Adjective Endings (Adjective Declension)

When do we have to change adjective endings?

In German, when an adjective comes before the noun it describes, we have to change its ending. The technical term for this process is "declining" the adjective.

  • "Der junge Mann lernt Deutsch." // "The young man is learning German."  (The adjective "jung" comes before the noun "Mann" → Adjective Declension)
  • But: "Der Mann ist jung." // "The man is young." 
    (There is no noun behind "jung" → No Adjective Declension)

What ending does the adjective get?

The adjective ending depends on the noun it's describing. More specifically, it is determined by:

  • the gender of the noun
  • the case of the noun
  • the article in front of the adjective

Adjective Endings after Definite Articles

Tipp

Tip:

The definite article already tells you the case the noun is in. That means the adjective doesn’t have to give you any extra information. Nevertheless, it still gets an ending:

⇒ Accusative masculine, all dative, all genitive, and all plural get the ending "-en."

⇒ The rest get the ending "-e."

Examples:

  • Das rote Auto gehört dem reichen Mann.“ // "The red car belongs to the rich man."
  • „Hans sitzt auf dem alten Sofa.“ // "Hans is sitting on the old sofa."
  • „Das Haus steht neben dem großen Park.“ // "The house is next to the big park."
  • Das kleine Haus ist grau.“ // "The small house is gray."

Definite Article Words

There are other words that we treat like definite articles when determining the adjective endings. Here they are:

  • „diese“
  • „jede“
  • „welche“
  • „solche”
  • „alle“

When an adjective comes after one of these articles, it gets the same ending as it would if there was a definite article. Because these words already have a declined ending which tells you the case, the adjectives just needs an "-e" or "-en" ending.

Adjective Endings after Indefinite Articles

The same endings are used after possessive determiners (mein, dein,…) and the negative article (kein).

But those also have a plural form, so we have to fill in the bottom row of the table!

The colors show you how we know what case is being used. For plural, dative, and genitive that's the article. That means the adjective doesn't need a different ending (and we can just use "-en"). Since nominative and accusative also have articles without an ending (ein, mein,...), the adjective has to show the case. That means in nominative and accusative singular, the ending of the corresponding definite article (der, die ,das...) is added to the end of the adjective.

Examples:

  • Mein neues Auto steht in der Garage.“  // "My new car stands/is in the garage."
  • „Hans sitzt auf einer alten Kiste.“ "Hans sits on an old box."
  • „Das Haus ist in keinem guten Zustand." // "The house is in not good condition."
  • „Das ist ein schmales Bett.“ "That is a narrow bed."

Adjective Endings when there is No Article

When a noun doesn't have any article (no "der," "mein," "kein," etc.), we say the noun is using the zero article. Here are the adjective endings we use with the zero article:

Except for genitive masculine and genitive neuter, all adjectives get the ending of the corresponding definite article! There is nothing else that indicates the case, which means the adjective must show the case.

In genitive masculine and genitive neuter, we have to add an "-s/-es" at the end of the noun. That indicates the genitive case, and therefore the adjective keeps the "en"-ending.

Examples of adjective declension after the zero article:

  • Junge Frauen sind oft sehr hübsch.“ // "Young women are often very pretty."
  • „Ein Deutscher trinkt jedes Jahr 130 Liter kaltes Bier.“ // A German drinks 130 liters of cold beer every year."
  • „Der Ring ist aus purem Gold.“ // "The ring is made of pure gold."
  • „Dort stehen rote Autos.“ // "There are red cars."

Exceptions

If an adjective ends in "-e," we don‘t add a second "e":

  • „leise“ - „ein leises Kind“ // "a quiet child"

(Wrong: ein leisees Kind)

If an adjective ends in "-el," remove the "e" from the "el":

  • „sensibel“ - „ein sensibles Kind“ // "a sensitive child"

(Wrong: „ein sensibeles Kind“)

  • ​ „dunkel“ – „ein dunkler Wald“ // "a dark forest"

  (Wrong: „ein dunkeler Wald“)

If an adjective ends in "-er" and has a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) directly before that "er," remove the "e" from the "-er":

  • „teuer“ - „ein teures Auto“ (Wrong: „ein teueres Auto“) // "an expensive car"
  • „sauer“ – „ein saurer Apfel“ (Wrong: „ein sauerer Apfel“) // "a sour apple"

BUT: „sauber“ – „ein sauberes Zimmer“  (no vowel before the "er") // "a clean room"

For the adjective "hoch," remove the "c":

  • „Der Turm ist hoch.“ // "The tower is tall."
  • „Das ist ein hoher Turm.“ // "That is a tall tower."

    (Wrong: „Das ist ein hocher Turm.“)

For adjectives that end in "-a," as well as those that come from city names and end in "-er," there is no declension (no adjective ending):

  • „Das ist ein rosa Kleid.“ // "That's a pink dress."​​​​​​
  • „Die lila Bluse ist hässlich.“ // "The violet blouse is ugly."
  • „Der Frankfurter Flughafen ist riesig. // "Frankfurt Airport is huge."

Summary

In German, it's important to know what case every noun is in. If the article doesn't tell you what case it is, the adjective has to do that job.

In practice, that means the adjective gets the ending of the corresponding definite article for that gender and case (der, die, das,... ).

Exceptions: 

  • Genitive masculine and genitive neuter - Here we use the ending "-en," since the genitive "s" at the end of the noun makes it clear we are talking about the genitive case.
  • After the words "viele" and "manche," the adjective always gets the ending of the corresponding definite article.

Related Topics:

A simple step-by-step guide for finding the right adjective ending: Adjective Declension: 4-Step Rule.

An overview of what you have to pay attention to when dealing with adjectives in general.

Adjective declension depends on whether there is a definite article, indefinite article (including possessive determiners or the negative article "kein"), or no article at all (the zero article) in front of the adjective.

The ending is determined by the case: nominative, accusative, dative or genitive.

You have to know the gender of the noun.

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