Adjective Endings in German

    If you are reading this post, you have probably become aware that German adjective endings are complicated and confusing. In this post, I will explain how to use German adjectives including the word order with them and how to decide which ending to put on those German adjectives.

    Word Order with German Adjectives

    First let’s get the basics out of the way. Word order is often confusing in German, but when it comes to German adjectives, the order is pretty simple. The adjectives go after any articles (ein-words & der-words), but before the nouns they describe. You can put multiple adjectives between the article and noun. You can also have instances when there is no article and there is simply an adjective before the noun. You can also have adverbs, which modify the adjective before a noun. In the example below I have bolded the adjectives and underlined the adverb before one of the adjectives.

    Der reiche, hübsche, alte Mann schenkt seinem jüngsten Enkel ganz neue Schuhe.
    The handsome, rich, old man gives his youngest grandson brand new shoes.

    Word Order of English Adjectives

    In English it is important to get the right order for your adjectives when you put more than one in front of a noun, but in German this is less important. In English you are supposed to list adjectives in the following order: number/quantity, quality/opinion, size, age, shape, color, nationality/material/makeup, and qualifier/purpose.

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    This is why it is ok to say “big, green monster”, but not “green, big monster”. In German the only order that really matters is the qualifier. A qualifier is an adjective that is so ingrained in the nature of the noun that when separated from the noun, it loses some of the meaning. In our example before “old” could be considered a qualifier, as there is a difference between a “white old man” and an “old white man”. The first is an old man, who happens to be white. The second could be either a man who happens to both be old and white or a white man who happens to also be old.

    All of this is to say that unless you are attaching the adjective to the noun in German as a kind of adjective that defines the rest of the noun, the order doesn’t really matter. Just separate each adjective with commas and be on your way.

    Introduction to German Adjective Endings

    As you are probably aware, there are four cases in German (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive). In addition to that, there are three grammatical genders plus a plural form. Then there are definite articles (der-words) and indefinite articles (ein-words).

    Adjectives in German choose their endings not just based on the case and gender of the noun they describe, but also on the article they follow. To make things even more complicated, if there isn’t an article or there is a word that counts as “Nullartikel”, then the adjectives require yet another set of endings.

    While all of that sounds like a lot, the vast majority of adjective endings in German are simply -en. This includes ALL of the dative and genitive cases and ALL of the plural forms that have an article of any kind (definite or indefinite) plus ALL of the accusative masculine forms. Just add -en. Every. Single. Time.

    If you just want to learn a ton of adjectives without bothering with the endings for now, you should check out this article about adjectives used for people or this one about describing yourself in German.

    I also have articles for making adjectives out of present and past participles.

    German Adjectives After Der-Words

    When an adjective is preceded by a definite article, also known as der-words, you only have two options, -e or -en. Singular forms in the nominative case require -e. In the accusative case, the feminine and neuter forms require -e. All of the other forms require -en. If you are into charts, I put one below, so you can see what that looks like. If you want to download the charts in this post, you can right click and download them, or you can get several different file format options here.

    German Adjectives After Der-Words (Definite Articles)
    German Adjectives After Der-Words (Definite Articles)

    As you may have noticed in the chart, what counts for a der-word isn’t just der, die, das and things like that. It also includes “dieser”, “jeder”, “manche”, “solche”, “alle”, “solche” and “welcher”. These words use the same last 1 or 2 letters as the definite articles and the adjectives that follow them use the same endings as the adjectives after definite articles. Now let’s take a look at a few examples of these adjectives in action. The articles and the adjective endings have been written in bold, while the adjectives have been underlined.

    Examples of German Adjectives After Der-Words

    Nominative

    Der große Mann schläft.
    The tall man is sleeping.

    Diese kleine Maus läuft.
    This small mouse is running.

    Das braune Pferd steht.
    The brown horse is standing.

    All gelben Blumen riechen gut.
    All yellow flowers smell good.

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    Accusative

    Ich habe den grünen Fußball.
    I have the green soccer ball.

    Welche grüne Gabel meinst du?
    Which green fork do you mean?

    Ich habe das blaue Zelt.
    I have the blue tent.

    Ich mag solche großen Teller nicht.
    I don’t like such big plates (big plates like this).

    Dative

    Ich gebe dem kleinen Jungen ein Geschenk.
    I am giving the small boy a gift.

    Ich gebe der schönen Frau eine Halskette.
    I am giving the beautiful woman a necklace.

    Ich gebe dem kleinen Mädchen ein Kleid.
    I am giving the small girl a dress.

    Ich gebe den kleinen Kindern Geschenke.
    I am giving the small children gifts.

    Genitive

    Der Hund des großen Mannes bellt ständig.
    The dog of the tall man is constantly barking.

    Die Katze der schönen Frau miaut ständig.
    The cat of the beautiful woman meows constantly

    Das Pferd dieses kleinen Mädchen stinkt.
    The horse of this small girl stinks.

    Die Haustiere der jungen Schüler rennen schnell.
    The pets of the young students run fast.

