Hallo, Deutschlerner. I’m going to spend the next several lessons teaching you pretty much everything you need to know about adjectives in German. This includes how adjectives are used both with and without a noun, how to choose the ending for an adjective when it is used with a noun, how to use the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, and how to use past and present participles as adjectives. This lesson will focus on the basics; what adjectives are and how to use them in German.
What are adjectives & where do they go in German?
Adjectives are words that describe nouns, meaning they describe people, places, things and ideas. In English, this can be done directly before the noun, which is how you are probably thinking this is done, or it can be done far away from the noun. When we use the adjective away from the noun, we call it a predicate adjective. The predicate is the part of the sentence after the verb. As the name suggests, these adjectives show up after the verb and describe the noun at the beginning. In German we have the exact same two options. You can put the adjective directly before the noun or you can put it after the verb to describe the subject. Here are a few examples.
Der Film war gut. –
The film was good.
Mein Bruder ist jung. –
My brother is young.
Die Kinder sind heute laut. –
The children are loud today.
In those sentences, the words “good”, “young” and “loud” are adjectives that describe the subjects of “the film”, “my brother” and “the children”. In German it is exactly the same. The adjectives “gut”, “jung” and “laut” describe the subjects “der Film”, “mein Bruder” and “die Kinder”. This is the easiest way to use adjectives, but it doesn’t lend itself to very much variety or flexibility.
German Adjectives Used Directly Before the Nouns They Describe
There is also the option to put the adjective directly before the noun they describe. This allows us the greatest amount of flexibility with our descriptors. Let’s take a look at some examples to see what this looks like.
Der gute Film beginnt in 30 Minuten. –
The good film starts in 30 minutes.
Ich mag meinen jüngeren Bruder. –
I like my younger brother.
Die Mutter gibt den lauten Kindern keine Schokolade. –
The mother isn’t giving the loud children any chocolate.
As you can see from these examples, we are no longer limited to describing the subject of the sentence when we add the adjective directly in front of the noun. In fact, we can describe any noun we like within the sentence. The placement of the adjective in German and English is exactly the same, between the article (the word for the, a or an) and the noun.
What you may have noticed, however, is that the endings for the German adjectives changed sometimes. The first one used an -e while the last two used -en. As you probably guessed, this has to do with the gender of nouns and the cases in which they are used.
What you might not have guessed is that it also depends on what comes before the adjective. Definite articles (der-words) require different adjective endings than indefinite articles (ein-words) and there is a third category when there is no article.
German Adjectives After Der-Words (Definite Articles)
Let’s start with the adjectives after der-words. In the chart below you can see all of the definite articles for each case and gender. Next to them you can see the endings for the adjectives that follow them.
At first this may seem overwhelming, but there are really only 2 endings. In the nominative case, all of the singular forms require an -e at the end of the adjective. In the accusative case, feminine and neuter nouns require an -e at the end of the adjective. All of the other forms in all of the other cases require -en at the end. This makes this group of adjective endings by far the easiest to remember.
My students remember that the adjective endings that require -e connect together to look like the state of Oklahoma in the USA. They call them their “Oklahomies”. If you know anything about the geography of the United States, you know that south of Oklahoma is Texas. This makes the forms that require -en endings “Tex-ens”. If you know what your chart looks like and which forms are where, you can simply remember your Oklahomies and your Tex-ens.
If the noun is plural and you are using a definite article, you add -en to the end of the adjective. If the noun is in the dative or genitive case and there is a definite article before the adjective, add -en to the adjective. If the noun is masculine and in the accusative case, add -en. Basically, if it isn’t one of your Oklahomies, use -en on the adjective. Let’s try it out in some example sentences.
Examples of German Adjectives Used with Der-Words (Definite Articles)
Masculine Adjective Endings Examples
Der kleine Hund des lustigen Arztes bringt dem alten Mann den roten Apfel. –
The funny doctor’s little dog brings the old man the red apple.
All of these nouns in this sentence are masculine, so the only adjective that ends with -e is the one in the nominative case. All of the other cases for masculine nouns require -en at the end of the adjective.
