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German Adjective Endings: The Ultimate Guide to German Adjective Declension

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Everybody knows that German adjective endings are incredibly confusing and difficult to learn. Or are they? In this post, we will go over the different types of adjective declension and try to make sense of it all. And while it may all seem a bit intimidating at first, it isn’t all that bad. You just need to take it step by step. Once you understand what’s going on, there’s only a little bit of memorization that you’ll have to do. After that, you’ll be set for good.

Trust me: there is no reason to fear German adjective endings. I promise you’ll be able to master them in no time.

What you need to know beforehand

Like I said, German adjective endings aren’t all that bad. Once you know what’s going on, it’s really all about remembering three simple tables. We’ll get to those in a minute.

But first, there are a couple of things you need to know. These are some of the basics that will make your life a lot easier.

What are adjectives?

Adjectives, or Adjektive, are words that we use when we want to describe a noun. A couple of examples are words such as black (schwarz), small (klein), or fast (schnell).

Adjectives can also be used to describe a pronoun. You can say either:

  1. The house is big. (Das Haus ist groß.)
  2. It is big. (Es ist groß.)

Big is the adjective here, and it describes both the noun in example 1 (the house) and the pronoun in example 2 (it).

What are adjective endings?

If you’ve ever tried reading any German text, you’ve probably come across different forms of adjectives. You know that cold is kalt in German, but you might’ve seen other forms of kalt floating around. Sometimes, it will say kalte instead of kalt. Sometimes it will even be something like kaltem.

These extra syllables at the end of words (-e, -en, -em, and more) are what we call adjective endings. You may now be wondering if they are always necessary and what they are for. Well, let me explain!

Not all adjectives need endings

Adjectives have the same function in English as they do in German. They describe things, places, or people. In both languages, there are two ways adjectives do this – and it all comes down to where they are placed in a sentence.

One option is predicative adjectives. These are adjectives that come after the noun (and even after the verb) in a sentence. For example:

  • The car is fast. (Das Auto ist schnell.)
  • The cat is black. (Die Katze ist schwarz.)

The other type of adjectives is attributive adjectives. They come before the noun. For example:

  • The fast car is in the garage. (Das schnelle Auto ist in der Garage.)
  • The black cat ran across the street. (Die schwarze Katze lief über die Straße.)

When learning German adjective endings, you need to remember that only attributive adjectives take endings. That’s because they are positioned in front of the noun – and what these adjective endings do is indicate the gender (der/die/das), number (plural/singular), and case (Nominative/Genitive/Dative/Accusative) of the noun they precede.

Remember: Predicative adjectives (adjectives that come after the verb) do not take endings. Only attributive adjectives that come before the noun do.

Three types of declension

I’ve mentioned already that to master German adjective endings, you will need to memorize three simple tables. That’s because there are three types of declension. Don’t worry; these types aren’t difficult to tell apart. It’s really all about the articles.

The three types are as follows:

  1. Weak declension is used if the adjective follows a definite article (der/die/das).
  2. Strong declension is used if the adjective does not follow an article.
  3. Mixed declension is used after the indefinite article (ein/eine/ein).

So, to sum up: to know which adjective endings to use, you need to look at the article that precedes it (if there is one). Let’s now talk in more detail about each type and see how they differ from each other.

Weak declension: German adjective endings after the definite article

This type of declension is typically used after the definite article. It’s also the simplest one – there are only two endings: -e and –en.

  • The German adjective ending -e is used in the nominative singular (all genders) and accusative singular (feminine and neuter).
  • The -en ending is used everywhere else. (Notice that all plural forms take -en.)

To see what I mean, take a look at this table:

Masculine

Feminine

Neuter

Plural

1. Nominative

der gute Hund

die gute Katze

das gute Kind

die guten Kinder

2. Genitive

des guten Hundes

der guten Katze

des guten Kindes

der guten Kinder

3. Dative

dem guten Hund

der guten Katze

dem guten Kind

den guten Kindern

4. Accusative

den guten Hund

die gute Katze

das gute Kind

die guten Kinder

The bad news is you’ll have to memorize all this. There is no way around that. If you want to be able to use the correct German adjective endings, you’ll need to be able to recall this table (and all the ones to follow).

The good news is that this one really isn’t all that difficult. Just remember which forms only take -e, and the rest is easy!