    Practice the Adjective Endings After Der-Words with a Worksheet

    German Adjectives After Ein-Words

    Only the masculine and neuter nominative adjectives and the neuter accusative adjective endings are different if there is an ein-word instead of a der-word. Since the article “ein” doesn’t explicitly carry with it the grammatical gender, the gender is now expressed on the adjective. This is why nominative masculine gets -er and the nominative and accusative neuter forms get -es. Again, here is a chart for those who like charts.

    German Adjectives After Ein-Words (Indefinite Articles)
    German Adjectives After Ein-Words (Indefinite Articles)

    You will notice again, that there are more words than just “ein” that qualify as “ein-words”. This includes all of the possessive adjectives such as “mein”, “dein” and “sein” and also the negative article “kein”. These words take the same endings as the indefinite articles do, which means that the adjectives that come after them, also take the same endings as the adjectives after indefinite articles. Here are some examples of German adjectives after ein-words.

    Examples of German Adjectives After Ein-Words

    Nominative

    Ein großer Mann schläft.
    A tall man is sleeping.

    Eine kleine Maus läuft.
    A small mouse is running.

    Ein braunes Pferd steht.
    A brown horse ist standing.

    Meine gelben Blumen riechen gut.
    My yellow flowers smell good.

    Accusative

    Er hat einen blauen Fußball.
    He has a blue soccer ball.

    Er hat eine grüne Gabel.
    He has a green fork.

    Er hat ein blaues Zelt.
    He has a blue tent.

    Er mag ihre kleinen Teller.
    He likes her small plates.

    Dative

    Ich muss meinem neuen Lehrer danken.
    I have to thank my new teacher.

    Er schenkt seiner schönen Ehefrau eine Halskette.
    He is giving his beautiful wife a necklace as a gift.

    Er gibt seinem großen Pferd eine Möhre.
    He is giving his large horse a carrot.

    Er hat meinen kleinen Kindern Geschenke gekauft.
    He bought my small children gifts.

    Genitive

    Ich verstehe kein Deutsch wegen meines schlechten Lehrers.
    I don’t understand any German, because of my bad teacher.

    Die Katze einer schönen Frau miaut ständig.
    The cat of a beautiful woman meows constantly.

    Das Pferd eines kleinen Mädchen stinkt.
    The horse of a small girl stinks.

    Die Haustiere meinen jungen Schüler rennen schnell.
    The pets of my young students run fast.

    Practice the Adjective Endings After Ein-Words with a Worksheet

    German Adjectives Not Preceded by Articles

    Nouns don’t have to be preceded by articles. This means that there isn’t always an article to dictate the ending needed for the adjective. In this case, the adjective simply takes the ending that would have been on a der-word in the same instance. For example instead of “der gute Käse”, you can say “guter Käse”. The -er from “der” is now on the adjective “guter“.

    Be careful, however, as the genitive masculine and neuter adjectives retain the -en that has been used in all of the other charts. I’m not entirely sure why this happens, but make sure you say “der Geruch des guten Käses” and “der Geruch guten Käses”. Both with and without articles, the genitive masculine and neuter forms require -en.

    German Adjectives Not Preceded by an Article (Nullartikel)
    German Adjectives Not Preceded by an Article (Nullartikel)

    As was true with the other categories, there are words that count in this category that aren’t simply a blank space before the adjective. These are generally adverbs, which modify the adjective. That would include “viel”, “viele”, “etwas”, “wenig”, “einige” and more. Numbers also fall into the category “Nullartikel”. There are a variety of other words that are included in this category, but they are all simply adverbs modifying the adjective, not article nor additional adjectives.

    Examples of Adjectives Not Preceded by Articles

    Nominative

    Trockener Klebstoff ist hart.
    Dry glue is hard.

    Frische Milch hat keine Klumpen.
    Fresh milk doesn’t have clumps.

    Grünes Gemüse ist gesund.
    Green vegetables are healthy.

    Gelbe Blumen riechen gut.
    Yellow flowers smell good.

    Accusative

    Ich habe trockenen Klebstoff auf meinem T-Shirt.
    I have dried glue on my shirt.

    Ich finde weiße Baumwolle schön.
    I find white cotton beautiful.

    Wir haben grünes Geld.
    We have green money.

    Wir mögen weiße Teller.
    We like white plates.

    Dative

    Wir trinken roten Wein mit gutem Käse.
    We are drinking red wine with good cheese.

    Wir essen Fisch mit kalter Milch.
    We are eating fish with cold milk.

    Wir essen eine Semmel mit frischem Brot.
    We are eating a sandwich with fresh bread.

    Sie schmückt den Weihnachtsbaum mit goldenen Kugeln und roten Sternen.
    She is decorating the Christmas tree with golden balls and red stars.

    Genitive

    Der Geruch guten Käse macht mich hungrig.
    The smell of good cheese makes me hungry.

    Der Geruch verdorbener Milch macht mich krank.
    The smell of spoiled milk makes me sick.

