Creating New Adjectives

In German, we can create new adjectives by taking an existing adjective, verb, or noun and adding a prefix or suffix to it. Each prefix and suffix has a specific meaning, allowing us to express opposites, possibilities, and more.

There are no universal rules, as there are more than 30 different prefixes and suffixes used to create new adjectives. The following forms are the most important and most often used.

Adjectives from Other Adjectives

With the prefixes "in-," "des-," and "un-" we can create the opposite of the adjective:

  • „kompetent“ vs. inkompetent“   ⇒  Nicht kompetent
  • „interessiert“   vs. desinteressiert“ ⇒  Nicht interessiert
  • „beliebt“   vs. unbeliebt“      ⇒  Nicht beliebt
Tipp

Tip:

There is no universal rule telling you which prefix to use when constructing opposites.

Adjectives from Verbs

With the ending "-bar" we can show that it is possible to do something. The verb ending "-en" goes away.

  • essbar   ⇒  Man kann es essen.
  • trinkbar   ⇒  Man kann es trinken.
  • machbar   ⇒  Es ist möglich etwas zu tun/machen.

Adjectives from Nouns

We use the ending "-isch" to describe many nationalities. The original ending goes away

  • „der Italiener“   ⇒ „italienisch
  • „der Russe“   ⇒ „russisch

But: „der Deutsche“  ⇒ „deutsch


With the ending "-lich" we can talk about frequency or ownership of something (one-syllable words gain an umlaut).

  • „der Tag“   ⇒  täglich   ⇒  jeden Tag
  • „der Monat“  ⇒  monatlich  ⇒ jeden Monat

Ownership: „das Haus der Eltern“„das elterliche Haus“ (seldomly used)

 

We use the ending "-los" to talk about the absence of something → in the sense of the word "without."

"-los" can be added to nouns only. Sometimes we have to add an "s" before the "-los."

  • „Ich habe keine Arbeit.“    „Ich bin arbeitslos.“
  • „Es gibt keine Aussicht auf Erfolg.“     „Es ist aussichtslos.“
  • „Ich habe keinen Erfolg.“    „Ich bin erfolglos.“
Tipp

Tip:

There's no general rule about when you have to add an "-s" or not.

With the ending "-arm" we can express that there is very little of something (only used with nouns):

  • fettarm.“  ⇒ „Das Essen ist fettarm.“ ⇒ Es hat wenig Fett.
  • kalorienarm  ⇒ „Der Joghurt ist kalorienarm. ⇒ Der Joghurt hat wenig Kalorien.
  • vitaminarm  ⇒ „Cola ist vitaminarm.“ ⇒  Cola hat wenig Vitamine.


With the ending "-frei" we can express that there is NOTHING of something (only used with nouns):

  • fettfrei   ⇒ „Das Essen ist fettfrei.“ ⇒ Im Essen ist kein Fett.
  • zuckerfrei   ⇒ „Das Getränk ist zuckerfrei.“ ⇒ Im Getränk ist kein Zucker.
  • fehlerfrei  ⇒ „Der Text ist fehlerfrei.“ ⇒ Es gibt keine Fehler im Text.


With the ending "-reich" we can express that there is a lot of something (only used with nouns):

  • erfolgreich  ⇒ „Ich bin erfolgreich.“ ⇒ Ich habe viel Erfolg.
  • vitaminreich   ⇒ „Das Essen ist vitaminreich.“ ⇒ Im Essen sind viele Vitamine.
  • kalorienreich  ⇒ „Das Essen ist sehr kalorienreich.“ ⇒ Das Essen hat viele Kalorien.

Summary

  • There are no general rules that always work.
  • You have to learn the meanings of the individual suffixes and prefixes
  • After a while you will start to get an intuitive feeling for what is or isn't possible.

Related Topics:

A detailed explanation of the rules for adjective declension.

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 articleindefinite article (including possessive determiners or the negative article), or no article at all (the zero article) in front of the adjective.

The ending is determined by the case: nominativeaccusativedative, or genitive.

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