German Adjective Endings 1

Hello everyone,

and welcome to another rendition of our German is Easy Learn German Online course.
Our topic this time:

German Adjective Endings 1 (part 2 is here)

Or in jargon: declension of adjectives.
Now, if a friend asked you what you did in German class and you said: “Oh nothing special… we just learned the declension of adjectives.”, that friend will surely tell others about the incredibly difficult things you have to deal with while learning German. Saying: “Oh nothing special… we just learned which endings to put to adjectives.” sounds by far less impressive. But technically it means the same and this is what we’ll learn in this miniseries.
Now you might ask: “Why should I learn it here? I can learn it somewhere else online for even free-erer than here?” To those I say, maybe that is true… you can find other offers out there, but oh… they might use lists and tables though.
Taaaaaaaaybullllls.
They are bad for the environment, increases global warming substantially and many a fish has died, trapped inside a table that was heedlessly thrown away.
That’s why we at German-Is-Easy don’t believe in tables so we have come up with a system to explain the declension of adjectives that is 100 % table free.

German is Easy – sustainable, organic Grammar  - ’cause Earth is worth it.

Oh my… so today we’ll first talk a bit about adjective endings and then I will give you the first of 3 steps to mastery of those things.

German has cases.
If you didn’t know that yet… we’ll you’re in for a surprise. If you don’t know yet what cases as a concept are, I highly recommend to read the article about that but it’s also fine if you don’t because you won’t need any knowledge on cases here… as crazy as it sounds.
Anyways… cases in German affect mostly the article and the adjectives and not so much the noun itself and the effect is mostly (not exclusively) a change of the ending. That’s why it is NOT frischlecker and rot here although those are the forms the dictionary will give you.

  • Ich esse den frischen, leckeren, roten Apfel.
  • I am eating the fresh, tasty, red apple.

The -en ending is extra and it is there because the whole object, the tasty, red apple, is in a case…. thank you case, by the way! I wouldn’t know what else to do with all my spare -ens.
Now, we are learning German here so of course -en is not always the correct ending. The ending you have to put to an adjective depends on 3 things… first the gender of a noun, the type of preceding article and the case.
Now let’s do a little math, shall we. We have 4 cases, 3 versions of articles… yeah 3 3… definite (the), indefinite (a) and none at all ( )…. and we have 3 genders plus the plural so it is actually kind of 4 “genders”. This equals a total of 4*4*3 = 48 possible combinations. Now German is not crazy enough to have a distinct ending for each combination… there are only 5 or so… let me list them real quick… e, en, er, es, em… yep, only 5.
But still… learning the correct choice for 48 options doesn’t sound like too much fun So how can we go about this? The first way is study it using tables like these ones and concepts like weak declension and strong declension…. which by the way is something virtually no German has ever heard of. This method works I guess but people will just doze off while you determine gender and case and then pick the correct one of 3 tables to choose the actual ending from. Remember … you need to know gender AND case… if you don’t know one, all the tables you have studied will not help you at all.
So… learning the declension of adjectives the “old school” way is hard work. But is it worth it?… well not really because

Adjective endings are NOT crucial for understanding.

A wrong adjective ending is a little bump at most. By no means can it ever alter meaning or hinder understanding. Sure, a German native will hear the mistake but no one would ever blame you for it.
So.. another way to approach the whole adjective ending thing is to just ignore it altogether and wait for it to come over time. This is really not a bad idea. Adjective endings is something you need to feel… but maybe you need them for a test or ou are not in a German speaking environment or you are too impatient to wait till it sinks in and you want to be proactive.

Well, I think there is a third way to learn it… a sort of compromise between practice and theory and this is what you will learn here.  Today we’ll look at the first of 3 steps. It is the easiest and yet the most crucialestest. Yes you read that right. The thing I am going to tell you gets you about 50% of the way there. The second steps adds another 30 and the final most difficult step makes up the last 20%.
So here it is:

Add an e !!!!!!!!!!!

Like always… like… all the time… like with no… very few exceptions. Whenever you put a descriptive word between an article and a noun you must add an e to it no matter what gender, case or article type… just do it. Add an e. No thought on gender or any of that crap… just add an e and move on.

  • Der Kaffee ist heiß – der heiße Kaffee.
  • The coffee is hot – the hot coffee.

This is not restricted to like real adjectives like big, small, fast, nice etc but also to verbs that are used as descriptive words.

  • Das Bild ist verkauft – das verkaufte Bild.
  • The picture is sold – the sold picture.

And if you have more than one descriptive word, e ‘em all.

  • Das Bier ist lecker, schwarze, groß und kalt – das leckere, schwarze, große und kalte Bier…
  • The beer is tasty, dark, large and cold – the tasty, dark, large and cold beer…

And what if that would sound really stupid? Add e regardless. German has no shame there.

  • Das Bier ist leckerer – das leckerere Bier…
  • The beer is tastier – the tastier beer…

There are 2 reasons why adding an e is so crucial.
See… there are the following possible endings -e, -er, -es, -en, -em. One of these five will be correct, no matter what combination of case-gender-acrticle we have. And all these endings do have at least an e. So we got already half the ending correct… but that is not what matters in fact… what matters is rhythm. By adding an e you in fact add an extra syllable. That is a huge change… like HUUUUUGE. A German native is so used to this extra syllable. He yearns for it.

  • Ich trinke ein klein Bier.

This sounds real incredib wrong. Yeah… this is how it feels like.
Not the fact that it i e is important… you could add o and it would still sound better than without.

  • Ich – trin – nke – ein – klei – no – Bier.

The extra syllable just gives it a completely different flow and it sounds and feels sooo much more German. It is not totally correct but the flow is and that is really a big deal. With no extra e there you will have 2 emphasized syllables right after one another. Klein is emphasized because it is a description. If it didn’t matter we wouldn’t say it at all. Bier is also emphasized because this is the thing we are talking about after all. An extra syllable in between would be not emphasized and would allow for a nice musical stres-no-stress-pattern.
So while maybe not the correct ending an extra e certainly sets your flow straight so add it. I really can’t stress that enough. You don’t need to think about cases, gender or anything… just get used to this extra syllable there and the rest will sink in much more easily.

But this is not the only reason, why adding an e is so important. The second reason is that it is more often correct than a mere guess would be. Check this out

gute, guter, guten, gutem, gutes at Goggle ngram

… I compared gute, guter, gutem, guten and gutes using Google ngram… It  counts how often which form is used in books independent of the context … the result is clear… the simple e-ending is the most frequent with the -en in a close second, while the other endings occur way less often. Try other adjectives if you like… the results will be similar… maybe -en is more often at times, but -e and -en are by far the most frequent ones. So if we were to give guess we should certainly take one of those 2… and I find a simple -e the better choice because it is kind of the default….

  • der große Mann (nom.)
  • die große Frau  (nom. + acc.)
  • das große Kind (nom. + acc.)
  • eine große Frau (nom. + acc.)

These are all in first case and the e-ending is correct. Although it is the correct ending for all the plural forms, the en-ending is associated with case I would say… like if you just said schönen, people would probably think case rather than plural and also, I think people talk in singular more often…  so bottom line: the  -e-ending is the superior choice.
Now, given that you need NO thought at all to add an e, it is a pretty good pick I would say. But wait, there is more… how different can e and er or e and en sound? If you manage to mumble a bit when it comes to the ending then people will just understand whatever is correct… this is not possible without e. You can mumble all you want, if the rhythm isn’t correct no one would ever hear it correctly.
Now before we wrap I want to tell you something that impressively shows the importance of that extra syllable. There are some descriptions, that are not an adjective per say. For example the phrase gut genug.

  • Der Wein ist gut genug.
  • The wine is good enough.

In English I can just take good enough and put it in front of the wine.

  • The old enough wine….

I am not so sure as to how right or wrong this is but I think it is passable at least. In official German this wouldn’t work because  genug cannot get endings, which it would need to do if it were to be in front of a noun.
However, every now and then in spoken German someone wants to do what I did in the English example… because expressing the same thing in correct German would call for a new side sentence and a lot of rearranging. To avoid this people sometimes simply take the whole description (gut genug) and put it in front of the noun. And now the question… what would a German say then:

  • Der gut genuge Wein…
  • Der gut genug Wein…

Either one is grammatically wrong and yet one is  wrong the right way and one is not and every German would agree with me.  So…. the first version is what a German would say. Although genug is officially not changeable, Germans rather break that rule to make it fit with another rule: the adjective ending pattern… and I think at least partially it is because of the rhythm. I mean, it is wrong after all… it should make the synapses in which the grammar is stored fire cringe orders to all muscles… and yet because the rhythm is correct (and the declension) it is way better than just gut genug.

So… this was the first of 3 steps to the correct decl… to putting the correct endings to adjectives. Don’t think! Just add an e all the time. Do it until you doit automatically…
If you have questions or suggestions, leave me a comment. I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Check out part 2 here…

23 responses to “German Adjective Endings 1

  1. Excellent post! I always struggle with adjective endings (and I sit there trying to get my endings right in the middle of a conversation)… Exactly what I needed!

