Adjectives are words that modify nouns. They answer the question
what kind? For example, if you have a house (noun), what kind of house is it? Is it red, big, old?
Adjectives can be either attributive or predicative.
You use predicative adjectives when you say the house is red (das Haus ist rot) - it equates one thing (a noun) with another (a quality, an adjective).
If you say the red house (das rote Haus) you are attributing the quality
red to the house - that is, attributing a quality to a thing. Attributive adjectives take endings in German, and these are determined by the gender, number, and case of the noun being modified.
The following lists show the adjective endings for the nominative case with the definite articles (der, die, das) and the indefinite articles (ein, eine, ein).
To further clarify what is happening here, take a look at the two German sentences below. What do you notice about the word
If you answered that
grau in the first sentence has no ending and
grau in the second sentence does have an ending, you're right! In grammatical terms, adding endings to words is called inflection or declination. When we put endings on words, we are inflecting or declining them. This used to happen in Old English, too. The grammar of modern German is similar to Old English (including gender for nouns!). But in modern English there is no inflection of adjectives.
grau have an ending in one sentence but not the other? Look at the two sentences again, and you can probably see the significant difference. If the adjective (grau) comes before the noun (Haus), it needs an ending. If it comes after the noun and verb (ist), it should have no ending. The minimum ending for an adjective before a noun is an
e - but there are some other possibilities.
But first we need to talk about another grammar term: the case. Remember when your English teacher tried to explain the difference between the nominative and objective cases? Well, if you understand the concept in English, it will help you with German. It's basically pretty simple: nominative = subject, and objective = direct or indirect object. For now, we're going to stick to the simple one, the nominative case.
In the sentence Das Haus ist grau. the subject is das Haus and das Haus is nominative. It's the same for Das graue Haus ist rechts. In both sentences, das Haus is the nominative subject. The rule for this is simple: in the nominative case with the definite article (the/der, die, das) the adjective ending is
-e when the adjective comes before the noun. So we would get
But if we say
there is no ending at all on the adjective (
blau) because the adjective is located after the noun (predicate adjective). The rule for adjectives with the definite article (der, die, das) or the so-called der-words (dieser, jeder, etc.) is simple, because the ending is always -e in the nominative case (except for the plural which is always -en in all situations!).
However, when the adjective is used with an ein-word (ein, dein, keine, etc.), the adjective must reflect the gender of the noun that follows. The adjective endings -er, -e, and -es correspond to the articles der, die, das respectively (masculine, feminine, and neuter).
Once you notice the parallel and the agreement of the letters r, e, s with der, die, das, it becomes less complicated than it may seem at first.
This is also a good example for impressing upon English speakers the importance of learning the gender of nouns in German. If you don't know that Haus is neuter (das), then you won't be able to say (or write) Er hat ein neues Haus. (He has a new house.).
The following lists show the adjective endings for the accusative case with the definite articles (den, die, das) and the indefinite articles (einen, eine, ein).
In the sentence Der blaue Wagen ist neu, the subject is der Wagen and der Wagen is nominative. But if we say Ich kaufe den blauen Wagen. (I'm buying the blue car.), then der Wagen changes to den Wagen as the accusative object. The adjective ending rule here is: in the accusative case with the definite article (the/den, die, das) the adjective ending is always -en for the masculine (den) form. But it remains -e for die or das. So we would get
When the adjective is used with an ein-word (einen, dein, kein, etc.), the accusative adjective ending must reflect the gender and case of the noun that follows. The adjective endings -en, -e, and -es correspond to the articles den, die, and das respectively (masculine, feminine, and neuter). Once you notice the parallel and the agreement of the letters n, e, s with den, die, das, it makes the process a little clearer.
The following chart shows the adjective endings for the dative case with the definite articles (dem, der, dem) and the indefinite articles (einem, einer, einem).
Many German learners find the dative (indirect object) case to be intimidating, but when it comes to adjective endings in the dative, it couldn't be simpler. The ending is always –en. This simple rule applies to adjectives used with either the definite or indefinite articles (and ein-words).
