German Adjective Endings – For Beginners


Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of the YourDailyGerman grammar. And today, we’ll start looking at

German Adjective Endings 

Sounds boring.
Can be boring.
But doesn’t have to be boring.
It doesn’t even have to be difficult.

You see, the way adjective endings are usually taught and learned is by using tables.
Which… I mean…  it’s not like tables are wrong.
They just suck.
They’re not especially inspiring, not fun and applying this in daily life not very intuitive.

And there’s an even bigger problem. To pick the right answer from a table, we’d need to know the right gender AND the right case.
So yeah…
*cue happy folk guitar music
That’s why here are YourDailyGerman, we don’t believe in tables and I have come up with a new system to master adjective endings that is free range, grass fed and 100 % table free.

YourDailyGerman – Intuitive, Sustainable, Organic Grammar™

” Because your German is wörs it”

Seriously though, I really do have an approach to learning adjective endings that’s very intuitive and kind of follows the 80/20 rule. So we get 80% of the results with just 20% of the effort. And yes, I do mean 80% in a test, as well.
My system for adjective endings can be divided into three levels.

Level 1 will get you up to 50%-60% and the important thing is… it’s WITHOUT any grammar. No gender, no cases, no tables, no nothing. because it’s solely based on… nah, not going to spoil it :).
But yeah, you can do that as an absolute beginner, no problem.
Level 2 will then get us up to roughly 80% correct choices and again… we’re not going to need tables. All we need now is our intuition. You do need to have a little bit of sprachgefühl for German already, but it’s still pretty easy.
Level 3 finally will take us all the way to 100% but that’s where all the theory is, so you can totally skip that until you’re B2.

Anyway, today, we’ll start with level one, and before that, I’ll also give you a quick introduction on adjective endings in general.
If you want to skip it, that’s totally fine, but hey… what’s the rush.

So, if you’re ready, then let’s jump right in.

What are Adjective Endings (and why)

When you look up an adjective in a dictionary, you’ll get the basic form.

  • cold – kalt

And that’s also what you’ll use when you say something like “XYZ is [adjective].

  • Das Bier ist kalt.
  • The beer is cold.

However, when they’re in an actual sentence in front of a noun, they get an ending in German – in this case, -es.

  • Ich will ein kaltes Bier.
  • I want a cold beer.

Native speakers will still understand you if you forget that ending or you use a wrong one, but it definitely sounds wrong and it sticks out a LOT (we’ll find out why in a little bit).

Now, why does German have adjective endings?
Well, because of its origin. The concept of adjective endings is quite common for Indo-European languages. Spanish and Italian and French have them, Slavic languages have them. And even Old English had them but English really wasn’t a fan of endings in general most of them got washed away centuries ago, by the stormy winds of the Atlanctic. Or just by laziness.

Anyway, so many European languages have adjective endings because these things go back to the common ancestor of our languages.
The specifics are different from language to language, so the endings are different and also the rules to apply them. But at their core they all do the same:  they carry some grammatical information related to the noun they describe. That can be the gender, the number (singular or plural)  or the case. Or, like in German, a mix of those.

And actually, in German, the adjective endings are not only influenced by case, gender AND number, but they ALSO vary depending on what kind of article there is in front of them – a definite article (der, die, das….) or  indefinite article (ein, eine, …) or neither.

  • Ich trinke das kalte Bier.
  • Ich trinke ein kaltes Bier.

That’s quite the mess.
Like… let’s do a little math real quick.

  • 4 cases
  • 3 genders
  • 2 numbers (singular/plural)
  • 3 types of articles (definite, indefinite, none)

If we multiply that, we get 72. But of course German doesn’t have 72 different adjective endings. It actually “only” has … uh… let me count real quick… it’s five.
Here they are.

e, en, em, er, es

These five adjective endings cover ALL possible configurations, so many configurations have the same ending.
But to look up all these configurations, we still need quite a few tables. People are trying to bring some order into this, by combining tables and using terms like weak declension, strong declension and mixed declension.
But … I don’t know… I don’t think it’s a very efficient way to learn.

And like I said in the intro… even if you’re an absolute table savant, and you have adjective endings tattooed on your arm, you’re still not guaranteed to get it right because you do need gender and case.

And that’s what’s great about my approach for the adjective endings – at least for the first level, you don’t need to worry about any of this.
So let’s take a look.

German Adjective Endings – The 60% Hack

And the first step for German Adjective Endings is… drumroll please…

Add an “-e”

I made it pink to make it extra memorable.
But seriously, start adding an “-e”.
All the time with no exceptions**.
(**And by “no exceptions” I mean of course “very few exceptions”, because… you know… we’re learning German here after all)

And it DOESN’T matter what gender, case or article type … you do NOT need to think about that. Just add an “-e” and move on.

  • Der Kaffee ist heiß – der heiße Kaffee.
  • The coffee is hot – the hot coffee.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And this goes for “normal” adjectives like kalt, warm, schön and so on as well as for verbs that are used like an adjective.

  • Das Bild ist verkauft – das verkaufte Bild.
  • The picture is sold – the sold picture.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

And of course, if you more than one adjective word, add an “-e” to all of ’em :).

  • Das Bier ist lecker, schwarz, 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…
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

Now, why is adding an “-e” such a good idea?
There are two reasons.

First off, “e” is in fact part of ALL the possible endings.

 -e, -er, -es, -en, -em

So it’ll always be more correct than nothing, because we got half the ending right already.
But actually, I would say it’s more than half the ending, because what really matters here is … the rhythm. 
By adding an “-e” we’re in fact adding a whole new syllable. And that is a HUGE change. Humans are very sensitive to rhythm, and a lot of grammar is learned based on rhythm.
An English native speaker is used to one rhythm:

  • Bam Bam
  • cold beer

But to a German native speaker, that rhythm feels wrong, because they’re used to this:

  • BAM ba BAM
  • kaltes Bier

And kalt Bier by itself sounds really really really wrong. Not because, omg, the ending is wrong, but because the FLOW is wrong.
You could actually add “-o” instead of “-e” and it would still sound better than nothing because the key point is the rhythm here.

That’s why it’s also so so helpful to start doing this as soon as possible. It’s not about “learning” some rules. It’s about getting yourself used to this new flow. And getting the flow is the most important bit about adjective endings… at least in spoken. I mean, if you mumble a bit you’ll even get away with just adding “something”, as long as the rhythm is okay.
The rhythm really is the key point here and you can get that right “for free”, without having to worry about cases, gender and so on. Just add an “-e”.

And the second reason why that’s such a cool thing to do is that “-e” is actually kind of the most common ending. So if you stick with it, you have a good chance to actually have picked the correct ending. Just sticking with “-e” all the time will make you more correct than wildly guessing the ending.
Check out this graph:



I made this with Google ngram, which basically shows you how often a phrase appears in their super large database of German texts (mainly books).
I compared gute, guter, gutem, guten and gutes and 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.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

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

  • The good 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…
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

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 toward mastering adjective endings.
Don’t think!
Just add an “-e” all the time. Because it’ll be the right rhythm and that’s what matters most. And it might well be the correct ending that you need.
I know it’ll feel a bit unusual at first, but invest a week to try and get used to it. It’s 10000% worth  :).
In the second part, we’ll do sort of hack number two that’ll get us up to 80%.
Until then, if you have questions or suggestions, leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Check out part 2:

German Adjective Endings 2 – Getting 80% correct

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