreich (all of Austria)
    • die halbe Schweiz (half of Switzerland)
    • die ganze Türkei (all of Turkey)
    • die ganzen USA (the whole U.S.)
  6. Adjectives of nationality behave like other descriptive adjectives (expect die Schweiz). They are capitalized only when used in proper names.
    • deutsche Kultur
    • französischer Käse
    • russischer Wodka
    • die Deutsche Bank (proper name)
    • die Französischen Eisenbahnen (proper name)
  7. Adjectives based on the names of cities or towns take no endings and are formed by adding the suffix “-er” to the noun. All capitalization is retained. The adjective of nationality based on “die Schweiz” also follows this rule. With “Zürich” the “i” is dropped out.
    • Dieser Zug fährt zum Frankfurter Flughafen.
    • Eines Tages möchte ich den Kölner Dom besichtigen.
    • Er hat ein Schweizer Bankkonto.
    • Ich habe mein Konto bei der Zürcher Kantonalbank

Exercises:

  1. Susanne hat einen rot_____ Hut gekauft.
  2. Im Zimmer habe ich laut_____ Musik gehört.
  3. John kann das ander_____ Buch nicht finden.
  4. Die alte Frau hat dem klein_____ Kind geholfen.
  5. Franziska denkt an sein warm_____ Bett.
  6. Ich habe nett_____ Freunde.
  7. Der klug_____ Arzt hat mir geholfen.
  8. Bei schlecht_____ Wetter bleibe ich zu Hause.
  9. Bei solchem gut_____ Wetter sitzen wir draußen.
  10. Wo kann man hier frisch_____ Obst kaufen?
  11. Können Sie mir mit dieser schwierig_____ Arbeit helfen?
  12. Die Kinder müssen die schmutzig_____ Autos waschen.
  13. Später möchte ich in einer groß_____ Villa am See leben.
  14. Im Zimmer steht ein kaputt______ Fernseher.
  15. Die sauber_____ Strassen in Zürich gefallen mir.
  16. Nigel schreibt seinem alt_____ Freund einen Brief.
  17. Ich habe einen nett_____ Mitbewohner.
  18. Neu_____ Stifte schreiben besser.

Answers:

-en, -e, -e, -en, -es, -e, -e, -em, -en, -es, -en, -en, -en, -er, -en, -en, -en, -e
  1. sue rowlinsonsue rowlinson07-17-2011

    very good site

  2. epices6epices602-25-2013

    Re: adjective endings: “but when you go out into the street you never really hear them from native speakers. This is especially true in Switzerland, but generally from all speakers.” This is a highly dubious statement, you do indeed hear adjective endings, just because they differ in the various dialects does not mean that they are not employed systematically by the speakers of these dialects. So called “High German” speakers will always use endings for attributive adjectives.

    • Of course this is slightly tongue-in-cheek. Of course most common phrases do feature clearly annunciated adjective endings, which is why it is always a good idea to learn set phrases. That said, in Switzerland, but in many other areas people tend to droll their endings as they speak quickly.

  1. Christmas Vocabulary — Wortschatz zur Weihnachten « Marathon Sprachen : Understanding German11-29-11
  2. What’s yours is mine — German Possessive Articles « Marathon Sprachen : Understanding German02-13-12
  3. Ostern steht vor der Tür — German Easter Vocabulary & Tradition « Marathon Sprachen : Understanding German04-06-12
  4. 5 Ways to negate in German besides using “nicht” « Marathon Sprachen : Understanding German04-15-12
  5. How to congratulate someone on their baby in German « Marathon Sprachen : Understanding German04-24-12
  6. German Letter and E-Mail Basics « Marathon Sprachen : Understanding German04-30-12
  7. Actually, there is a difference — eigentlich vs. tatsächlich « Marathon Sprachen11-11-12
  8. German Family Vocabulary & German Adjectival Nouns « Marathon Sprachen11-25-12
  9. Frohes Chanukka! — German Hanukkah vocabulary « Marathon Sprachen12-10-12
  10. Skiwortschatz — German Ski Vocabulary « Marathon Sprachen01-07-13
  11. dauernd vs. dauerhaft and the German suffix -haft « Marathon Sprachen01-22-13
  12. spürbar oder merkbar and the German suffix -bar « Marathon Sprachen01-29-13
  13. German Nouns with N-Declination — Nomen der N-Dekination « Marathon Sprachen02-12-13
  14. Possessivartikel im substantivischen Gebrauch — Mine & Yours in German « Marathon Sprachen02-20-13
  15. Little differences in German — anders, verschiedene, unterschiedliche | Marathon Sprachen03-24-13
  16. German Grammar Basics — What you need to know to understand German | Marathon Sprachen09-28-13
  17. German Adjective Endings – The things we don’t hear | Marathon Sprachen11-03-13
  18. 74 German Adjectives and Prepositions with Examples | Zurich's Lifestyle Language School11-18-13
  19. The German Present Participle – Partizip I | Zurich's Lifestyle Language School02-02-14

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: