How to get German adjective endings right

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1. Determine the correct form of the article

The correct form of the article has two components:

  1. the noun’s gender
  2. the noun’s case

So, the magic formula’s two ingredients are both famous oh-my-god-I-can-never-learn-German aspects of the language – like German word order. The gender of the noun is something you’ll have to memorize or look up in the dictionary every time .

The case of the noun can be nominative, accusative, dative or genitive. Generally, nominative is the subject of the sentence, accusative the object, dative the indirect object and genitive just adds an “of.” There are some verbs or situations in which the apparent subject is actually in dative, like “Mir ist warm” (I am warm) or “Mir hat es gefallen” (It pleased me), and some verbs that have a dative object instead of an accusative object. Though this might seem daunting at first, it’s such an integral part of understanding the meaning of a sentence that you’ll get better at it very quickly.

  Masculine Feminine Neutral Plural
Nom Der Die Das Die
Acc Den Die Das Die
Dat Dem Der Dem Den
Gen Des Der Des Der

 

  Masculine Feminine Neutral
Nom Ein Eine Ein
Acc Einen Eine Ein
Dat Einem Einer Einem
Gen Eines Einer Eines

2. Find the correct adjective ending

There are two kinds of adjective endings, the strong ending and the weak ending, which roughly correspond to the two tables above. Whether you use a strong ending or a weak ending depends on which article (der, ein) is used.

After an indefinite article, use the strong ending.

After a definite article, use the weak ending.

Basically, the form of the direct article, which distinguishes between the sex of nouns, like der or das, needs to be used at least once when describing a noun, either in the article or in the adjective ending.

Strong Ending Rules

In any of the following four cases, the adjectives take what is called the strong ending:

  • Indefinite articles
  • Possessives
  • kein/keinen/keine
  Mas Fem Neu
Nom -er -e -es
Acc -en -e -es
Dat -en -en -en
Gen -en -en -en

 

Mein biologischer Vater war ein grosser Mann

.    (Nom., Possessive, der Vater)  (Nom., indefinite article, der Mann)

Meine neue Freundin trägt keine blaue Jeans, nur Kleider

.    (Nom., Possessive, die Freundin) (Acc., kein, die Jeans)

Höllandisches Bier hat einfach keinen guten Geschmack

.    (Nom., no article, das Bier) (Acc., kein, der Geschmack)

Sie traf einen netten Amerikaner an der Bushaltestelle

.    (Acc., indefinite article, der Amerikaner)

 

Er trank ein kleines Bier

.    (Acc., indefinite article, das Bier)

Weak Ending Table

  Mas Fem Neu
Nom -e -e -e
Acc -en -e -e
Dat -en -en -en
Gen -en -en -en

 

There are many more article-like words in the German language that take an ending similar to the definite article. Adjectives that come after this ending all take the weak ending.

One way of understanding the weak ending is thinking about it as the determiner of the noun. Instead of DER weiße Schnee, you have ein WEIßER Schnee, where the same information (-er) that was emphasized on der is now added to the adjective Weißer.

Ich habe noch nie einen Abend verbracht mit solchen witzigen Typen.

.    [dative plural] .    (I’ve never spent an evening with such funny guys.)

Ich brauche deine Hilfe mit diesem chinesischen Rezept.

.    [dative, das Rezept] .    (I need your help with this Chinese recipe.)

Welcher Mitarbeiter ist für dieses  Projekt zuständig?

.    [der Mitarbeiter, nominative; das Projekt, accusative] .    (Which employee is responsible for this project?)

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