German Adjective Endings 2 – Get 75% right


Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode in our epic YourDailyGerman  Online Grammar Course.
And today, it’s time for the second part in the series on how to use (or guess) German adjective endings:

German Adjective Endings 2

Yeay. Are you excited??
IN part one, I we talked a little bit about adjective endings in general and we discussed why tables aren’t really the way to learn them. And then I told you the first step toward mastering the adjective endings, which was:

Adding an “-e”

Because “-e” is better than nothing and rhythm is the key.
If you haven’t read part one, or you want to review it, you can find it here:

German Adjective Endings 1 – For Beginners

Today, we’ll learn the second step, or level so to speak.
This should get you up to 70%-80% in a test on adjective endings and what’s important is that we’re STILL not using tables and you STILL kind of don’t need to know the exact gender and case. Just some basic knowledge is enough, because the second step relies completely on your intuition.
So if you’re ready, then let’s go.

And we’ll do this by applying first principles so let’s look at some stats.

Adjective Endings – How Common Are They

Those of you who have read part one probably remember the following graph.


This is a Google n-gram for the words gute, guten and so on (and as far as I know it’s based on the whole corpus of Google books including magazines but excluding normal websites).
What we focused on last time was the fact that gute is the most common version. Which proved just simply adding an “-e” is actually the best bet, if you really have no idea.

What matters for us today though is the SECOND most common option. And that is guten. Which is almost twice as common as the next one guter. And 10 times as common as gutem.

But okay, this is just one adjective. I mean… we’re not really doing science here, but let’s do a couple more.
Here’s the chart for klein (small).


So here, kleinen is the most common one with kleine not far behind, but like with gut they’re far more common than the other options.
Let’s do one more, this time with a longer adjective interessant.
Which means boring.
Nah, I’m kidding, of course it means interesting. I’m just checking if you’re still paying attention :)

So this time, the version with just “-e” is FAR ahead while “-en” is barely above “-er“.
And this will definitely vary from adjective to adjective, so feel free to play around with this on Google ngram. But based on the intense and irrefutable Science™ we just did, I think we can attest one thing:

The endings -e and -en together account for a big majority of the used endings.

Here’s a chart that shows the sum of  “-e” and “-en” against the sum of the other three endings for the word schön (beautiful).

Here, the two endings “-e” and “-en” are together more than twice as common as the other three combined.

And let’s not forget… this is Google ngram, so it’s based on mainly book German. That means it’ll include more “rare” phrasings than everyday German, and I’d assume that -em for instance is even less common in daily life than it is in books.
And also, schöner can technically also be the more-form of just schön, so  it can be “more beautiful”. So also the “-er”-adjective ending is a bit less common than it seems here.

But anyway… the exact numbers really don’t matter. What matters is the broad trend and that is pretty clear:

If we just use “-e” and “-en” and we get those two right, we’ll do pretty darn good. 

And now here comes the cool part…  we’re already adding “-e” out of habit.
So all we need is a way to know when to change that to -en, right?
And that brings us to our hack for today.

When to use “-en”?

This is actually more of a hack for a test, because it depends on knowing the article, but still it’s pretty cool.
So, the one simple hack you can use that’ll be correct most of the time is… drumroll…

Use “-en” whenever the article is weird.

Now you’re probably asking “Wait, what? What does that even mean – I find all the articles weird.”
Which is a fair point, so let me explain.

German has three genders and each gender has their own version of the – the famous der, die, das.
And also, each gender has their own version of a and those are also “not weird”.

  • derein (masculine)
  • die – eine (feminine)
  • dasein (neuter)

These are the “normal” articles.
And all the other variants of those… are weird.
Den? Weird.
Einen? Weird.
Dem? SUPER weird.
Eines? Well that’s pretty normal actually.
Nah kidding, it’s weird as hell!
So these are all weird, and you know what’s also weird – this:

  • Ich gebe der Frau ein Buch. (Dative)
  • Die Haare der Frau sind lang. (Genitive)

I mean… der Frau?! What the hell? We learned der is masculine. So this is definitely weird. And what’s also weird, at least for our purpose here, is using die for plural.  Sure, there’s a historical reason and yada yada yada, but let’s just play dumb and think die is for feminine. Then using it for the plural as well is… kind of weird. At least a little.