    One question: would you say that it’s also somewhat ok to use the ‘e’ ending for article endings? Or would the ‘e’ ending not be the most common in article endings? I struggle with noun genders and article endings…

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  2. Hey, dude, how are you?

    Another good post. I must tell you that a doubt surged from your post: when you commented about genug not be flexionable, I realized that I always took for granted the “flexionability” of the german adjectives. Is there any rule or special class of adjectives that behaves that way or inflexionable adjectives are random?

    Thank you!

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  3. I’m really enjoying this blog! I started learning German in University, and while memorizing tables would work for a test because we only had a set number of words or declensions we were responsible for, it really doesn’t do well as a long-term strategy. Having sort of ‘cheater’ tips like this is extremely helpful in getting a quicker overall grasp of the language. I really love the insight you give into a native speaker’s way of thinking about and using German, too (i.e. that having the extra syllable is more important to the flow of the sentence than necessarily getting the exact declension right at first). I find it really helpful how many examples you give, and having that window into the German-speaking mind – you guys structure things very differently than we do in English, so that insight really clarifies how I should try to be thinking when learning.

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    • Yeah, I think that rhythm and inflections are given by far not enough attention. Humans are musical being and our hearing is incredibly rhythm-sensitive. So I think that can help a lot in learning if you learn to really listen to the language in terms of flow and stress.
      As for the structure, this is the thing I like best about German. And I will talk more about sentence structure at some point, I did start a post on word order but it turned into a rant so I have to let it sit and ripen as we say :)

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  4. Good post! I sort of teach my students this way too. I present the tables per our text but by the time my poor German 2 students get to the second table I start simplifying it. And I always say for this concept that I’m only aiming for an 80%. So I start with if it’s plural, dative, or genitive it’s an ‘en’, and singular it’s an ‘e’. Then I teach them the idea that German shows gender with adjectives when it’s not clear from the article ie. ‘ein’, so the adjective shows if it’s der or das with the er or es. That seems to be pretty clear to them. And then when we get to unpreceded adjective endings they have the idea that the adjective ending does what the article would have (I know en not es in genitive). It’s rare to have students not get the 80 I aim for. I think I’ll be sure to start with the ‘e’ always. I like the way you talk about the rhythm it makes to you. Makes sense to me!!

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    • Well, you just summarized one of the parts to follow in a nutshell (adjectives carrying gender marker) and the other part, too… kind of :). I know textbooks and curriculums ask for these endings to be learned but they are just soooooo confusing when you can’t even get the article right… so simplification is definitely the way to go… I think what really helps a great deal is to make the students understand to listen attentively so they recognize which ending someone uses…. And then there is reading… my god the reading. It is incredible to see how much people invent when they have to read a simple sentence out loud. The correct article, case ending and adjective ending is RIGHT THERE and yet “den schönen Mann” magically becomes “die schön Mann”… and mind you, I am not talking about kids here but people holding a masters degree. I really try to make my students understand that they have to pay attention when reading out loud (which they should do a lot). They don’t have to apply rules and yet they have the chance to utter correct sounding language thereby programming their muscles thus increasing the chance to “accidentally” say it correctly in conversation just because it was a wee bit more natural… anyways… 80 % is definitely fine… and as a matter of fact in order to reach 80 % correct usage you only need to use like 60 percent of the tables correctly… Genitive… well, not so much, let alone for the dative and accusative version for unprecedented adjectives… you can challenge any German to whip up examples for all of those… you will be in for a wait there :)… maybe I’ll do it as a gimmick just to show how contrived those are

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  5. Hello. Congratulations for the blog. It is is by far the most inspiring among all the on-line courses of German I´ve learnt from.
    Now, in general one understands the rules for adjective declension, with or without article, but I´m always curious about a particular adjective ending, which you used in a couple of sentences actually, in other lessons:
    Ich verspreche mir viel von der “neuen” Sekretärin.
    Ich habe erst vor einer “halben” Stunde gegessen.
    Obviously, “vor” and “von” go with the Datives “der” and “einer”, since Sekretärin and Stunde are femenine. But the adjective ending -en seems confusing, because the nouns are not in plural. Then, is -en used not to apply other ambiguous endings? Would it make sense if one says “von der neuer Sekretärin” or even “von der neue Sekretärin, as in phrases like “Sie ist seine neue Sekretärin?
    Thank you.

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    • Hi Fernando, thanks for you rnice feedback :)
      the reason for the -en is the dative… no matter what the gender is or what the number… dative always gets an -en unless there is NO article in front… but those cases are extremely rare… I’ll discuss this in more detail soon :)

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  6. Superb. waiting for the next part.

