German Adjective Endings – The 1 hack that changes everything

Hello everyone,

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. Taaaaaaaaybullllls. 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 443 = 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! All the time… like with no… very 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, 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…

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 gute, guter, guten, gutem, gutes at Goggle ngram

… 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…

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Gustavo
Gustavo
1 year ago

Actually, there is a very simple rule, which could be explained very quickly. I unfortunately didn’t write down the source from which I learned the rule, but there it goes.

Adjectives always have the same ending as definite articles, except when the adjective is preceded by an article, and

1) the adjective is in the dative or genitive;

2) the adjective is in the plural;

Both cases in which the ending “-en” is used.

Obs.: By same ending as definite articles, the rule means
der: “-er”, die: “-e”, das: “es”, den: “-en”, dem: “-em”

Ex.:

  • Ihr wohnt in einem kleinen Haus
  • Ich hoffe, jemand korrigiert oder bestätigt diese clevere Regel.
  • Sie wartet in der kleinen Kirche auf dich.
  • Ich werde niemals die verrückten Geschichten vergessen, die du erzählst.
Kayla
Kayla
1 year ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I found in the Duolingo forum three simple rules that have helped me. I am taking a course at Goethe and unfortunately I can’t get away with just adding an -e to every adjective or it’s humiliation in front of the whole class during homework review ;-) So I’ve been trying to figure out an easy to remember way to work out the right endings without a chart. I’ve been using these rules with some success, at least in writing:

Big three get an ‘e’ (der die das in the nominative; die das in the accusative)

Changin’ gets ‘en’ (when the article changes from its original form)

No ‘the’? Article takes over (with no article, or an ein word with no ending, use the correct der-word ending)

I haven’t figured out how to make the feminine indefinite articles in the nominative and accusative fit in a catchy way, so that’s where defaulting to the ‘e’ helps out. :-) I sometimes get tripped up by things like dative verbs and other articles like jeder, solcher, etc. But I feel like I have at least some kind of handle on it – the sight of a chart would make me feel like my brain was literally shutting down and I could not absorb any of it. I have to have a pattern to recognize or a formula to apply.

Stephane
2 years ago

This rythm approach makes a lot of sense when you consider how language is acquired. Babies at 3 months will make some noise that is pretty much the same regardless of native language. But by around 9 months, still without ability to deliver any meaning, the sounds they make starts to be language specific (will fully be by 1 year old). Basically two components of the ‘noise’ they produce have shifted into language specific attributes: rythm and intonation. They make noises that don’t mean anything (yet), but an English baby will do some ‘te-tum te-tum’ like-sounds, French more like ‘rat-a-tat-a-tat’ and Chinese rather ‘sing-song’.
So, your approach to present the rythm an essential aspect to provide the right ‘feel’ for the language, even if not with the correct ending, provides to the native German (in your case) with the ‘proper’ German-specific rythm.

At least this is what your approach make me think of…
That comes from a book I read some time ago from David Crystal (A little Book of Language), linguage specialist in Wales.

Matheuspin
Matheuspin
2 years ago

That tip is so sweeet! On my way to fluency in German, here I go!

Kayla-P
Kayla-P
3 years ago

This is kind of life-changing. I have tried to learn adjective ending with tables – I tried several tables too, until found one that was fairly easy to work with, and even that was a struggle. Moreso because I live in the US and rarely have someone to speak with, so I constantly have to review the tables so I don’t forget. ANYWAY. I am totally going with your methods . I haven’t read the second and third article yet; I hope they don’t complicate things. ;-)

Ardian
3 years ago

finally I find a blog that explain about German grammar. thanks. Please explain about modals grammar too

anerbenartzi
anerbenartzi
3 years ago

Brilliant! This deep understanding of what is practical and what is less wrong separates your lessons from all the others.

rani
3 years ago

great article, success for the next :)

AruaT
AruaT
5 years ago

This must be the first article I see you telling me I can bend the rules in my favor. Hahaha.
Pretty awesome. I will be using the -e ending for now so my brain can rest a little from all these rules.

Ghassan
Ghassan
5 years ago

Thanks so much, now i can use adjectives in a proper way “somehow” haha, it would be much better than “the without endings adjectives i used to throw all the way ”
And thanks agian for giving me the chance to continue my German lerning using your blog materilas by giving me access without paying for a membership “cannot afford it right now” thanks to the donaters who made it possible.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Viiiieeelen Dank für eine tollE Website!! Makes me smile and laugh and speak better german. Gonna donate as soon as I come home and get access to Pay-Pal.