    Der Geruch verdorbenen Gemüse macht mich krank.
    The smell of spoiled vegetables makes me sick.

    Die Haustiere junger Schüler rennen schnell.
    The pets of young students run fast.

    Practice the Adjective Endings without Articles with a Worksheet

    All German Adjective Endings in One Chart

    If you combine the three charts I have shown you so far in this post, you will end up with something like the chart I have provided below. This chart includes adjectives after der-words, after ein-words and adjectives without articles. It also includes a quick little cheat sheet for the other words that are included in the definition of “der-words”, “ein-words” and “Nullartikel”.

    Some German learners find this version overwhelming, so they prefer to stick to the three separate charts. No matter which version you prefer, you can download them all for FREE here.

    All German Adjectives in 1 Chart
    All German Adjectives in 1 Chart

    German Adjective Endings by Case

    If you would prefer to learn the adjective endings based on the cases in German instead of the articles that precede them, I made videos like that in my 3 Minuten Deutsch series. You can find them here: nominative, accusative, dative, & genitive.

    Practice German Adjective Endings with a Short Story

    My children love the book “Go away big, green monster!” I realized the other day that it is full of a variety of adjectives and if you wrote something similar in German, you could use it to practice the adjective endings in a variety of cases and situations. I did just that.

    After writing it, however, I realized there is indeed a German version of this book, but they used “Hau ab” instead of “Geh weg”. I still think my version is pretty good. Also I made a few other modifications that allow for more variety in the adjective endings used. The video is included below. Below the video is a copy of the text I used.

    Story Video

    Story Text

    Das ist Herr Antrim. Er hat zwei schöne, große, blaue Augen. 
    Er trägt eine kleine, schwarze Brille. 
    Die Brille liegt auf seinen komischen, haarigen Ohren und auf seiner porendichten, rosafarbenen Nase. 
    Über seinen komischen, haarigen Ohren sind seine kurzen, braunen Haare, die bis man seine große, immer wachsende Glatze sehen kann, lichter werden.
    Unter seiner porendichten, rosafarbenen Nase sieht man seine dünnen, trockenen Lippen. 
    Wenn er lächelt, kann man hinter den dünnen, trockenen Lippen seine gelben, schief gewachsenen Zähne sehen. 
    Diese eigenartigen, nicht allzu hässlichen Teile bilden sein altes, faltiges Gesicht. 
    Unter seinem alten, faltigen Gesicht trägt er eine kleine, schöne, coole Fliege. 
    Ich möchte aber heute kein schweres, kompliziertes Deutsch lernen. 
    Daher geht weg, schöne, große, blaue Augen! 
    Geh weg, kleine, schwarze Brille!
    Geht weg, komische, haarige Ohren!
    Geh weg, porendichte, rosafarbene Nase! 
    Geht weg, kleine, braune Haare!
    Geh weg, große, immer wachsende Glatze! 
    Geht weg, dünne, trockene Lippen!
    Geht weg, gelbe, schief gewachsene Zähne! 
    Geh weg, altes, faltiges Gesicht! 
    Geh weg, Herr Antrim!
    Die Fliege darf bleiben. Sie ist cool.

    der süße Brei: A Grimm Fairy Tale Full of German Adjectives

    Another great story for practicing your German adjective endings is “der süße Brei” by the Grimm Brothers. I made a video for that, too. Below the video you can find a copy of the text in German.

    Es war einmal ein armes, frommes Mädchen, das lebte mit seiner Mutter allein, und sie hatten nichts mehr zu essen. Da ging das Kind hinaus in den Wald, und begegnete ihm da eine alte Frau, die wusste seinen Jammer schon und schenkte ihm ein Töpfchen, zu dem sollt es sagen: “Töpfchen, koche,” so kochte es guten, süßen Hirsebrei, und wenn es sagte: “Töpfchen, steh,” so hörte es wieder auf zu kochen.

    Das Mädchen brachte den Topf seiner Mutter heim, und nun waren sie ihrer Armut und ihres Hungers ledig und aßen süßen Brei, sooft sie wollten.

    Auf eine Zeit war das Mädchen ausgegangen, da sprach die Mutter: “Töpfchen, koche,” da kocht es, und sie isst sich satt; nun will sie, dass das Töpfchen wieder aufhören soll, aber sie weiß das Wort nicht. Also kocht es fort, und der Brei steigt über den Rand hinaus und kocht immerzu, die Küche und das ganze Haus voll und das zweite Haus und dann die Straße, als wollt’s die ganze Welt satt machen, und ist die größte Not, und kein Mensch weiß sich da zu helfen. Endlich, wie nur noch ein einziges Haus übrig ist, da kommt das Kind heim und spricht nur: “Töpfchen, steh,” da steht es und hört auf zu kochen, und wer wieder in die Stadt wollte, der musste sich durchessen.

    More About German Adjectives

    If you would like to learn more about adjectives in German, consider checking out these articles by Herr Antrim.

    Herr Antrim

    Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites.