German Adjective Endings 3

Hello everyone,

and welcome to the last part of the mini series on

German adjective endings

So far, things were simple. Part 1 (find it here), the most important one, was about adding an -e to the adjective as soon as it precedes a noun, no matter what.  Seriously. If you haven’t read it, then do it. In part 2 (find it here) we learned to add an extra -n to that whenever the article looks weird. If you just do that, you should get about 70 % correct. Today, we’ll take care of the extra 15 %. Oh… I mean 25% . Sorry… haha… a bit shaky with the math right there.
Now, so far it was all easy peasy but this is gonna end today. “German grammar ist kein ponyhof” as a common proverb says. Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s like…  you can drink 80% of an XXL Latte with hazelnut with joy and little effort but you need to really want to finish it to drink the remaining… uhm… the remaining percent. It’s no different for adjective endings. Today will be theoretical and tedious. You will be super exhausted and so frustrated that you will never want to speak German aga..
 (wait a second… that’s not how they explained it at this “Explain things seminar”. What did the guy say? … uhm… pretend that it’s easy… yeah, that’s it…  quick… must act or I’ll lose them)
and that’s why today it’ll be surprisingly easy. We’ll breeze through a few rules and a few concepts and shabams… we’re done. We’re basically done already, we just need to wrap up the whole thing. It’ll be a walk in the park…
(By the time they realize it’s the Rocky Mountain national park, it’s too late… ) guahahhahahahaha… oh… did I just do the evil laughter aloud? Damn… anyway… without any further ado, here we go…. with a little bit of background.

The Awful German marking system

German. It has three way too many genders, four way too many cases and  2715 WAAAAAY to many ways to build the plural. That’s why linguists call it a  WTM-language by the way. But German doesn’t only have those forms. It also likes to show them around. Like… you’re just sitting there trying to read a book and German keeps waving its grammar in your face.
“Hey look what I got. Look!  Masculine singular accusative!”, it says. And you’re just like “Ugh…”
German is not the only language to do that. Many languages belong to the WTM-club and in most them the grammar is “marked”. A very common way of marking things like gender or number are endings. In English an -s marks plural for instance. And that’s exactly what the adjective endings are doing. Alongside with nouns, articles and pronouns they have to carry around certain marks for gender, case and number.
Now, we could ask “Okay, cool, so… what marker are the adjectives carrying?”
That works fairly well for Spanish

  • o – masculine, singular
  • a – feminine singular
  • os – masculine plural
  • as – feminine plural

And it is similarly straight-forward in Italian. But in German it is not that simple. Hey… STOP… come back! You can’t run away, you hear me? Learning Spanish will not solve your problems with German. Seriously though, the German marking system is REALLY messed up. Because back in the day, when the question of who has to carry what mark came up in one of the design meetings for the German language, the nouns were quite unwilling to participate. They were like
“We already carry the meaning. We will not carry anything extra. Let the articles do it.”
Of course the articles weren’t too pleased.
“What?! No fair! We are so small and we’re supposed to carry gender, case AND number while the nouns only carry ONE thing???  We’re articles, not slaves.”
And so started a debate that raged on forever. The nouns threatened to go on strike, then the articles threatened to go on strike. Then experts for efficiency were brought in. Then some sound designers. Even a student… he failed you all. And finally, after centuries of barter and bargaining, a compromise was found. A political compromise. And we all know how these THOSE look like… millions of regulations and special cases to satisfy every last group of interest… except the learners, of course.
Is it really THAT messed up? Long answer: Nouns kind of focus on plural, articles on gender and case, but they can use the same form for different things, everyone can carry everything at times or everyone just carries parts of a mark or a mark is missing entirely… it is horribly intertwined…

  • den schönen Wagen… accusative – singular  – masculine
  • der schöne Wagen… nominative – singular –  masculine
  • der schönen Wagen… genitive – plural – masculine
  • den schönen Wagen… dative – plural – masculine