Feminine Adjective Endings Examples
Die kluge Frau der netten Ärztin kauft der 5-jährigen Tochter die teure Halskette. –
The smart wife of the nice doctor buys the 5 year-old daughter the expensive necklace.
In this sentence there are two adjectives that end with -e and two that end with -en. All of the nouns are feminine, so the nominative case noun, “die kluge Frau”, and the accusative case noun, “die teure Halskette”, both have an -e at the end of their respective adjectives, “kluge” and “teure”. The dative case is used with the indirect object, which is why we changed the feminine to “der” and the adjective ending to -en. The genitive case “der netten Ärztin” obviously also uses an -en at the end of the adjective.
Neuter Adjective Endings Examples
Das große Pferd gibt dem niedlichen Kaninchen des braven Mädchens das süße Möhrchen. –
The large horse gives the well-behaved girl’s cute bunny the sweet baby carrot.
As with the other examples, all of the nouns in this sentence use the same gender. These are all neuter. This means that the nominative and accusative articles are “das” and they are automatically followed by adjectives with -e at the end. In the dative and genitive cases, the articles become “dem” and “des” respectively and the adjective endings are -en for both.
Plural Adjective Endings Examples
Die lauten Kinder der faulen Eltern schreien die blödesten Beleidigungen von den höchsten Stellen des Spielturms. –
The lazy parent’s loud children are yelling the dumbest insults from the highest parts of the play tower.
As you might have guessed, all of these nouns are plural, with the exception of the last one in the sentence, der Spielturm. It is masculine and it’s only there to make the rest of the sentence work. The rest of the nouns are plural. All of the adjectives after plural nouns when there is an article require -en. It doesn’t matter how they are used within the sentence or what the gender of the noun would have been if it were singular. All plural nouns require adjectives with -en, if there is an article.
German Words That Act Like Der-Words (Definite Articles)
It is important to remember that certain words in German act like definite articles. They require the same endings and the adjectives that follow them use the same adjective endings as the der-words themselves do. These words include: dieser, alle, jeder, jener, welcher, manche, solche and beide. The last letter or letters will change to match the der-word ending chart and the adjectives that follow will use the same endings as the adjectives do when they are followed by words like der, dem, des and so on. As an example, I have included a complete declension of “dieser” with adjective endings below.
Here are a few quick examples of these words in action.
Dieser kluge Junge hat jeden blöden Film von Tarantino gesehen. –
This smart boy has seen every dumb film by Tarantino.
The -er at the end of “dieser” indicates that the noun is being used in the nominative case. This makes the adjective require -e at the end. The -en at the end of “jeden” shows us that the noun is masculine and accusative, which in turn requires the adjective to include -en at the end as well.
Welche freigiebige Lehrerin hat allen armen Kindern diese warmen Mäntel gegeben? –
Which generous teacher gave all of the poor children these warm coats?
This time we have the feminine form “welche” to indicate that the teacher is the subject of the sentence and therefore nominative. The adjective that follows requires -e for the same reasons. The children in this sentence are the indirect object of the sentence, which makes them dative. The plural article ending is -en and the adjective follows suit to make it “allen armen Kindern”. The coats are also plural, but they are the direct objects of the sentence, so the article uses -e at the end while the adjective that follows requires -en.
German Adjectives with Ein-Words (Indefinite Articles)
When you use an indefinite article in German, words that translate as “a” or “an” in English, you mostly use the same adjective endings as you do for adjectives that follow definite articles, words that translate as “the” in English. In fact, all of the dative and genitive adjective endings are still -en. The only change between the adjectives after definite articles chart and the adjectives after indefinite articles chart are with the masculine and neuter forms in the nominative case and the neuter form in the accusative case. These adjectives now require the same letter that would have been on the definite article. You can see the full adjective ending chart for ein-words below.
Examples Comparing Adjective Endings After Der-Words and After Ein-Words
Der kluge Junge hat den Film gesehen. –
The smart boy saw the film.
