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.
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 frisch, lecker 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
… 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…