I mean… can you see ANY system in that? And yes, the first and the last one are identical. It is really beyond works. And because this system is so awful, we had our German is Easy grammar team create a visualization. They said they had to use really complicated math and that it needed 3 full days to render… I haven’t looked at it myself yet so let’s have a look together right now
here it is .
Oh… uhhhhh…  I… uhm… it all becomes clear once you see it in 3D, I suppo … oh wait, never mind. it doesn’t. It does in 6D but I haven’t had enough glasses for th.. uhm… I mean… I don’t have the glasses for that. Anyway… we do not need to understand the whole system. We just need to get our adjective endings right to pass the exam :). All we need to take away from this is that it is a quasi chaotic mess and if you’re confused by it that means you’re a human being.
So… what’s do the adjectives do? They support the articles with their marking chores. To be precise … the d-articles. Hmm…d-articles. I guess we need to paint some more background…

d-articles and ein-articles

The d-articles are led by the ones we all know and love… der, die and das. Other ones in that group are diese/n/m/r/s, jene/n/m/r/s or manche/l/k/x/t/ß. Those are pretty hard workers and they do a lot of the marking for gender and case. What do they mar…oh wait…let me guess… it is totally messy and impossible to sum up.  If we ignore the plural, a very rough summary is this… in nominative and accusative, the gender is clear while the case is only for masculine.

  • nominative :  die, der, das
  • accusative:    die , den, das

In Dative and Genitive the case is sort of clear.

  • Dative:     der, dem, dem
  • Genitive: der, des,     des

Sounds super vague but it’s really all we need to know. All right let’s talk about the ein-articles.
Remember that long debate about who has to carry which mark? Well… the ein-articles got themselves some nice privileges. Back in the days, ein had argued that das in “das Bier” had to only refer to one beer, while the ein in “ein Bier”  was potentially referring to every single beer that ever existed. And that, so ein said,  was much more work than what das does…. yeah… I don’t get it either. But then the possessives chimed in … mein (my) and dein( your)  and unser (our) and so on …. and they said ” Ein is right. It should have to carry less marks than das.” And then they went on to demand the same for themselves.
“We’re carrying info about the owner so we also need marker relief.”, they reasoned.  They made a convincing argument and eventually this group, the
 ein-articles, were granted a “partial gender waiver”. A what?

  • Der Kaffee ist heiß.
  • Das Auto ist teuer.
  • Ein Kaffee ist heiß.
  • Ein Auto ist teuer.

The ein-articles (ein-, kein-,mein-, unser-…) are basically not making a distinction between neuter and masculine, as we can see in the example. And now we’re set for the adjectives… finally.

Adjectives  – taking up the mark

We’ve already learned and forgotten that the adjectives support the d-articles with their markings. So let’s maybe say it again… the adjective endings suppo blah blah blah boring.
When there is a such a d-article the adjective kind of only cheers it on.

  • das schöne Fahrrad

The adjective is just like… “Yeah, nominative or accusative, go das go!”

  • dem schönen Fahrrad

Now it is like “Yeah, NOT nominative or accusative, go dem, go!”
We can also reuse what we’ve learned last time… if the d-article is “normal” then the adjective ends in -e. If it is weird, it ends in –en.
But the adjective’s time to shine comes whenever there is no d-article around. And for one thing, that is the case if we have an ein-article. And with those, the adjective will sport the missing gender-marker – s for neuter, e for feminine and r for masculine.

  • da-s schöne Fahrrad (the pretty bike)
  • mein schöne-s Fahrrad (my pretty bike)
  • de-r schöne Mann (the…)
  • ihr schöne-r Mann (her pretty man)
  • die schöne Farbe
  • keine schöne Farbe (no nice color)

In the last example, the marker is -e for feminine. But -e is there anyway, so nothing to add here. For all the othe…  wait a second. What about the second example? It is ihr. There is no ein in ihr. But it is a possessive article and those are part of the ein-articles, even if some of them have no ein in them. And ihr doesn’t tell us the gender either. Anyway… for most of the ein-articles   the adjectives don’t have to do extra work, because the ein-articles do the same marking as the d-ones.