Ein kluger Junge hat den Film gesehen. –
A smart boy saw the film.
Notice how the ending changed between these two sentences. The first only has an -e, because the gender of the noun was already identified in the article “der”. The word “ein”, however, is used for both masculine and neuter nouns. This makes us show the gender through the adjective, which is why the adjective now ends with -er.
Das große Pferd isst eine Möhre. –
The big horse is eating a carrot.
Ein großes Pferd isst eine Möhre. –
A big horse is eating a carrot.
In the first example the article “das” clearly identifies the gender of the noun “Pferd” as neuter. Therefore we only need an -e at the end of the adjective. Since the article “ein” could be masculine or neuter in the nominative case, we still have to identify the gender through the adjective, which in this case indicates neuter with -es at the end.
German Words That Act Like Ein-Words (Indefinite Articles)
I know what you are thinking when you first saw the ein-word adjective endings chart. “How is there a plural column for this?” While you can’t say “a books”, you can say “my books” or “no books”. Both of these are expressed in German with words that act like indefinite articles.
All of the possessive adjectives I taught you a few lessons ago along with the negative article “kein” use the same endings as the indefinite articles. The adjective endings that follow those words follow the same patterns as the adjectives after indefinite articles do.
Examples of German Adjectives Used with Ein-Words (Indefinite Articles)
Now let’s look at a few more examples using these articles and the adjectives that follow them.
Nominative Case Adjective Examples
Ein katholischer Priester, eine methodistische Pastorin, und ein braunes Pferd gehen in eine irische Kneipe. –
A Catholic priest, a Methodist pastor (female) and a brown horse go into an Irish bar.
Besides the obviously lame set up for a joke, this sentence includes one masculine noun, one feminine noun and one neuter noun in the normative case. This allows us to follow the endings across the genders. Adjectives for masculine nouns get -er, feminine -e and neuter -es. The articles for masculine and neuter nouns are both “ein”, while the feminine nouns require “eine”. The last noun in the sentence isn’t in the nominative case, but still requires “eine” as the article and an -e at the end of the adjective to show that this is feminine and accusative.
Adjective Examples with Direct Objects (Accusative Case)
Ich kaufe einen roten Ball, eine gelbe Banane und ein schwarzes Schaf. –
I am buying a red ball, a yellow banana and a black sheep.
These nouns are all the direct objects of the sentence. The only change from the last sentence as far as endings are concerned is the masculine form is no longer -er, but rather -en. This shows us the transition from nominative to accusative. Feminine and neuter nouns don’t change their articles or adjective endings for the accusative case.
Adjective Examples with Dative Case
Sie spielt Fußball mit meinem alten Vater, meiner jungen Mutter und meinem kleinen Kaninchen. –
She is playing soccer with my old father, my young mother and my small bunny.
After the preposition “mit” we use the dative case, which is indicated by the masculine and neuter articles “einem” and the feminine article “einer”. The adjective endings for all of the adjectives in this case are -en. As long as there is an article before the adjective in the dative case, the ending on the adjective is -en. This works for definite and indefinite articles.
Genitive Case Adjective Examples
Als Glücksbringer bringt der Junge die Münzen seines weisen Vaters, die Ohrringe seiner lieben Oma und die Schuhe seines braunen Pferdes. –
For luck the boy brings his wise father’s coins, his dear grandma’s earrings and the shoes of his brown horse.
When using the genitive case, the articles for masculine and neuter nouns end with -s. The adjectives that follow them use -en. The feminine articles end with -er, but the adjective endings still end with -en.
Unpreceded (Nullartikel) Adjective Endings in German
When neither a definite nor an indefinite article is used, the adjective ending generally follows the ending that is normally on the definite articles. The only exceptions are in the genitive case for masculine or neuter nouns. The chart looks like this.
As I said, these endings are used when there is neither a definite nor indefinite article in front of the adjective. This is pretty rare with singular forms, but it can be done, for example.
Masculine Examples of German Adjectives without an Article
Gelber Käse schmeckt mir nicht. –
Yellow cheese doesn’t taste good to me.