Colin
Colin
6 years ago

Excellent post. My wife speaks fluent Deutsch after many years at Uni and then living in Germany and, now that I have decided to have a go at the language, she tells me not to worry about these endings, just mumble an ‘e’ sound on the end – as you suggest here. After all, you can’t stand like a dummy during a conversation processing several matrixes of declinations through your head. Germans learn this stuff through repetition, they don’t even realise they are doing it, and in the end that’s the only way to really get it. Worrying about correct declension is fine when you are writing a job application (or doing an exam), but otherwise, who really cares?

Tim
Tim
7 years ago

I’m a beginner, and got 68,2% on that quiz after reading these three blog posts.

My main downfalls were:
– Forgot that “einen” is weird, so adjective is “en” (I was foolishly making it “er” for masculine.)
– Don’t know my genders for various nouns (der vs das)
– Sometimes thinking “das” was plain “that” rather than gender-carrying “the”.
– Sometimes not knowing when to use the right case (“für liebe Menschen” – I still don’t get that).
– Forgetting adjective spelling changes (“hohen” not “hochen”)

Danke für deinen schönen Artikelen! <– Probably all wrong, I'm just making it up.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

So in nomative case all adjectives, regardless of gender take an ‘e’ suffix?

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Okay, on a somewhat similiar, but mostly not, subject, if I’m talking about a Maskulin object, like ein Hund, or ein Spiegel do I refer to it as ‘er’ or ‘es’? And if its something like ‘das Mädchen’ or ‘das Wieb’ which is a person with a definite gender do I refer to them as ‘es’ or ‘sie’ and how do you actually think of gender as a native speaker, Does you think of it like we would ‘a’ vs ‘an’, not at all, or do you actually think of an object as he or she?

berlingrabers
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I actually think this might be a good topic for a post – granted, your Romance- and Slavic-language-speaking readers all probably have a pretty decent intuitive sense of what grammatical gender does and doesn’t mean, but for English speakers it’s a truly bizarre phenomenon (even though we do have a very few weird little leftover conventions like referring to a ship as “she”). It’s obviously not something you can really teach rules for learning, other than that -ung, -heit, -keit, and some others are always feminine, but it’s nice to hear an insider perspective on how you “hear” referring to a girl as “es” usw.

My son is 1 1/2 and learning all kinds of new words, and it’s just intensely amusing to imagine teaching him the colors of his kids’ cutlery:

– Look, this is a spoon. He’s red. And here’s a fork – she’s blue. And what’s this? That’s right, a knife! It’s green.

Der Löffel, die Gabel, das Messer… is’ ja bescheuert…

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

So der Hunde makes it kleiner Hund? Also does er/sie/es refer to the gender or the grammatical gender so a girl would be it but a table would be he? and when you say a maskulin or feminin do you actually think man woman?

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

I mean if I say, ‘Can you see the dog?’ Do you reply ‘yes I can see it’ or ‘I can see him’

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Okay, thanks, does that go for Mädchen as well? Like ‘Bist du mit dem Mädchen?’ ‘Ja, ich bin damit’?

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Are you with the girl, yes I’m with her. How much would it confuse a German speaker to use the wrong case, gender or conjugation, because broken English is easy enough but it seems like because of German’s construction it would be worse.

Ann
Ann
8 years ago

I have been trying to learn cases for the past year and a half via textbooks, Rosetta Stone, etc. And you just solved my problem (well, at least 50% of it) in no time at all. Awesome! Love the explanation and the Google ngram.

Btw, I am really enjoying your blog. You break down grammatical concepts in an entertaining and easily understandable manner. You should really think about writing that textbook someday! Vielen dank!

wilwil
wilwil
8 years ago

Hi, thanks for the great post.
I am new to German. I have two question for your example.
1. For good enough, why only seconds adjective need to change? Good is also an adjective.
2. When saying gute nacht, Guten abend. It seems not comply with the rule here. Is it the exception?
Thanks for explain.

Wilson
Wilson
8 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Hi, thanks for your prompt reply. It’s very clear now. For question 1, so it means that “good enough” similar to “very good” so “good” acts as a noun ? so no need to change ? Thanks for your explanation.

