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Adjective Endings I
Nominative Case

Also see > The Four German Cases

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Nominative Endings > Accusative/Dative Endings

The following chart shows the adjective endings for the nominative case with the definite articles (der, die, das) and the indefinite articles (ein, eine, keine).

Nominative Case (Subject Case)
der neue Wagen
the new car
die schöne Stadt
the beautiful city
das alte Auto
the old car
die neuen Bücher
the new books
ein neuer Wagen
a new car
eine schöne Stadt
a beautiful city
ein altes Auto
an old car
keine neuen Bücher
no new books
Also see: Adjective Endings II (Accus./Dative)

To further clarify what is happening here, take a look at the two German sentences below. What do you notice about the word grau?

1. Das Haus ist grau. (The house is gray.)
2. Das graue Haus ist rechts. (The gray house is on the right.)

If you answered that grau in the first sentence has no ending and grau in the second sentence does have an ending, you're right! In grammatical terms, adding endings to words is called "inflection" or "declination." When we put endings on words, we are "inflecting" or "declining" them.

Like many things Germanic, this used to happen in Old English. The grammar of modern German is similar to Old English (including gender for nouns!). But in modern English there is no inflection of adjectives. You can confirm this if you look at the English versions of the previous two sentences about the gray house. In sentence 2 the German word grau has an -e ending and the English word "gray" has no ending.

The next logical question is: Why does grau have an ending in one sentence but not the other? Look at the two sentences again, and you can probably see the significant difference. If the adjective (grau) comes before the noun (Haus), it needs an ending. If it comes after the noun and verb (ist), it should have no ending. The minimum ending for an adjective before a noun is an "e"--but there are some other possibilities. Below we'll look at some of these possibilities and the rules for using them.

But first we need to talk about another grammar term: case. Remember when your English teacher tried to explain the difference between the nominative and objective cases? Well, if you understand the concept in English, it will help you with German. It's basically pretty simple: nominative = subject, and objective = direct or indirect object. For now, we're going to stick to the simple one, the nominative case.

German Grammar Glossary
German grammar terms explained in plain English.

In the sentence "Das Haus ist grau." the subject is das Haus and das Haus is nominative. It's the same for "Das graue Haus ist rechts." In both sentences, "das Haus" is the nominative subject. The rule for this is simple: in the nominative case with the definite article (the/der, die, das) the adjective ending is -e when the adjective comes before the noun. So we would get "Der blaue Wagen..." (The blue car...), "Die kleine Stadt.." (The small town...), or "Das schöne Mädchen..." (The pretty girl...).

But if we say "Das Mädchen ist schön." (The girl is pretty.) or "Der Wagen ist blau." (The car is blue.), there is no ending at all on the adjective (schön or blau) because the adjective is located after the noun (predicate adjective).

The rule for adjectives with the definite article (der, die, das) or the so-called der-words (dieser, jeder, etc.) is simple, because the ending is always -e in the nominative case (except for the plural which is always -en in all situations!).

However, when the adjective is used with an ein-word (ein, dein, keine, etc.), the adjective must reflect the gender of the noun that follows. The adjective endings -er, -e, and -es correspond to the articles der, die, and das respectively (masc., fem., and neuter). Once you notice the parallel and the agreement of the letters r, e, s with der, die, das, it becomes less complicated than it may seem at first.

If it still seems complicated to you, you may get some help from Udo Klinger's Deklination von Adjektiven (in German only).

Amazingly (for an English-speaker), German children learn all this naturally in the process of learning to talk. Nobody has to explain it! So, if you want to speak German at least as well as a five-year-old child in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland, you need to be able to use these rules also. Notice I said "use," not "explain." The five-year-old can't explain the grammar rules involved here, but she can use them.

This is also a good example for impressing upon English-speakers the importance of learning the gender of nouns in German. If you don't know that Haus is neuter (das), then you won't be able to say (or write) "Er hat ein neues Haus." ("He has a new house.").

If you need help in that area, see our feature Gender Hints which discusses a few tricks to help you know whether a German noun is der, die, or das!

NEXT > Accusative/Dative endings

Related Pages

Adjective Endings II (Accusative/Dative)
Part 2 of adjective endings.

Adjective Endings - Exercises
Test yourself on how well you have learned the German adjective endings.

German for Beginners Course - Adjectives and Colors
Lesson 5 in our online course for German.

The Four German Cases
Detailed charts and information concerning the nominative, accusative, dative and genitive cases in German.

Gender Hints
A popular feature with tips on learning the der, die, das of German nouns.

German Grammar Glossary
German grammar terms explained in plain English.

More German Grammar

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