and welcome to a new episode in our epic German is Easy – Learn German Online Course. And today, it’s time for the second part in our series on how to use (or guess) German adjective endings:
German Adjective Endings 2
Yeay. Are you excited??
Just a real quick recap about last time… we learned to ALWAYS add an -e without worrying about gender or case or article. Just add an -e! There are 2 reasons to do this. First of, e is always part of the correct ending and it is correct all by itself about 40% of the time. Not adding anything is ALWAYS wrong. So you get 40% correct for doing nothing but adding an -e.
The second reason is a rhythmical one but I suggest you just check out part 1 if you haven’t yet.
All right, now… today we’ll learn when -en is the correct ending. Sounds rather limited but it’s not. Actually, it’s a giant step… You see -e and -en together account for about 80% of the adjective endings. So -er, –es and -em each only make up like 7%. And I am not exaggerating here. This is a Google N-Gram for the word gut. Gute and guten clearly dominate.
Let’s try another one… how about a longer one like interessant. Here, with interessante and interessanten combined , it is even more obvious.
Go ahead and try out some other ones. I bet you, you can’t find one that proves me wrong :).
So… as you can see, our approach to German adjective endings is based on statistics and science and we produce concrete, scientific results … so when is -en the correct ending?
Whenever the article is weird.
Oh… uh… and uh… and uhm… when exactly is an article weird? I mean… many of you probably find ALL the German articles weird….
So here is what I mean: there is der, die, das and ein, eine, ein. This is what even absolute beginners know about German. These are the normal articles.
- der for a masculine thing (ein)
- die for a feminine thing (eine)
- das for a neuter thing (ein)
The rest is just weird. Den is weird and so is einen. Dem is weird as is einem. Des is … uh let me think… WEIRD. And then OMG: der for feminine things like in dative case… LOL I say, LOL… that is just freaking WEIRD. And you know what else is weird: die for plural. Die is feminine. Why use it for plural too? That’s just random and weird.
So… for all those, the adjective ending will be -en. Let’s do some examples:
- Der groß__ Mann spricht mit der schön__ Frau, die die Strasse langläuft.
- The tall guy talks to the pretty woman walking down the street.
We have der twice here. With Mann it is fine because Mann is masculine but with Frau it is weird because Frau is feminine. So let’s fill in endings.
- Der große Mann telefoniert mit der schönen Frau.
Yeay… 2 out of 2 correct. Let’s do another one.
- Die schön__ Kellnerin gibt dem groß__ Mann den groß__ Kaffee.
- The pretty waitress gives the tall guy a large coffee.
Die for waitress is fine, but dem and den are weird. So the endings should be:
- Die schöne Kellnerin gibt dem großen Mann den großen Kaffee.
3 out of 3… that smells like an A+ in the exam. But oh… there are examples with ein now.
- Eine schön__ Frau geht mit einer ander__ schön__ Frau in eine cool__ Bar.
- A pretty woman goes with another pretty woman to a cool bar.
Eine is normal so we’ll put e there but einer is weird so we’ll add en.
- Eine schöne Frau geht mit einer anderen schönen Frau in eine coole Bar.
And again all correct. One more try, this time with a plural.
- Die alt__ Männer lesen in einem klein__ Café Zeitung.
Die is weird here, because Männer is plural and don’t get me started on einem…. so it should be:
- Die alten Männer lesen in einem kleinen Café Zeitung.
And it is. So… for weird articles like den or einem or der for feminine stuff and die for plural… add -en, for the rest, go with -e and that will get you about 80% correct. But there are not only definite and indefinite articles that can precede nouns. What about words like mein or diese (in grammar jargon those are called something)? Well, you can use the same system here…. when they are weird then add -en. All the ones that indicate possession, so my, your, our, their and so forth have the same “weird-pattern” like the indefinite articles ein/ eine
- Mein and meine are normal just like ein and eine are.
- Meiner, meines, meinem, meinen as well as meine for plural are WEIRD.
- unser and unsere are normal… all the others are weird.
Things like diese, jene or welche and even manche work like the definite articles. Normal are:
- dieser (for male) – der
- diese (for female) – die
- dieses (for neuter) – das
All the rest is weird. Is jenem weird? Yes. Is welche weird when it is asking for plural? Sure is.
- Gestern habe ich meinen alt__ Mathelehrer getroffen.
- Yesterday, I met my old math-teacher.
Meinen is weird so we’ll go with -en…. and it’s correct.
- Welche berühmtenStars hast du schon mal getroffen?
- Which famous stars have you met?
Why is welche weird here? Because it is used for plural. We could say plural articles are weird by default or simply plural is -en. Either way, this is basica… oh… my red exception phone is ringing… hold on a second…. hey John, how’s it going… oh cool, hey man, I’d really like chat a second but I came in late today and I have to hurry a bit so tell me, what did I overlook… what?… genitive?… so?…. oh ohhhhh.. do you have an Example by any chance?… what? … oh, dieses schönen Autos…. oh man, that’s right… damn it… my nice simple rule… hey but you know what, I’ll just not tell ’em… I mean, they won’t be using Genitive anyway, right?… haha, yeah Genitive is like sooooo 18th century… man, thanks anyway John and talk to you soon ok? Cool bye (hang up)… so… all right, now I’ back with you guys, and let me tell you what… there is absolutely NOOOO exception to the todays rule whatsoever.
Seriously though, rarely has a rule no exception so this “weird-gets-en” one does too. But I challenge you to come up with a sentence or find one somewhere… it is really rare. And now speaking of a rule having limitations. Well, the -en-rule will not get you 100% there. Here’s an example where it fails.
- Thomas hat gestern sein neu__ Bett bekommen.
Based on our rule this should be e because sein is not weird. The correct ending here, however, is –es for … reasons. We’ll deal with those in part 3 :).
But keep in mind.. those situations make up only 20 % percent of all adjective endings.
Go with -en if the article is weird! That gets you 40% correct.
Go with –e for all the rest! That will get you another 40% correct and that is a pretty good score considering that you barely had to do the whole case-gender-article-type analysis. Not that there is something worng with that. If learning the Adjective declension tables works for you, that’s great.
And of course the en-rule doesn’t help at all if you don’t know the correct case or the gender… and there will be many many situations. (My advice is, go with feminine).
Adjective endings are something that just needs to come out automatically pretty much and it needs a lot of speaking practice… so give it some time. But what you have learned so far might very well help you to pass some adjective declension quiz… provided you’ve been learning the gender for things ;).
Actually, I am really wondering on the -e-rule and the en-rule hold up in a “real” quiz… like the one I found on About.com. There is some tricky stuff in there and you really need to know the gender of things but I am curious how you do and if …. so here is the link:
If you feel like it, try out how much you can score with what you’ve learned here and tell us your result… and if you fail miserably, it is all my fault and my rule sucks. I am a bit nervous actually :).
Anyways… so … I think we’re done for today. This was the second part on German Adjective Endings and the main thing to remember is to add -en when the article is weird.
If you have questions or suggestions or if you want to bitch at me for being late… just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.
If you want to go on right away: German Adjective Endings 3