Der süße Brei of German Adjectives
This week’s German fairytale is called “Der süße Brei” (The Sweet Porridge). It’s title and the story itself present a great opportunity to talk about adjective endings. Following the video, you can see what I mean in more detail.
In every case in German, as you already probably know, the articles in front of nouns change to show how the noun is being used in the sentence. This allows for the flexibility of word order for which German is known. What you may not know is that the adjectives that come between the noun and the article don’t always follow the same pattern that the articles do. A lot of teachers will try to teach you adjectives based on the type of article that precedes the noun, but I would like to show you a different way of thinking about them. In this post, I’ll be breaking down the adjectives in each case instead of by the articles.
The nominative case is usually the first one that students of German learn. This is because it is the most widely used one and it is also the basis of all of the other forms. The definite articles for this case are: der (masculine), die (feminine), das (neuter), and die (plural). All of the singular forms will take the letter “e” at the end of the adjective. The plural forms will take “en”.
Der große Mann schläft. – The tall man is sleeping. (masculine)
Die kleine Maus läuft. – The small mouse is running. (feminine)
Das braune Pferd steht. – The brown horse is standing. (neuter)
Die gelben Blumen riechen gut. – The yellow flowers smell good. (plural)
When you use an indefinite article in front of the adjective, the ending that usually is on the definite article shows up on the adjective. Take a look at these sentences and compare them to the previous examples to see what I mean.
Ein großer Mann schläft. – A tall man is sleeping. (masculine)
Eine kleine Maus läuft. – A small mouse is running. (feminine)
Ein braunes Pferd steht. – A brown horse ist standing. (neuter)
Meine gelben Blumen riechen gut. – My yellow flowers smell good. (plural)
When there isn’t an article at all, the endings for this case are basically the same as they were with the indefinite articles, but the plural form takes “e” instead of “en”.
Guter Käse riecht schlecht. – Good cheese smells bad. (masculine)
Frische Milch hat keine Klumpen. – Fresh milk doesn’t have clumps. (feminine)
Grünes Gemüse ist gesund. – Green vegetables are healthy. (neuter)
Gelbe Blumen riechen gut. – Yellow flowers smell good. (plural)
All of the accusative adjective endings are the same as the nominative case ones with the exception of the masculine form. The masculine endings after definite and indefinite articles as well as the endings on adjectives that don’t have an article in front of them are all “en”.
Ich habe den grünen Fußball. – I have the green soccer ball.
Er hat einen blauen Fußball. – He has a blue soccer ball.
Wir essen blauen Käse. – We are eating blue cheese. (The actual word for “blue cheese” is “Blauschimmelkäse”.)
Ich habe die grüne Gabel. – I have the green fork.
Er hat eine grüne Gabel. – He has a green fork.
Wir trinken frische Milch. – We are drinking fresh milk.
Ich habe das blaue Zelt. – I have the blue tent.
Er hat ein blaues Zelt. – He has a blue tent.
Wir haben grünes Geld. – We have green money.
Ich mag die großen Teller. – I like the big plates.
Er mag meine kleinen Teller. – He likes my small plates.
Wir mögen weiße Teller. – We like white plates.
When you get to the dative case, everything gets easier. This is probably the only time that you will see a German teacher say that the dative case is easier than the nominative and accusative cases, but this time it is true. All adjectives that have an article in front of them will take “en” at the end. If there is not an article in front of the adjective, the ending is simply the same as the definite articles in the dative case.
Ich gebe dem kleinen Jungen ein Geschenk. – I am giving the small boy a gift.
Er gibt meinem jungen Sohn ein Geschenk. – He is giving my young son a gift.
Wir trinken roten Wein mit gutem Käse. – We are drinking red wine with good cheese.
Ich gebe der schönen Frau eine Halskette. – I am giving the beautiful woman a necklace.
Er gibt seiner schönen Ehefrau eine Halskette. – He is giving his beautiful wife a necklace.
Wir essen Fisch mit kalter Milch. – We are eating fish with cold milk.
Ich gebe dem kleinen Mädchen ein Kleid. – I am giving the small girl a dress.
Er gibt seinem großen Pferd eine Möhre. – He is giving hi large horse a carrot.
Wir essen eine Semmel mit frischem Brot. – We are eating a sandwich with fresh bread.
Ich gebe den kleinen Kindern Geschenke. – I am giving the small children gifts.
Er gibt meinen kleinen Kindern Geschenke. – He gives my small children gifts.
Wir essen Fisch mit kleinen Gabeln. – We eat fish with small forks.
The genitive case also uses “en” on all adjectives preceded by an article. The genitive case is a bit different than the dative case, however, as the adjectives that don’t have articles use “en” instead of “es” for the masculine and neuter forms.
Der Hund des großen Mannes bellt ständig. – The dog of the tall man is constantly barking.
Der Hund eines großen Mannes bellt ständig. – The dog of a tall man is constantly barking.
Der Geruch guten Käse macht mich hungrig. – The smell of good cheese makes me hungry.
Die Katze der schönen Frau miaut ständig. – The cat of the beautiful woman meows constantly.
Die Katze einer schönen Frau miaut ständig. – The cat of a beautiful woman meows constantly.
Der Geruch verdorbener Milch macht mich krank. – The smell of spoiled milk makes me sick.
Das Pferd des kleinen Mädchen stinkt. – The horse of the small girl stinks.
Das Pferd eines kleinen Mädchen stinkt. – The horse of a small girl stinks.
Der Geruch verdorbenen Gemüse macht mich krank. – The smell of spoiled vegetables makes me sick.
Die Haustiere der jungen Schüler rennen schnell. – The pets of the young students run fast.
Die Haustiere meinen jungen Schüler rennen schnell. – The pets of my young students run fast.
Die Haustiere junger Schüler rennen schnell. – The pets of young students run fast.
If you would like to practice these adjectives in a worksheet and have the answer key provided for you, you can support my work on Patreon and get worksheets for every video I upload.