  • meinem schönen Mann (to my nice husband)
  • unserer netten Lehrerin (to our nice teacher)
  • seines schönen Fahrrads (his nice bike’s)

So… when there is an ein-article around, the adjective will get the few gender marks that those are missing. Those instances are incredibly common though, so you should really get used to it. If it is just ein or mein or dein or so… an adjective would get the missing mark. S for neuter, r for masculine.
All right. Now, there is another opportunity for the adjectives to stand in the lime light… when there is NO article around.

  • “What are you havin’?”
    “Water. No article.”

But with ice, please. Because  that’ll make it cold… you know… like… with an adject…never mind. Example

  • Cold water is refreshing.

And in those situations, the German adjective will take up whatever marker the d-article would have been carrying and wear it.

  • Da-s kalte Wasser ist erfrischend.
  •          Kalte-s Wasser ist erfrischend.
  • De-r heiße Kaffee schmeckt gut.
  •           Heiße-r Kaffee schmeckt gut.

And it doesn’t matter what mark it is. The adjective will take anything…

  • Zu de-m gute-n Wein esse ich Käse. (I eat cheese with the good wine.)
  • Zu              gute-m Wein sag’ ich nicht nein. (I don’t say no to good wine.)
  • Ab de-r nächste-n Woche habe ich mehr Zeit. (I will have more the starting the following week )
  • Ab            nächste-r Woche habe ich mehr Zeit. ( same as above)

Even plural.

  • Di-e schöne-n Frauen trinken Prossecco.
  •         Schön-e Frauen trinken Prosecco.

Whatever the d-article does, the adjective will do. They are really just copying and there is no special rule or anything. It’s like… the d-articles are sort of the standard for what has to be marked, as random as that may be… and the adjectives help out. And that’s alrea… wait… my red exception phone is ringing, let me take this call real quick… hey John man, I totally expected your call today… yeah, I know, I’m so glad I don’t have to learn this stuff…. … haha… definitely… so what do you have for me…. uhu…….  oh the Genitive,….. .. fascinating… … … … …. see, examples for that are so rare and contrived that I didn’t realize… thanks a lot man, bye…  All right. I’m back with you. So this was John from the exception-copter and of course there is an exception to what I just said: In Genitive masculine and neuter singular the adjective will actually NOT take on the mark. Instead it will stick with it’s -en ending that it is usually wearing if the article is “weird”… as we’ve learned in part 2. And it does that because… the noun already has the mark… which is an –s by the way… so… s marks Genitive and neuter. Did we mention that the marking system is awful? Good.

  • Der Geschmack de-s teure-n Weine-s wird überschätzt. (The taste of the expensive wine is often overestimated… is that idiomatic?? Natives to the rescue)
  • Teure-n Weine-s Geschmack wird überschätzt. ( The taste of expensive wine…)

For feminine and plural genitive, the adjective will take up the mark though… because it would be missing otherwise.

  • Di-e hohen Bäume sind beeindruckend. ( the tall trees are impressive.)
  •         Hoh-e Bäume sind beeindruckend (tall trees are impressive)
  • Der Schatten de-r hohen Bäume ist lang. (the shade of the large trees is long)
  • Auch hohe-r Bäume Schatten ist manchmal nur ein Punkt. (Also tall trees’ shade is sometime but a dot.)

The last one is an old Chinese proverb I just made up. They were so wise back then. The meaning is that even a small thing can make a big difference… wait… does that make sense? Anyway. When it comes to adjective endings small things can make a big difference …
but they rarely really do.
They’re just there and suck out the fun. Adjective endings, especially if they have to carry the load of the articles is German at its most awful. If I had to learn this I would probably be like… screw that. And that is also my advice for you. Do NOT learn this systematically. Because there is NO system. Just try to pick it up over time by reading things and listening to people talking. The more you force it the more frustrated you will get.