So bottom line – for our purpose here we say that the basic articles (der, die, das, ein, eine, ein)  are normal.
And all the others including secondary uses of the basics are weird.
Whenever the article is normal, we add “-e” to the adjective.
Whenever the article is NOT normal, we add “-en”.
That’s a pretty simple approach and we don’t need to worry about cases and all that.

But let’s see it in action and do some examples:

  • Der groß__ Mann spricht mit der schön__ Frau, die die lang_ Straße langläuft.
  • The tall guy talks to the pretty woman walking down the long street.

First up, we have der for Mann. This seems normal, because der is for masculine, so that should be große.
Then, we have der again but this time for a woman, which is kind of weird. So here, it should be schönen.
And then, we have die and we’ll assume that this is a quiz scenario, so it’ll be the correct article. So Straße is feminine and the article is normal, hence it should be lange.

And now let’s see the solution:

  • Der große Mann spricht mit der schönen Frau, die die lange Straße langläuft.

Tadah, three out of three. Hooray!
Let’s do another one.

  • Die groß__ Kellnerin gibt dem schön__ Mann einen groß__ Kaffee.
  • The tall waitress gives the pretty guy a large coffee.

Die for waitress is normal, so it should be große.
But dem and einen 100% weird, so the ending should be “-en” in both instances.
Let’s check the solution:

  • Die große Kellnerin gibt dem schönen Mann einen großen Kaffee.

Three out of three again! Nice!
But hey… we’re doing science™ here, and science needs at least one more example.

  • Maria ist sauer, weil Thomas in der voll___ Bar mit einer ander__ schön__ Frau redet.
  • Maria is angry, because Thomas is talking with a different pretty woman in the crowded bar.

And here, for the first time, we’d actually really need to know the gender of the noun, because Bar could well be masculine. If that was the case, the article is “normal” and based on our system, we’d use volle.
But Bar is actually feminine, so with our system, we need vollen.
The second part is easy though, because we have einer for a woman, which is super duper weird, so here, we’ll go with -en.
And of course we’ll use it for BOTH adjectives.
Let’s check the solution:

  • Maria ist sauer, weil Thomas in der vollen Bar mit einer anderen schönen Frau redet.

Let’s do 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 we said that using die for plural is weird.
And einem …well, that’s DEFINITELY weird, so it should be:

  • Die alten Männer lesen in einem kleinen Café Zeitung.

And it is.

Now, of course I hand picked the examples and I could also pick that are not as intuitive.
Like I said… for this stage of adjective endings, we kind of need to know the gender of the noun.
But there’s really no way around that, after all, and we still don’t have to worry about what case we’re looking at.

It’s not a perfect, fail-proof system. It’s a hack that is meant to help you get as many right as possible with as little effort as possible.

And the cool thing about this hack is… it also works for all the other kinds of articles. So it works for words like mein, dein or diese.
And they pretty much follow the pattern of ein, eine, ein.

  • 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 berühmten Stars 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.

So that’s the hack and if you try it out, you’ll see that it generally works pretty well. At least the people in the comments say as much.
But like I said … it’s a hack. So there are situations where it straight up fails.
Like here for instance.

  • 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 25 % 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 35 % 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. I could of course do my own, but then it would look like I’m cherry picking examples, so I thought it’s better to just use an already existing quiz from another site. So here you go… There is some tricky stuff in there and you really need to know the gender of things but I am curious how you do.

German Adjective Ending Quiz

That’s a pretty good site, by the way. The layout is a bit… well… like back in the days, but the content is pretty good and at least it’s not plastered with ads and newsletter popups.
Anyway, let me know in the comments how you did … 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 – The Actual Grammar

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