German adjectives

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German adjectives come before the noun, as in English, and (usually) are not capitalized. 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. Note that when using the indefinite article, the adjective takes the ending letter of the definite article of the noun.

Examples:
Der Mann ist gut, das Kind ist gut, die Frau ist gut and die Menschen sind gut.
The man is good, the child is good, the woman is good and the people are good.
Er ist ein guter Mann, es ist ein gutes Kind, sie ist eine gute Frau und sie sind gute Menschen.
He is a good man, he/she is a good child, she is a good woman and they are good people.
Der gute Mann, das gute Kind, die gute Frau und gute Menschen.
The good man, the good child, the good woman and the good people.


Weak, mixed, 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), without a definite article before it[1]
    • non-inflectable phrases: ein paar (a couple of; a few), ein bisschen (a bit; a little bit)

The adjective endings are similar to the definite article endings, apart from the adjectival ending "-en" in the masculine and neuter genitive singular. (Note: the masculine and genitive singular was originally "-es", as might be expected, but the weak ending "-en" began to displace it by the seventeenth century, and became common by the mid-eighteenth.[2])

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 are the same as in the strong inflection; all other forms end with "-en". (An alternative way to think of this is: the mixed inflection is the same as the weak inflection except when the preceding article/determiner is ein (mein, kein, etc.), in which case the endings of the strong inflection are used.)

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative ein neuer ein neues eine neue meine neuen
Accusative einen neuen ein neues eine neue meine neuen
Dative einem neuen einem neuen einer neuen meinen neuen
Genitive eines neuen eines neuen einer neuen meiner neuen

Weak inflection[edit]

Weak inflection is used after:

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

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

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative der neue das neue die neue die neuen
Accusative den neuen das neue die neue die neuen
Dative dem neuen dem neuen der neuen den neuen
Genitive des neuen des neuen der neuen der neuen

No inflection[edit]

Several quantifying words are not (always) inflected:

  • nichts, wenig, etwas, viel, and genug

"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[citation needed] 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, des, den, dem], 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. One attaches 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.")

References[edit]

  1. ^ If there is a definite article, one uses the weak inflection, as in "der Lobgesang der drei jungen Männer".
  2. ^ Joseph Wright, Historical German Grammar. Vol. I: Phonology, Word-Formation and Accidence, Oxford Univ. Press, 1907; p.194.

External links[edit]

  • Helmut Richter. "German Declension". Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  • Dr. T's German Adjective Ending Tutorial