The three things you need to have in the back of your head are the following:

  1. add an -e. No matter what. It is always there…. okay almost always
  2. add an -en whenever the article ending is weird or is plural (check out part 2 for more on that)
  3. if there is a mark missing the adjective will take it

And the last point is what you need to take home with you of today. There is the concept of “markedness”. That is, German marks gender, case and number using endings. The system is downright absurd and attempts at understanding it can lead to brain damage. But the d-articles are the reference for what gets marked in a given situation and how. If the d-article is missing, the adjective fills in. “Wait… so I have to know the d-article ending in order to get the adjective ending correct?” Exactly. But if you don’t know the d-article ending for a situation you’re not at a stage where you should worry about adjective endings. Not because you’re stupid or a beginner or anything. It would be just a waste of time. Just stick with step 1 and 2 and then one day, you will be like

  • Wieviel kostet ein große Kaffee… wait… ein großer Kaffee because it is der Kaffee.

Getting those marks right is nothing to stress out about. Just be aware that this system of markedness is around, and that the d-articles are the role-model.  And that is it. That was our mini series on adjective endings. And if your disappointed now because you were hoping for something more “tangible”… well, at least I think that that is impossible to do. If you really want the specifics then you can always use the tables and all that theoretical crap like strong,weak and mixed declension. Those terms are weapons of mass demotivation and should be banned.
The concept of markedness doesn’t tell you right away which ending to use but it is an idea of what’s going on under the hood if you will. And it has another benefit… because the very same idea is behind all those weird pronouns

  • Wem gehört da-s Fahrrad? Das ist mein-s.
  • To whom does the bike belong? That is mine.
  • De-r kleine Hund ist ihre-r.
  • The small dog is hers.
  • Bist du mit de-m roten oder dem blauen Auto gefahren?
    Mit keine-m, ich bin gelaufen?
  • Which car were you driving with? The red one or the blue?
    With neither, I walked.

And that is quite something, I would say… now we don’t even have to do a mini-series on THAT mess :).
That’s it with the adjective endings. If you have any questions or suggestions or if you want me to give you more examples – I feel like I have been a bit stingy today :) –  just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh by the way… here’s a small  exercise. And if you fail, then it’s my fault :)

for members :)

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leo odongo
leo odongo

Thank you very much. Good night! Oh no. Good morning! Oh oh oh, Good day in case you will not sleep tonight.

wamooz

Thanks Emanuel … your explanations are always interesting … I mean r-e-a-l-l-y interesting, not the euphemistic type of “interesting”!
I found the diagram at the bottom of this article very helpful – http://www.nthuleen.com/teach/grammar/adjektivendungenexpl.html. There have been a few occasions where I couldn’t match a sentence to the rules, but it works most of the time.

Carlos Mario Castro

Definitely I have to read this twice.

hpr
hpr

was ich schon seit langem hätte dir schreiben sollen, lautet: danke dir! mit deiner methode hab ich die deklination endlich verstanden und mache eigentlich heute fast keine fehler mehr (100% richtich in diesem Test). als ich die deklinationtabellen zum ersten mal angeschaut habe, habe ich sofort gedacht… wie schön, und damit das thema entlassen habe. glücklicherweise habe ich deinen blog gefunden, und die deklination wurde mir nach zwei durchlesen vollkommen klar :)

außerdem finde ich alles war du hier gepostet hast, wirklich klasse! riesengroßen dank :)

Ian Allen Mortensen

Love the article. One question: you used “teuer” and translated it to “old”. Was that a mistake? Google keeps translating it to expensive for me, and that’s what I thought it was

Tom Wilberding

In your second example above (die schönen Wagen… dative – plural – masculine), is that a typo? Do you need nom/acc – plural – masculine? dative would be “den”, oder?

unsandled
unsandled

Toller Beitrag immer wie. Ich habe eine Frage, die ganz weg von aktuellem thema liegt.
Wann benutzt man ‘dessen’, ‘deren’ und wann ‘sein’, ‘ihr’?. Ich habe mich verwirrt darüber. Könntest du erklären?

