German adjectives

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German adjectives come before the noun, as in English, and are not capitalised. However, as in French and other Indo-European languages (but not English), they are generally inflected when they come before a noun: they take an ending that depends on the gender and case of the noun phrase.

  • Ein kleiner Mann (a short man; masculine gender)
  • Eine kleine Frau (a short woman; feminine gender)
  • Ein kleines Mädchen (a short girl; neuter gender)

The type of article or determiner preceding the noun also affects the inflection: in German, 'a red book' and 'the red book' have different adjective endings:

  • Ein rotes Buch
  • Das rote Buch

Like articles, adjectives use the same plural endings for all three genders, though this does vary with the article or determiner as described above.

  • Eine lustige Frau (a funny woman, feminine gender)
  • Ein lustiger Mann (a funny man, masculine gender)
  • Die lustigen Frauen (the funny women, plural)
  • Die lustigen Männer (the funny men, plural)

Participles may be used as adjectives and are treated in the same way.

  • Ein wieder geöffneter Bahnhof (a re-opened railway station; masculine)
  • Eine wieder geöffnete Bibliothek (a re-opened library; feminine)

German adjectives are declined only when they come before the noun in which they describe. This is called the attributive position of a nominal phrase. Predicative adjectives, those in English separated from the noun by is or are, are not declined and are indistinguishable from adverbs, unlike in Romance and North Germanic languages.

  • Die laute Musik. ("The loud music.")
  • Die Musik ist laut. ("The music is loud.") Not Die Musik ist laute.

There are some words that can be used as adjectives but are not inflected, such as Schweizer ("Swiss") and Jerusalemer ("pertaining to Jerusalem", for example Jerusalemer Kreuz).

There are three degrees of comparison: positive form, comparative form, and superlative form: these correspond to (and have the same endings as) English equivalents such as 'large', 'larger' and 'largest'. 'Very loud' is said as sehr laut; as in English but unlike Italian and Latin, no ending exists to express this absolute superlative form as a single word.

Weak and strong inflection[edit]

Strong inflection[edit]

Strong inflection is used:

  • When no article is used
  • When a quantity is indicated by
    • etwas (some; somewhat), mehr (more)
    • wenig- (few), viel- (much; many), mehrer- (several; many), einig- (some)
    • a number (greater than one, i.e. with no endings)
    • non-inflectable phrases: ein paar (a couple; a few), ein bisschen (a bit; a little bit)

The adjective endings are the same as the definite article endings, apart from the adjectival ending "-en" in the masculine and neuter genitive singular.

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative neuer neues neue neue
Accusative neuen neues neue neue
Dative neuem neuem neuer neuen
Genitive neuen neuen neuer neuer

Mixed inflection[edit]

Mixed inflection is used after:

Nominative and accusative singular endings follow the definite article; all other forms end with "-en".

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative neuer neues neue neuen
Accusative neuen neues neue neuen
Dative neuen neuen neuen neuen
Genitive neuen neuen neuen neuen

Weak inflection[edit]

Weak inflection is used after:

  • definite articles (der, die, das, etc.)
  • derselb- (the same), derjenig- (the one)
  • dies- (this), jen- (that), jeglich- (any), jed- (every), which decline like the definite article.
  • manch- (some), solch- (such), welch- (which), which decline like the definite article.
  • alle (all)

Five endings in the nominative and accusative cases end with -e, all others with -en.

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative neue neue neue neuen
Accusative neuen neue neue neuen
Dative neuen neuen neuen neuen
Genitive neuen neuen neuen neuen

Plural nouns that do not already end with -(e)n or -s always have an -n added to the plural form in the dative case, no matter what inflection is being used. This process then yields the following: den armen Leuten, ihren armen Kindern, or kalten Getränken, but also den Autos or den Radios which do not gain the ending.

No inflection[edit]

Several quantifying words are not inflected:

  • nichts, wenig, etwas, viel, and genug
  • numbers greater than one

"wenig" and "viel" can be put in the plural, where they take endings as normal: viele/wenige Kinder

Criteria for Inflection[edit]

German adjectives take different sets of endings in different circumstances. Essentially, the adjectives must provide case, gender and number information only if the articles do not. This is among the more confusing aspects of German grammar for those learning the language. However, the adjective endings nearly always adhere to the following rules:

Strong Inflection[edit]

The strong inflection is used when there is no article at all, or if the noun is preceded by a non-inflectable word or phrase such as ein bisschen, etwas or viel ("a little, some, a lot of/much"). It is also used when the adjective is preceded merely by another regular (i.e non-article) adjective.

Mixed Inflection[edit]

The mixed inflection is used when the adjective is preceded by an indefinite article (ein-, kein-) or a possessive determiner.

Note: The prevailing view is that the mixed inflection is not a true inflection in its own right, but merely the weak inflection with a few additions to compensate for the lack of the masculine nominative and neuter nominative and accusative endings.

Weak inflection[edit]

The weak inflection is used when there is a definite word in place (der, die, das, den, dem, des, jed-, jen-, manch-, dies-, solch- and welch-). The definite word has provided most of the necessary information, so the adjective endings are simpler.

The endings are applicable to every degree of comparison (positive, comparative, and superlative).

Adjective comparison[edit]

Positive form[edit]

The basic form of the adjective is the positive form: the adjective stem with the appropriate ending.

schön (basic positive form)
das schöne Lied ("the beautiful song")

Comparative form[edit]

The basic comparative form consists of the stem and the suffix -er. Inflected, the corresponding adjective ending is attached.

schöner (basic comparative form)
das schönere Lied ("the more beautiful song")

Superlative form[edit]

A predicate form of the superlative is actually a prepositional phrase. You attach the suffixes -st and the adjective ending -en to the root, and the word am is put before it.

am schönsten ("the most beautiful")
Ich finde dieses Haus am schönsten. ("I find this house (to be) the most beautiful.")

The attributive superlative form adds the "st" to the comparative root and then the conventional adjective ending.

das schönste Lied

This form can also be placed in a predicate position with the appropriate adjective ending:

Dieses Haus ist das schönste. ("This house is the most beautiful.")

External links[edit]