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Adjective Declensions in German: A Guide to Mastering Adjective Endings

Updated: Feb 3

The intricacies of adjective declensions might seem daunting, but with the right approach, you'll discover that they follow a logical pattern. In this guide, we'll unravel the secrets behind German adjective endings, making this seemingly complex aspect of grammar more accessible.



If you're at the early stages of learning German, so at A1 level, you might find my explanation a bit too technical. You might want to consult my beginner's guide on adjective declensions instead. If you're at elementary level (A2) or beyond, keep on reading.


Adjective Endings in German and the Four Cases


Before delving into the rules of adjective declensions, ensure you have a solid grasp of the four German cases. Since adjectives can be declined in German, you need to have a good understanding of how to use the nominative, accusative, dative and genitive case in German. If the cases remain a puzzle to you, conquering adjective endings might feel like an uphill battle. However, once the foundation is secure, the journey becomes much smoother.


Understanding Adjective Placement


If adjectives are placed after a noun, they are easy to use as they do not have any endings.


Das Geschäft ist geschlossen.

(The shop is closed)


However, if adjectives are placed before a noun, then adjectives require particular endings, which express the connection between the adjective and the noun. Here, we need to distinguish between three different scenarios:


1) definitive article+ adjective+ noun

2) indefinite article+ adjective+ noun

3) no article+ adjective+ noun.


In short: definite, indefinite and no articles.


Definite and Indefinite Articles and Adjectives in German


For definite and indefinite articles, the same pattern applies. The default adjective ending is –en. It can be found in masculine accusative, all datives, genitives, and all cases in the plural.


The exceptions can be found in all nominatives in the singular, as well as feminine and neuter accusatives as they always repeat the articles in their respective genders. However, the adjective endings for these exceptions differ depending on whether there is a definite or indefinite article placed before the adjective.


For definite articles, all exception endings are –e because the articles "der", "die" and "das" are gender specific. By contrast, the indefinite article "ein" is used for both masculine and neuter, which poses the risk of confusion. Hence the adjective endings need to do the job of clarifying the genders, and they do so by adding an -er for masculine (originating from the definite article "der"), -e (from die), and –es (from das).


So, when the articles perform the task of clarifying the gender of the noun, as in the case of definite articles, the adjective ending can be the same. However, when there is a confusion regarding the gender of the noun, the adjective ending needs to clarify.


Whereas indefinite articles do not exist in the plural, their negation does, e.g. keine großen Männer.

NOMINATIV

der große Mann​ ein großer Mann

​die große Frau eine große Frau

​das große Auto ein großes Auto

die großen Männer keine großen Männer

AKKUSATIV

den großen Mann einen großen Mann

die große Frau eine große Frau

das große Auto ein großes Auto

die großen Männer keine großen Männer

DATIV

dem großen Mann einem großen Mann

der großen Frau einer großen Frau

dem großen Auto einem großen Auto

den großen Männern keinen großen Männern

GENITIV

des großen Mannes eines großen Mannes

der großen Frau einer großen Frau

des großen Autos eines großen Autos

der großen Männer keiner großen Männer


Zero Article Adjective Declensions in German


There are two situations when articles get dropped in German- with proper nouns and when general statements are made. For nouns without articles, endings emulate definite articles. Exceptions arise in masculine and neuter singular genitives, where the noun ending (s or es) signifies the case.


NOMINATIV

großer Mann

große Frau

großes Auto

große Männer

AKKUSATIV

großen Mann

große Frau

großes Auto

große Männer

DATIV

großem Mann

großer Frau

großem Auto

großen Männern

GENITIV

großen Mannes

großer Frau

großen Autos

großer Männer

Indefinite collective nouns are often used without article. They are uncountable and have therefore no plural form.


  • Uncountable concrete nouns and liquids, such as Holz (wood), Eisen (iron), Beton (concrete), Wasser (water), Öl (oil)

  • abstract uncountable nouns, such as Angst, Ehrgeiz, Liebe, Mut.

  • quantifiers, such as etwas (something),genug (enough), mehr (more), wenig (little), viel (a lot)l are often followed by expressions of indefinite amount

Spelling Changes and Exceptions


To simplify pronunciation, the following spelling changes are made when adjectives are declined:


  • When the adjective hoch (high) is declined, we drop the "c" and use "hoh" as its stem

  • Adjectives ending in -el and -er, lose the -e in their stem


Adjectives ending in -a and town names ending in -er cannot be declined:


  • eine prima Idee (a great idea), eine rosa Blume (a pink flower)

  • der Hamburger Hafen (the port of Hamburg), die Berliner U-Bahn (Berlin's underground)



Practice Makes Perfect


Do some exercises on the three scenarios-definite, indefinite, no article- first. Once you are confident that you have understood the rules, practice the following words.


Definite articles: dieser/diese/dieses (this), jener/e/es (that, those, yonder), mancher/e/es (some), welcher/e/es, derjenige/diejenige/dasjenige (those who), solcher/e/es (such), beide (both), sämtliche (all), alle, solche


  • Dieses schönes Haus ist schon sehr alt (This beautiful house is very old)

  • Jene sozialen Probleme sind noch ungelöst (Those social problems are yet unresolved)

  • Jeder dritte Konferenzteilnehmer musste absagen (Every third conference participant had to cancel)

  • Mancher Rentner bekommt zu wenig Geld (Some pensioners receive too little money)

  • Welches Wörterbuch sollte ich benutzen? (Which dictionary should I use?)

  • Diejenigen, die dieses Problem nicht verstehen, sollten sich dazu nicht äußern (Those who don't understand the problem, shouldn't comment)

  • Solche Skandale gibt es in dieser Stadt nicht (Such scandals don't occur in this town)

  • Beide Seiten sollten einander zuhören (Both parties should listen to each other)

  • Wir haben sämtliche (alle) Probleme gelöst (We solved all problems)


Indefinite articles: kein, possessive pronouns (mein, dein, sein etc.), irgendein


  • Sie haben keine großen Problem(They don't have any big problems)

  • Mein alter Laptop ist sehr langsam (My old laptop is very slow)

  • Habt ihr irgendeine Frage? (Do you have any question?)


No articles: andere (other), einige (some), etliche (a number of, quite a few), folgende (following), mehrere (several), verschiedene (different), viele (many), wenige (few), all numbers have the same endings as plural articles without the article.


  • Andere nette Leute (other nice people)

  • Einige unfreundliche Menschen (some unfriendly people)

  • Ich muss noch etliche Dinge erledigen (I still have to get a number of things done)

  • Folgende Punkte müssen wir diskutieren (We have to discuss the following points)

  • Mehrere Problem bleiben unausgesprochen (Many problems are left unspoken)

  • Verschiedene Kulturen (different cultures)

  • Viele alte Bäume (many old trees)

  • Zwei kleine Kinder spielen im Garten (Two small children play in the garden)


All-, sämtlich-, irgendwelch- precede a nominalised adjective in the singular or they precede a zero article noun in place of the definite article.


  • alles Gute (instead of das Gute)

  • mit sämtlichem schweren Gepäck (with all heavy luggage)

  • irgendwelches unbrauchbare Zeug (some useless stuff)


Adjectival Nouns


Derived from adjectives, adjectival nouns are used to express qualities, characteristics, or attributes in a more concise and specific way. They are used with the definite article and therefore follow the same pattern of declension.


  • der Arme (the poor guy)

  • die Kluge (the clever woman)


Comparatives and superlatives in German follow the above rules when they are placed before a noun.


I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please leave a like or comment. Thanks for reading!












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