Example sentences:

  • Gestern habe ich den freundlichen Mann gesehen. (I saw the friendly man yesterday.)
  • Er wohnt in dem alten Haus. (He lives in the old house.)
  • Wir haben das schnelle Auto gekauft. (We bought the fast car.)

Strong declension: German adjective endings with no article

This is when it gets a bit more difficult – at least at first glance. While the weak declension table only features two types of German adjective endings (-e and -en), this one has plenty more. But don’t worry! All of these actually make a lot of sense.

In the case of weak declension, attributes such as gender, case, and number are mostly clear just from looking at the article. In strong declension, this is not the case. There are no articles here – but we still need to be able to tell what the gender, case, and number of the words are. And we can do this through the different adjective endings.

For example, take a look at der gute Hund. You can see that the article is der, and that the adjective ending is -e. This means that we’re looking at a singular masculine noun in the nominative. But what if you take away the der? How will you be able to tell what sort of a noun this is?

Well, it’s simple. Instead of gute, you will have to say guter. See how in this case, the adjective ending copies the article (der guter)? This is what most of the adjective endings do in the case of strong declension.

  • die gute Katze → gute Katze
  • dem guten Kind → gutem Kind
  • den guten Kindern → guten Kinder

There are, of course, a couple of exceptions to this rule – namely, in the singular genitive case (masculine and neuter). These are highlighted in green in the following table.

Masculine

Feminine

Neuter

Plural

1. Nominative

guter Hund

gute Katze

gutes Kind

gute Kinder

2. Genitive

guten Hund

guter Katze

guten Kindes

guter Kinder

3. Dative

gutem Hund

guter Katze

gutem Kind

guten Kindern

4. Accusative

guten Hund

gute Katze

gutes Kind

gute Kinder

Example sentences:

  • Sie sind gute Männer. (They are good men.)
  • Tieren fressen rohes Fleisch. (Animals eat raw meat.)

Mixed declension: German adjective endings after the indefinite article

Last but not least, we have mixed declension. This is, as you should know by now, used after the indefinite article. It is also used after the possessives (mein, dein, sein, etc.)

We call this declension mixed because it falls somewhere in between the previous two. German adjectives that follow the indefinite articles take weak endings – except in the singular nominative masculine and neuter, and the singular accusative neuter. Because the articles in those cases don’t have their own endings (i.e. ein doesn’t have an ending), we use strong declension in those cases.

Again, take a look at this table to see what we mean by that. Endings that follow the weak declension pattern are in orange – strong declension endings are in green.

Masculine

Feminine

Neuter

Plural

1. Nominative

ein guter Hund

eine gute Katze

ein gutes Kind

meine guten Kinder

2. Genitive

eines guten Hundes

einer guten Katze

eines guten Kindes

meiner guten Kinder

3. Dative

einem guten Hund

einer guten Katze

einem guten Kind

meinen guten Kindern

4. Accusative

einen guten Hund

eine gute Katze

ein gutes Kind

meine guten Kinder

Example sentences:

  • I sehe eine schwarze Katze. (I see a black cat.)
  • Du kannst ein gutes Brot backen. (You can bake good bread.)
  • Er schreibt mit einem neuen Stift. (He is writing with a new pen.)

What about viele, diese, or mehrere?

You’re almost there! To understand German adjective endings, you need to learn those three tables. But there is one other small thing you need to remember – and that is what to do if the adjective is preceded by a word that isn’t an article. You know, words like viele, diese, or mehrere

To make it as simple as possible for you, I’ve compiled these commonly used words and sorted them out for you.

You use:

  • Weak declension for: alle, beide, diese, jene, manche, sämtliche, solche, welche.
  • Strong declension for: andere, einige, etliche, folgende, mehrere, verschiedene, viele, wenige, zahlreiche.

That’s it! That’s all you need to know about German adjective endings.

I know it’s a lot but trust me – once you get the hang of it, it actually becomes quite fun and easy. If you’re still feeling a bit lost, you can also watch this 15-minute video by YourGermanTeacher. In it, he goes over all the rules again in a very helpful and succinct way.

Learn more about German grammar

Since you’re already in the zone, why not check out some of our other guides to German grammar? Here are some of my personal recommendations:

What to do next?

It’s time to put your knowledge of German adjective endings to the test! Play this selection of sentences and see how well you can tell which ending to use when.

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Learning German adjective endings might seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, it comes naturally with practice.

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with German adjectives.

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