Ich mag gelben Käse. –
I like yellow cheese.
Ich mache ein belegtes Brot mit gelbem Käse. –
I am making a sandwich with yellow cheese.
Ich mag den Geschmack gelben Käses. –
I like the taste of yellow cheese.
These examples follow the masculine noun “Käse” through each of the cases. In the nominative case, it requires -er at the end of the adjective. If you use a definite article instead, you would use “der”. Notice that the last letter of “der” and the last letter of “gelber” are the same. In the accusative case the ending becomes -en, which is the same as the masculine accusative article “den”. In the dative case we see “gelbem” instead of “dem”. The only one that doesn’t match is in the genitive case. The article would have been “des”, but the adjective ending is -en.
Feminine Examples of German Adjectives without an Article
Kalte Milch schmeckt mir besser. –
Cold milk tastes better to me.
Wir mögen kalte Milch. –
We like cold milk.
Ich esse gerne Kekse mit kalter Milch. –
I like to eat cookies with cold milk.
Das ist die optimale Temperatur kalter Milch. –
This is the optimal temperature of cold milk.
These examples follow the feminine noun “Milch” through all of the cases. In the nominative and accusative cases we use the adjective ending -e, just as we would have used the article “die” in the same cases when we need a definite article. In the dative and genitive case, the definite article becomes “der”, which is why we use the adjective -er when the article is not there.
Neuter Examples of German Adjectives without an Article
Frisches Brot ist das Beste. –
Fresh bread is the best.
Alle mögen frisches Brot. –
All like fresh bread.
Wir machen unser Mittagessen mit frischem Brot. –
We make our lunch with fresh bread.
Ich mag den Geruch frischen Brotes. –
I like the smell of fresh bread.
In these examples we can see how the neuter noun “Brot” changes between the cases. In the nominative and accusative cases, we use -es at the end of the adjective, as the definite article would have been “das” for both. In the dative case we use the ending -em to indicate the neuter form, just as the article “dem” would have done. When we get to the genitive case, we again have a small deviation from the der-words chart, as the adjective ending is -en, while the definite article would have been “des”.
Plural Examples of German Adjectives without an Article
Adjectives without articles are much more common when used with plural nouns. You often don’t need an article with plural nouns, so it stands to reason that you would often use an adjective with those nouns, too. Here is an example of that.
Kluge Kinder erzählen vertrauenswürdigen Eltern doofe Geschichten anstatt echter Wahrheiten. –
Smart children tell trustworthy parents silly stories instead of real truths.
This sentence has all four cases in it. The nominative and accusative cases use -e as the adjective endings, as the definite articles would have been “die”. In the dative case, the ending becomes -en, as the article becomes “den”. In the genitive case we use the ending -er on the adjective, because the article would have been “der”. All of the definite article endings match the unpreceded adjective endings.
All German Adjective Endings in One Chart!
Now that we have all three categories of adjectives, you can see a full overview of all of the endings all adjectives take and how they are used with this chart.
It shows you the definite and indefinite articles with the adjective endings that follow them plus the unpreceded adjective endings, which are indicated with a blank line in front. I also included indications of what counts as each category of ending. Which words require the same adjective endings as the der-words? They are listed under “Der-Wörter”. Under “Ein-Wörter” you can see which words fall into that category and the “Nullartikel” is used for those without an article. You’ll notice that you can say “viel”, “etwas” and a few other things before an adjective without it counting as an article. While “einige” looks like an article, it means “some” and doesn’t count as an article when it comes to the adjective endings that follow.
Now it’s time to practice what you learned in this video. You can click here and download the adjective endings charts used in this lesson for free. Then you can click here to purchase the extra materials that go with this lesson including a worksheet and answer key to practice these adjective endings.
Of course, my Deutschlerner on Patreon and my Channel Members on YouTube already get these materials as part of their subscription. If you want access to new materials each week, click the links for Patreon or Channel Membership. Das ist alles für heute. Bis zum nächsten Mal. Tschüss.