The German words for colors usually function as adjectives and take the normal adjective endings (but see exceptions below). In certain situations, colours can also be nouns and are thus capitalized:
The list below shows some of the most common colours with sample phrases.
As in English, the past participle of a German verb may be used as an adjective or adverb. In English, stolen is the past participle of the verb to steal. The word stolen can be used as an adjective, as in: That's a stolen car.
Similarly, in German the past participle gestohlen (from stehlen, to steal) can also be used as an adjective: Das ist ein gestohlenes Auto.
The only significant difference between the ways that English and German use the past participle as an adjective is the fact that, unlike English adjectives, German adjectives must have an appropriate ending if they precede a noun. (Notice the -es ending in the example above.
A past participle such as interessiert (interested) can also be used as an adverb:
Wir sahen interessiert zu.
(We watched interestedly/with interest.)
Some German sentences with past participle adjective phrases require a relative clause or an appositive phrase in English:
Past participle adverbs and adjectives are treated just as any other adjective or adverb in German.
Unlike its English equivalent, the present participle in German is used almost exclusively as an adjective or adverb. For other uses, German present participles are usually replaced by nominalized verbs (verbs used as nouns) — das Lesen (reading), das Schwimmen (swimming) — to function like English gerunds, for instance. In English, the present participle has an -ing ending. In German the present participle ends in -end: weinend (crying), pfeifend (whistling), schlafend (sleeping).
In German, a sleeping child is ein schlafendes Kind. As with any adjective in German, the ending must fit the grammatical context, in this case an -es ending (neuter/das).
Many present participle adjective phrases in German are translated with a relative clause or an appositive phrase in English. For example, Der schnell vorbeifahrende Zug machte großen Lärm, would be: The train, which was quickly passing by, made a tremendous noise, rather than the literal: The quickly passing by train...
When used as adverbs, German present participles are treated like any other adverb, and the English translation usually places the adverb or adverbial phrase at the end:
Present participles are used more often in writing than in spoken German. You'll run across them a lot when reading books, magazines, or newspapers.
Notice that a good English translation may often vary from the original literal German in these cases.
Some German present participles have become standard adjectives with a meaning that may vary from the original verb's meaning. They should be learned as vocabulary. Such special present participle adjectives may be used after sein and include:
German present participles are almost never used like the common -ing verb forms in English. For instance, German has no present progressive tense, so avoid misguided attempts to use present participles in such horrible phrases as,
To form the comparative for most adjectives or adverbs in German you simply add
-er, as in neu/neuer (new/newer) or klein/kleiner (small/smaller).
For the superlative, English uses the -est ending, the same as in German except that German often drops the e and usually adds an adjective ending:
Unlike English, however, German never uses more (mehr) with another modifier to form the comparative.
In English something may be more beautiful or someone could be more intelligent. But in German these are both expressed with the
-er ending: schöner and intelligenter.
Unfortunately, German also has some irregular comparisons, just as English does. Sometimes these irregular forms are quite similar to those in English. Compare, for instance, the English good/better/best with the German gut/besser/am besten. On the other hand, high/higher/highest is hoch/höher/am höchsten in German. But there are only a few of these irregular forms, and they are easy to learn, as you can see below.
There is one more irregularity that affects both the comparative and superlative of many German adjectives and adverbs: the added umlaut ( ¨ ) over a, o, or u in most one-syllable adjectives/adverbs.
Below are some examples of this kind of comparison.
Exceptions (do not add an umlaut) include:
In order to use the comparative forms above and to express relative comparisons or equality/inequality (as good as or not as tall as) in German, you also need to know the following phrases and formulations using als, so - wie, or je - desto:
Below are a few sample sentences to show how the positive, comparative, and superlative forms are used in German.
If you make the frequent comparison mistake made by many English speakers (older than me rather than older than I), it can lead to mistakes in German!
Learning German helps your English grammar!