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Adjective Endings in German
A Different Approach

A guest article by
Prof. Eckhard Kuhn-Osius
Hunter College, CUNY

Here is a different way of approaching adjective endings in German—an approach that avoids thinking in terms of charts and complicated rules. This method has worked well for me and my students. Perhaps it will also work for you. This approach only requires you to ask yourself two simple questions.

The basic premise is to separate thinking about CASES (nominative, accusative, etc.) from thinking about ADJECTIVE ENDINGS, since most learners tend to get confused when they have to combine the two. While this approach may not magically transform you into a spontaneous master of adjective endings, it takes the fear out of adjective endings and eliminates some of the frustrations of German grammar.

First, can you fill in the correct endings in the following seven-sentence exercise? If you are uncertain about which adjective endings go in the blanks, then proceed to Question One below.

1. Ich kenne einen deutsch__ Studenten.

2. Der deutsch__ Student heißt Rudi.

3. Rudi hat ein interessant__ Hobby.

4. Das interessant__ Hobby ist Ostereiermalen. ['decorating Easter eggs']

5. Rudi hat schon viel__ schoen__ Eier angemalt.

6. Rudi hat sie seinen gut__ Freunden geschenkt.

7. Die schoenst__ Eier hat Rudi seiner best__ Freundin Hanna gegeben.

(Answer key below, but NO peeking!)

QUESTION ONE: For each adjective, ask yourself this question: Is there a form of the article with an obvious ending in front of the adjective?

If YES, ask yourself...
QUESTION TWO: Is the ending on the article the original "-r, -e, -s" (i.e., "der, die, das, eine" -- the "dictionary entry" gender)? Can you "see" the gender in the article?

If the ARTICLE ending is ORIGINAL, then...


Which of the seven sentences above is in this category? (answers below)

If the answer to Question Two is NO, then we have a changed ("non-dictionary") article ending, such as "den, des, dem, eines, einem" or "die" in the plural.

If the ARTICLE ending is CHANGED, then...


Which of the seven sentences above is in this category?

If the answer to Question One is NO ARTICLE ENDING AT ALL, (either because there is no article or because the article is "ein"), then...

... you have to think about gender and case and add the ending that "der, die, das" would normally have to the ADJECTIVE. This includes endings such as: -es (das), -er (der), -em (dem), -e (die, plural).

Which of the seven sentences above is in this category?

We may also look at this as a flow chart...

Adj. ending chart

This approach, while not perfect, removes the necessity of thinking at length about most routine adjective endings. Mostly, this approach avoids a chart with 88 article and adjective endings in all their random combinations. Instead, it lets you rely on a chart you already (or should) know: the definite ("the") and indefinite ("a, an") articles in their various cases.

Purists may object, but the approach outlined above enables my students to fill in most adjective endings correctly. While there are in fact cases that do not readily fall into this system: unpreceded genitive singular ("ein Kenner guten Weins"), genitive plural forms of masculine nouns that don't change in the plural ("das Geräusch der rollenden Wagen"), they are relatively rare. I personally have happily settled for an approach that leads to higher student satisfaction and usually results in correct sentences at least 90 percent of the time.

In my experience the total number of mistakes and total degree of frustration have decreased drastically. I am willing to run the risk that students will miss a few of the genitive endings that are outside the scope of this "system" because the payoff is that they get the majority of common endings right and are not scared to use them.

Prof. Kuhn-Osius is working on a textbook for German that will incorporate the approach mentioned here (and others). For more information you can contact him at: ekuhnos@shiva.hunter.cuny.edu

MORE > Adjective Endings in German (German for Beginners)

Category 1 (Yes to Question 2, original article, "-e" ending): 2, 4
Category 2 (No to Question 2, changed article, "-en" ending): 1, 6, 7
Category 3 (No to Quest. 1, no article ending, different endings): 3 (-es), 5 (-e)

More About German Adjective Endings:

Lesson 5: German for Beginners
Adjectives and colors.

Adjective Endings (Accusative/Dative)
A guide to adjective endings in German in the accusative and dative cases.

Adjective Endings (Nominative)
A guide to adjective endings in German in the nominative case.

Adjective Endings - Exercises
Test yourself on how well you know your German adjective endings.

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