Defeating enemies: German adjective endings

classic By classic, 21st Aug 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Languages

Ever tried to use adjectives in German? Ever got confused by which letters to put where and when? This guide aims to help you defeat your enemy.

Adjectives? Huh?

So an adjective is a type of word that describes or modifies a noun. Like in English, they either stand alone or go straight before their noun, for instance:

Grammar is great!
The old grandma rested her weary legs.

However, as you will probably have noticed, German nouns have gender. They're either masculine, feminine or neuter. They can also (like in English) become plural. So we basically have four different gender/number combinations (I'll just call them 'genders' from now on). The adjectives that go straight before their noun have to agree with the noun, which means they need the right endings.

Not only do we have different endings for genders, but they also change with the case of the noun and with the articles that come before them.

Scared yet?

There are two ways to proceed from here. The grammary/old-school/confusing/boring way and the simpler/easier/more natural way. You decide!

Method one: Old school

Do not read this bit unless you are a grammar nerd!

Basically, it's a list of tables. Most grammars put the genders in the order 'M, F, N, Pl'. I prefer 'M, N, F, Pl', not because of gender equality issues, but because they are more similar! Watch out because the cases are also sometimes given in a different order. Again, my order seems the most logical to me.

This is the adjective 'gut', meaning 'good' and this pattern is for when there is no preceding article (the strong pattern).

Gender: Masc. Neut. Fem. Pl.
Nominative: guter gutes gute guten
Accusative: guten gutes gute guten
Dative: gutem gutem guter guten
Genitive: guten guten guter guter

When there is a word like ein, kein, mein, etc. (mixed pattern)

Gender: Masc. Neut. Fem. Pl.
Nominative: guter gutes gute guten
Accusative: guten gutes gute guten
Dative: guten guten guten guten
Genitive: guten guten guten guten

Notice how all the datives and genitives end in -en.

Now the weak pattern, for adjectives following the definite article (der, die, das, etc.) and words that decline like the definite article (dieser, jeder, mancher, derselber, derjeniger, jener, jeglicher, solcher, welcher).

Gender: Masc. Neut. Fem. Pl.
Nominative: gute gute gute guten
Accusative: guten gute gute guten
Dative: guten guten guten guten
Genitive: guten guten guten guten

Learnt it all? No? OK, now for the easy version...

Method two: Cool school

To the student of German, all these endings seem kind of random. However, once you know the logical system behind it, it becomes a lot more natural.

Basically there is one relatively simple bunch of endings that adjectives really like having. In fact they love them. They are the lazy endings because most of them are the same across the table.

Gender: Masc. Neut. Fem. Pl.
Nominative: gute gute gute guten
Accusative: guten gute gute guten
Dative: guten guten guten guten
Genitive: guten guten guten guten

Or, in other words, all the plurals are -en, all the datives and genitives are -en and apart from masculine accusative (-en), the singulars in the nominative and accusative are -e. Have a look. It may seem scary, but there's a lot of repetition.

Now, adjectives are lazy and they want to take these simple endings whenever they can. But sometimes they are forced to take on grammatical endings when there is no other word to do it for them. So if you take away your articles or article-like adjectives, e.g., dem or eines or jeden, you take away the precious grammatical info (the case and gender) that they are storing in their endings and you have to stick those endings onto the lazy adjectives instead. That's simply it: The adjectives are forced out of the armchair and they have to get their butt in gear and do some grammatical work for once. This is why they adopt different endings.

But these different endings aren't crazy, new-fangled things. Nope. They just nick them from the articles!

das heiße Wasser - heißes Wasser
mit der weißen Milch - mit weißer Milch

Easy as pie!

Two notes:
1 ein, kein, dein, etc. do not bear any grammatical information in the masculine nominative and the neuter nominative or accusative, so you still need to put the endings (-er, -es, -es) on your adjectives
2 in the masculine and neuter genitives, the noun takes the grammatical info (with the -s ending) so the adjective can go on being lazy, e.g. wegen des schrecklichen Krieges

Tags

Adjective Endings, Adjectives, Difficult, Easy, German, German Grammar

Meet the author

author avatar classic
A student of classics and purveyor of the fine things in life; cooking, music, tomato ketchup, linguistics... Also interested in the other things, like politics, Latin, economics, useful languages, philosophy, and positivity. Oh, and grammar.

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