German Participles Used as Adjectives and Adverbs
Past and Present Participles Used as Adjectives and Adverbs
Need help with grammar definitions? See the Grammar Glossary.
As in English, the past participle of a German verb may be used as an adjective or adverb.
In English, stolen is the past participle of the verb to steal. The word stolen can be used as an adjective, as in: That's a stolen car. Similarly, in German the past participle gestohlen (from stehlen, to steal) can also be used as an adjective: Das ist ein gestohlenes Auto.
The only significant difference between the ways that English and German use the past participle as an adjective is the fact that, unlike English adjectives, German adjectives must have an appropriate ending if they precede a noun. (Notice the -es ending in the example above. More about adjective endings in Lesson 5 and Adjective Endings.) Of course, it also helps if you know the correct past participle forms to use.
A past participle such as interessiert (interested) can also be used as an adverb: Wir sahen interessiert zu. (We watched interestedly/with interest.)
We'll go into more detail about past participles as adjectives or adverbs in the Past Participles section, but first we need to talk about present participles.
Unlike its English equivalent, the present participle in German is used almost exclusively as an adjective or adverb. For other uses, German present participles are usually replaced by nominalized verbs (verbs used as nouns) das Lesen (reading), das Schwimmen (swimming) to function like English gerunds, for instance. In English, the present participle has an -ing ending. In German the present participle ends in -end: weinend (crying), pfeifend (whistling), schlafend (sleeping).
In German, a sleeping child is ein schlafendes Kind. As with any adjective in German, the ending must fit the grammatical context, in this case an -es ending (neuter/das).
Many present participle adjective phrases in German are translated with a relative clause or an appositive phrase in English. For example, Der schnell vorbeifahrende Zug machte großen Lärm, would be, The train, which was quickly passing by, made a tremendous noise, rather than the literal, The quickly passing by train...
When used as adverbs, German present participles are treated like any other adverb, and the English translation usually places the adverb or adverbial phrase at the end: Er kam pfeifend ins Zimmer. = He came into the room whistling.
Present participles are used more often in writing than in spoken German. You'll run across them a lot when reading books, magazines, or newspapers.
See more examples in the Present Participles section (Part 3).
DEFINITIONS > Grammar Glossary: Adjective/Adverb
A grammar guide for all aspects of German grammar.
Our contents page for all aspects of German verbs.
What is an adjective, a preposition, or a participle? Answers in plain English.
Part 1 of a two-part article on adjective endings in German.
Lesson 5: Adjectives and Colors
Lesson 5 of German for Beginners is an introduction to adjectives.
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