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  7. As a native, I can confirm that the extra syllable is where the money is at. Not having the extra syllable is like a slap in the face. The natives will get confused and has to think a lot more about what you say. That will distract them from what you’re going to tell them after that and they might not understand you. That extra syllable sounds still wrong but it doesn’t disturb the flow of the sentence we’re expecting and therefore it doesn’t distract natives to a extend that they’ve got to think about what you said.

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  8. Sorry but that course is too bad, and tables are so important

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  9. Grateful Reader

    Die 3 normalerweise in Grammatikbüchern dargestellen Tabellen mit den deutschen Artikeln sind tatsächlich nicht hilfreich, sogar kontraproduktiv (könnte man sagen), es sei denn, dass man ein photographisches Gedächtnis hat. Was wirklich wirksam sein kann (freilich je nach Person) ist eine eigene, einzige (das ist wichtig!) Tabelle zu erstellen, wodurch man das ganze System wahrnimmt. Jede Zelle soll die Endungen enthalten, die sowohl von bestimmten, unbestimmten und Null- Artikeln, als auch von Pronomina abhängig sind. Ich habe die Artikel *und* die Endungen gelernt, indem ich so eine Tabelle geschaffen habe.

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  10. I started learning the adjective endings in the university. I found the table extremely hard. English has almost no endings at all, other than the -s or -es after the verb. In Chinese there is absolutely no ending. My mind couldn’t process the concept of having adjective endings. I understand the table is important and so on. However I don’t believe native German speakers learn in that way. What is the meaning of that pausing and looking for the right adjective endings in the middle of a conversation? Mastery of a language means that one can express his/her ideas freely and naturally with much depth, clarity and preciseness. I feel like the table does more to scare people away from learning German than to help students to express themselves. Of course it is still very crucial to learn the endings because writing requires accuracy. I have hope that there is an easier way to learn the adjective endings. Recently I read one simple flow chart online drawn by a teacher, who claimed that it helped the students to reach an accuracy of at least 80% of the time :
    Is there a clear article ending?
    Yes–>
    original–> adj. -e
    changed –> adj. -en
    No–> Think! The adjective takes ending that ‘der, die, das’ would have in the proper case.
    This method does have some limits, but I am okay with it. So far it makes my life easier. I pause less and write with more confidence.

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    • I totally agree. Tables can be scary and they are boring and theoretical. I hate them. When I see them in a text book I get tired immediately and I think … meh… mehhhhhhhh…. MEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH.
      And of course children here in Germany do not learn it using a table. They already know it when they get to school and they learn it mostly through rhythm and copying. Tables are good to look something up but while speaking they are just a hindrance. It is always better to use a wrong ending rather than pausing for seconds to parse a mental table :). And especially adjective endings… my god… 3 different tables and so little over all gain.
      I think I have seen a similar flow chart like the one you suggested, maybe the same but anyway. It is really so much easier than a table with endings. And man… I can not imagine how it must be for a native speaker of Mandarin or some other Chinese language to deal with inflections. No endings… and then in English or Spanish or German or Russian we express almost EVERYTHING with endings :D… like… time, case, gender … it must be like sitting in the middle of a swarm of bees trying to count them. I wonder how this ending thing is introduced to children in school when they start learning English. They must think we’re crazy :)

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  11. Hi, thanks for the great post.
    I am new to German. I have two question for your example.
    1. For good enough, why only seconds adjective need to change? Good is also an adjective.
    2. When saying gute nacht, Guten abend. It seems not comply with the rule here. Is it the exception?
    Thanks for explain.

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    • Good questions … so

      1) The “enough” in “good enough” is actually an adverb modifying “good”. It answers to “how good” so it has the same function as “very”… just that “enough” comes after.

      2) It does comply… both those forms can be thought of as short versions of

      Ich wünsche dir ….

      So we’re dealing with accusative.

      die Nacht – die Nacht
      der Abend – den Abend

      And now when you take away the article, the adjective should take on the endings… and it does… “gute Nacht” “schönen” Abend”

      Hope that helps :)

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      • Hi, thanks for your prompt reply. It’s very clear now. For question 1, so it means that “good enough” similar to “very good” so “good” acts as a noun ? so no need to change ? Thanks for your explanation.

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        • Well… it is similar to “very good” but “good” is an adjective, not a noun. It answers to “how is something?”

          “How is that thing?”
          “Good.”
          “And how good is it?”
          “Very good/good enough.”

          Does that make sense?

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