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Handout: Adjektivendungen

Adjective endings are usually the least favorite part of learning German, from both the students' and the teacher's viewpoints. I can't make them fun, but I can at least make them a little easier. Yes, they do require some memorization, but there is a logic to them. With some effort, you should be able to put the correct endings on adjectives without having to refer to a massive diagram or chart.

When does an adjective need an ending?
There are two ways to use adjectives in a sentence: as a descriptive adjective ("the house is nice"), or as an attributive adjective ("it is a nice house"). All attributive adjectives -- that is, adjectives that precede a noun which they modify -- MUST show declension, i.e. they must have an ending in German. If an adjective does not precede a noun, but rather occurs as a descriptive adjective after the noun, then it does not have any ending. Compare the following:

Descriptive Adjective = no endingAttributive Adjective = with ending
Das Haus ist schön.Das ist ein schönes Haus.
Meine Katze ist alt.Ich habe eine alte Katze.


What ending does it take?
This is of course the hard part. There are many ways to understand and learn adjective endings: if you were to simply memorize a chart, you would need to memorize 48 different possible combinations -- but it would work, if that's what you prefer. (I don't.) Instead, let's try to approach adjective endings from a more logic-oriented framework, with a set of rules.

Keep in mind 1: Something -- either an article (der/ein/dieser/etc.) or the adjective itself -- must show what gender the noun is. For example, der Mann clearly shows that Mann is masculine; ein Mann, on the other hand, does not show this, because ein could also be applied to a neuter noun (ein Kind).

Keep in mind 2: Some articles show that a noun has changed from its original nominative case, others do not. For example, in the sentence "ich sehe einen Mann", einen shows clearly that Mann is no longer in the nominative case. In the sentence "ich sehe ein Buch", however, the neuter accusative ein does not differ from its nominative form, which is also ein. This distinction will be important in deciding which adjective ending to use.

With those guidelines in mind, we can now set up a flow chart of rules that will give you the correct adjective ending.

Question 1: Does the adjective have an article in front of it?
(Articles are words like der, die, das, ein, mein, unser, dieser, jeder, etc.)

If NO (if there is no article): add the ending that would occur on a der-word for that noun. For instance:
 Deutsches Bier schmeckt gut.(it would be dieses Bier, so we add -es to deutsch)
 Ich trinke kalten Kaffee gern.(it would be diesen Kaffee, so we add -en to kalt)

If YES (if there is an article already), move on to question 2.


Question 2: Is the article in the standard, unchanged form?
(This references the second keep in mind described above. "Ich sehe ein Buch", even though Buch is in the accusative, uses the same ein form as the original nominative, so it is in the original form.)

If NO (if the article is different from its original form), add -en.
 Ich kenne einen guten Mann.(einen, masculine accusative, has changed from the original ein)
 Ich spreche mit der netten Frau.(der, feminine dative, has changed from the original die)

If YES (if the article is in its original form), move on to question 3.


Question 3: Is the noun singular?

If NO (if the noun is plural), add -en.
 Ich sehe die jungen Kinder.(die, plural accusative, is in its original form, but it is plural, so an -en is added to jung)
 Keine schönen Frauen waren da.(keine, plural nominative, is in its original form, but it is plural, so an -en is added to schön)

If YES (if the noun is singular), move on to question 4.


Question 4: Does the article show gender?
(This references the first keep in mind above. Der Mann, den Mann, dem Mann, einen Mann, and einem Mann all show the gender of Mann, but ein Mann does not. Das Buch, dem Buch, and einem Buch all show the gender of Buch, but ein Buch does not. Die Frau, der Frau, eine Frau, and einer Frau all show gender. As you see, pretty much the only articles which do not show gender are ein and its equivalents (mein, dein, sein, ihr, unser, euer, Ihr).

If NO (if the article is ein/dein/etc): add -er for masculine nouns, -es for neuter nouns.
 Das ist ein gutes Buch.(something needs to show the -s that is inherent to das Buch -- since ein does not show it, -es is added to gut)
 Sein alter Hund war in der Küche.(something needs to show the -r that is inherent to der Hund -- since sein does not show it, -er is added to alt)

If YES (if the article already shows the gender): add -e.
 Hier ist eine kleine Lampe.(eine shows that Lampe is feminine, so only -e is added to klein)
 Wo ist der rote Mantel?(der shows that Mantel is masculine, so only -e is added to rot)


That's it! If you follow these rules correctly, then all adjective endings will fall into place for you. To summarize in a more graphical form:

Adjective Ending Flow Chart


There are, of course, a few things you should watch out for -- not exceptions, merely common misperceptions.

Common problem 1: UNSER. Remember that the -er in unser is part of the article unser (our), it is NOT an ending itself. (Unser Buch ist gut; unsere Mutti ist nett; unser Vater ist alt.) Unser Vater is equivalent to mein Vater, and therefore Question 4 applies: when adding an adjective, it must be unser netter Vater to show the -r inherent to Vater; or unser gutes Buch to show the -s inherent to Buch. Similarly, EUER (your, pl.) is also an ein-word, the -er is part of the article itself. In their base forms, then, unser and euer do not show gender.

Common problem 2: What qualifies as an article? Articles in German include all der/die/das words, all ein-words, and all the dieser, jeder, mancher, and solcher words. Alle (only ever seen as the plural form as an article) and beide (both) are also articles. Thus a complete list of articles:
der, die, das, den, dem(the)
dieser, diese, dieses, diesen, diesem(this/that/these)
jeder, jede, jedes, jeden, jedem(each/every)
mancher, manche, manches, manchen, manchem(some)
solcher, solche, solches, solchen, solchem(such)
welcher, welche, welches, welchen, welchem(which)
ein, eine, einen, einem, einer(a/an)
kein--, mein--, dein--, sein--, ihr--, unser--, euer--, Ihr--(no, my, your, his/its, her, our, your, Your)
alle, beide(all, both)


Common problem 3: VIELE (many) is not an article -- it is simply another adjective. The same is true of EINIGE (a few, some), MEHRERE (several), and WENIGE (few, not many). Thus these words as well as any adjectives following them must be declined according to Question 1, using the der-endings (viele gute Bücher, einige nette Leute).

Common problem 4: When there is more than one adjective modifying the same noun (the nice old man), each adjective acts independently and takes the appropriate ending (der nette alte Mann, ein netter alter Mann). Thus all adjectives in a string will have the same endings.

Common problem 5: Forgetting Question 3 is common -- remember to check if the noun is plural. If it is, and it has any article before it, the ending will be -en. Plural nouns without an article, following Question 1, will have -e or -en depending on their case.

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