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German Adjectives as Nouns

(German Adjectival Nouns)

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If you were taking a walk through a botanical garden and were pointing at flowers whose names you didn’t know, you would most likely identify them by their physical characteristics, such as: the blue one, the tiny one etc. In German you would say: die Blaue, die Winzige. These are nouns that have been formed from German adjectives. In this example, die refers to the implied object, namely die Blume/ the flower. So for instance if you were referring to different kinds of cookies, you would say der Knusprige/ the crunchy one, der Große/ the big one etc., since it is der Keks.
There are several types of adjectival nouns in German:

Historically “Evolved” Adjectival Nouns:
These are nouns that have evolved from adjectives that served to define a certain trait of a person, such as weise – der, die Weise/ wise - the wise one, verwandt – der, die Verwandte/ related – the relative.

Adjectival Nouns With Keit, Heit:
You can transform certain adjectives into nouns by adding the suffixes keit and heit . For example, gesund => die Gesundheit/ health, gleichgültig => die Gleichgültigkeit/ indifference.

”Spontaneous” Adjectival Nouns:
You can create a noun by simply adding an –e- to an adjective. For example dreckig => der/die Dreckige/ the dirty one.

When using adjectival nouns there are certain rules that you need to keep in mind:
  • All adjectival nouns are capitalized.
  • All adjectival nouns are declined like adjectives. So that means you will have both weak and strong adjective endings as well. (see adjective endings)

  • You would decline an adjectival noun as follows:
    Dative -
    Ich gebe dem Fremden eine Landkarte. - I give the (male) foreigner a map.
    Ich gebe der Fremden eine Landkarte. - I give the (female) foreigner a map.

    Accusative -
    Ich singe für meine Verwandte. - I sing for my (female) relative.
    Ich singe für meinen Verwandten. - I sing for my (male) relative.

  • The gender of an adjectival noun depends upon if you are referring to a male, female or abstract idea. For instance, you would say der Neue when you are describing a new man, die Neue when describing a new woman, and das Neue when referring to a new thing/ idea.
  • Adjectival nouns that refer to abstract ideas (das Schöne/ the beautiful, das Gute/ the good, das Schlechte/ the bad etc.) will add an –es when they follow the words etwas, nichts, viel and wenig (etwas Gutes, nichts Neues.) Please note that since the Rechtschreibreform the common expression etwas anderes (something else) can also be written as etwas Anderes.
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