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Im Prinzip sind sie austauschbar. Ich bin kein Muttersprachler, aber ich würde sagen, “dessen” und “deren” hören sich irgendwie gehobener an. Ich glaube, sie sind eher in schriftlicher Sprache gebräuchlich. Wenn das nicht stimmt, wird mich Emanuel korrigieren.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Naja, es gibt auch Fälle, in welchen “dessen” und “deren” einen Bezug eindeutig machen.

Z.B.: Peter hat seinen Freund und seinen Vater eingeladen.
Peter hat seinen Freund und dessen Vater eingeladen.

Aus dem ersten Satz ist es nicht klar, ob es sich um Peters Vater oder um den Vater vom Freund handelt. Der zweite ist eindeutig.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader

Emanuel, hast du zuvor die “Artikel-Wörter” wie “alle”, “viele”, “solche”, “welche”, “keine” im Plural-Nominativ behandelt?

Übrigens will ich fragen: laut canoo.net wird ein Adjektiv nach “irgendwelch-” schwankend flektiert, d.h. gilt Beides “irgendwelche Verwandte” und “irgendwelche Verwandten” (vermutlich weil das Wort von der Form her an “welch-” erinnert, von der Bedeutung her stellt es trotzdem etwas Unbestimmtes dar, weshalb der Konflikt entsteht). Welche Variante fändest du gebräuchlicher?

Mike
Mike

American English speakers who have trouble with this: Go to the U of Michigan Web site http://www.lsa.umich.edu/german/hmr/Grammatik/Adjektive/Adjektivendungen.html.
You will find two tables, one using the “Oklahoma rule” for any ein word with an ending (eines, einer, eine, keine, meine, ihrem). Oklahoma is -e; the rest is -en
M N F P
N -e -e -e -en
A -en -e -e -en
D -en -en -en -en
G -en -en -en -en
Ich bin mit einer deutschEN Gruppe nach Uganda gewesen, um die SoFi zu sehen.

Any ein word with no ending (kein, mein, nothing before it) has
-er -es -e -e
-er -es -e -e
-em -em -er -en
-en -en -er -er
Once you get the -er -es down, and remember -e for plural, and not -en, the ones that are difficult are dative and genitive only.
When I saw this, my ability to get the right ending increased from a 25% to 95%, It beat the 6 4 x 4 tables I saw in grammar books. If you don’t know Oklahoma, it might be worth pulling out a map of the US (Oklahoma ist nördlich von Texas). While I understand the concept of “carrying the gender,” the idea is so foreign to us who grew up with a language where genders didn’t exist for nouns, adjectives seldom needed endings (“reds and blues look good on you”) plurals are incredibly easy, and regular verb conjugations are a gut course, that for me no other way worked.

I always wonder why on German TV I seem to hear “schönen Tag” when the cop says good by to a suspect. It should be “schöner Tag,” but they enunciate about as well as we do, so I could be wrong. For 3 + years, I used the wrong word (“unterrichten”), instead of “beibringen,” which may finally appear in the 13th grammar book, I’ve used, since it wasn’t in the first 12 (along with a clear discussion of nominative case with “to be,” which is just like properly spoken English). Das ist genug für heute.

Daniel
Daniel

The logic behind ‘schönen Tag’ is the same as that behind ‘guten Tag’ or ‘guten Abend’. It is just assumed that you’re wishing them a good day, therefore it’s in accusative. It’s short for ‘Ich wünsche Ihnen einen schönen Tag noch!’.