Lee
Lee
8 years ago

I started learning the adjective endings in the university. I found the table extremely hard. English has almost no endings at all, other than the -s or -es after the verb. In Chinese there is absolutely no ending. My mind couldn’t process the concept of having adjective endings. I understand the table is important and so on. However I don’t believe native German speakers learn in that way. What is the meaning of that pausing and looking for the right adjective endings in the middle of a conversation? Mastery of a language means that one can express his/her ideas freely and naturally with much depth, clarity and preciseness. I feel like the table does more to scare people away from learning German than to help students to express themselves. Of course it is still very crucial to learn the endings because writing requires accuracy. I have hope that there is an easier way to learn the adjective endings. Recently I read one simple flow chart online drawn by a teacher, who claimed that it helped the students to reach an accuracy of at least 80% of the time :
Is there a clear article ending?
Yes–>
original–> adj. -e
changed –> adj. -en
No–> Think! The adjective takes ending that ‘der, die, das’ would have in the proper case.
This method does have some limits, but I am okay with it. So far it makes my life easier. I pause less and write with more confidence.

Xu
Xu
4 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Thank you for writing such great articles for German learners. I’ve read a couple so far and they are very helpful. I noticed that you mention how Chinese is so different repeatedly, so I thought I would share my experience as a native Chinese speaker who learned English in school. I think my experience will reflect the majority of Chinese students (there are definitely exceptions based on how resourceful the school is). For me, English was first introduced in kindergarten. We were taught how to say certain simple words in English, such as “banana,” “Santa” etc. So at the time, English was like a dialect: I thought there were other names to the things that I already know the name to in Mandarin Chinese. We were also taught the alphabet in the context of the alphabet song. The alphabet was useful as soon as we got to elementary school because we learned how to pronounce Chinese words by the aid of “pinyin” which is basically in the same written format as the English alphabet (but in a different order: a o e I u ü g k m f d t n l…). I don’t remember learning proper English grammar until way later in school, maybe around when I was 13, even though English was a testable subject since we were 9 years old (i.e. for three or four years we memorized common nouns, greetings, pronouns, etc.). So by the time I was in middle school, I knew that the correct answer to “how are you?” Was “I’m fine thank you and you?” by heart (which ironically no native English speaker will find natural). But I did not know that the verb (here “be”) had to agree with the subject (“you” or “I”). Once we did delve into the world of grammar, I did not ever think to question it, or for that matter to compare it to Chinese (why does “he” become “him”? It just does in certain places, and we have a loooong time to memorize every situation where that happened; it’s a real slow process. I guess we were never really presented with a lot of new information on English at once so it never raised a question. And because we were only taught the very basics of English, it was not really comparable to what to us was a full fledged language – Chinese. To put it in perspective, by college entrance exam, we are only expected to know 2000 English words, even though we would have had English classes almost everyday for at least nine years by then. Go figure). To most people, I think, English was just like maths (which is true on so many levels. English was for many years one of the three most important subjects in school, among Chinese and mathematics). In maths, you were told certain rules, like “between two dots there’s a line” and as a kid you really take it as is, you don’t question it and think… Read more »

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
8 years ago

Die 3 normalerweise in Grammatikbüchern dargestellen Tabellen mit den deutschen Artikeln sind tatsächlich nicht hilfreich, sogar kontraproduktiv (könnte man sagen), es sei denn, dass man ein photographisches Gedächtnis hat. Was wirklich wirksam sein kann (freilich je nach Person) ist eine eigene, einzige (das ist wichtig!) Tabelle zu erstellen, wodurch man das ganze System wahrnimmt. Jede Zelle soll die Endungen enthalten, die sowohl von bestimmten, unbestimmten und Null- Artikeln, als auch von Pronomina abhängig sind. Ich habe die Artikel *und* die Endungen gelernt, indem ich so eine Tabelle geschaffen habe.

an
an
8 years ago

Sorry but that course is too bad, and tables are so important

Asyx
Asyx
9 years ago

As a native, I can confirm that the extra syllable is where the money is at. Not having the extra syllable is like a slap in the face. The natives will get confused and has to think a lot more about what you say. That will distract them from what you’re going to tell them after that and they might not understand you. That extra syllable sounds still wrong but it doesn’t disturb the flow of the sentence we’re expecting and therefore it doesn’t distract natives to a extend that they’ve got to think about what you said.

aneesulmehdi
9 years ago

Superb. waiting for the next part.