Amar

uhm, i really like your blog, your humor is what really helps learn. Please continue writing, this shit is legendary status achivable. ( what? does that even make sense??????? LEGENDARY STATUS ACHIVABLE??????? a fancy made-up translation is: with a potential to achieve a status of legendary)

AhMedRMaaty
AhMedRMaaty

Hallo, wie geht’s?
Sorry if my comment is not related to the post, but I have an urgent question, if you can help me bitte.
When I wanna say “one of the ……”, how can I say it in Deutsch?
i know it’s something like einer or eines von ….. But I want to know how to use it please :)

And if it’s possible can you give me an email that I can contact you if I have any question ?
Thanks in advance

Jo
Jo

Danke Emanuel for this series on adjective endings, this is great! And “weapons of mass demotivation” made me laugh – it’s so true!
I get the impression that ultimately it comes down to practice – our brains are wired to deal with grammar, but they do it through intuitively picking up patterns across many examples. So practising examples is key – which is why children’s books and nursery rhymes are often repetitive.
So I was thinking it would be great to have a rhyme which uses all the (48) different case/gender/article combinations – with a variety of nouns and adjectives, (at least some kind of pattern that’s easy to remember), because if they were all the same then it would be no better than the tables where they’re all the same. I don’t know about any one else, but I’d go around chanting a rhyme to practise this stuff! I am thinking of writing this, but as a total beginner, I don’t know how far I’ll get because I don’t have the vocab to write verse.
I’m thinking of rhymes like: “The king was in the counting house, counting out his money; The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey” – which if you think about it, teaches some principles of English grammar.
So any way, if you (or any one else reading this) is interested in writing a ditty, I think it would be great!

AhMedRMaaty
AhMedRMaaty

Welcher Satz klingt “gefährlicher”?
– Lass das ruhig liegen
– lass das bloß liegen

What both sentences mean and what is more aggressive?

Hunny
Hunny

Hey there… you really have the sense to make german look easy.. i have said this before.. you are doing great setvivd to many a struggling souls out there..
Now..
i m reading an article on Berlin Kurier and came across following statement :
“In schwarzem Anzug und weißen Hemd öffnet uns Fahrer Mario die Türen…”.
Now i have searched all the tables.. the strong declension says dative+mas/nueter takes ’em’ ending. I also know that Anzug is der Anzug and Hemd is das Hemd. So logically both schwarze and weiß should end in em. But thats not the case here. Does ‘und’ have anything to do here?
As always your help is greatly appreciated..

Regards,
Hunny
p.s. i had commented on your posts also but did not get a response.

Hunny
Hunny

Hey.. thanks a lot for a quicky reply..
Two things bug me most during language learning.. first spending hours on researching something when that is actually wrong, and second considering something wrong when that is colloquially acceptable..
I think i should limit to well-known newspapers only during language learning like Der Spiegel and DW and unsubscribe these vernaculars like Berlin Kurier. It is easy to pick others mistakes.

And for older replies, my browser kept opening the older ‘cached’ pages when i looked back for reply to my comments, so couldn’t find them. Thanks again for those replies..

Regards,
Hunny

zuo yoy
zuo yoy

this is the besteht course ive ever met. thanks to Karma, it leads me Herr. anyway i really appreciate your patience and Kind Humor and the dirty words which i enjoy. i would sah , this course has a bit taste of underground , just like underground music you got it? i endorse and adore it

J.João

Hi Emanuel, you might want to correct the part about Spanish and Italian markings. While they are correct for Spanish (and Portuguese too, by the way), Italian doesn’t work that way. Markers for Italian are:

* o – masculine, singular (ex: ragazzo)
* a – feminine singular (ex: ragazza)
* i – masculine plural (ex: ragazzi)
* e – feminine plural (ex: ragazze)

Just a small remark, and by no means a complain about the post or your great blog, you really make it easy (and fun) to learn German. Keep it up!

João

Just realized I used a noun instead of an adjective as an example, but it works with adjectives the same way: bello/bella/belli/belle

Andy
Andy

Ich hab’ gerade gemerkt, dass du vergessen hast, diesen Artikel auf “Online-Course” zu stecken :)

afmsjksua@gmail.com
afmsjksua@gmail.com

Wonderful content, thanks a lot !!

Tay
Tay

Emmanuel, In case you never got a response here about whether “That was we” was correct, I would say it is definitely not. Interesting that “That was I’ is permissible, but not “That was we.” Thanks for all your teaching.