Unit 4: Verbs with Prefixes; Adjective Endings

3. Adjective Endings

You learned in Unit 3 how endings are added to the der– and ein words. In addition, German adds endings to regular attributive adjectives when they are modifying a noun. Recognizing these endings can sometimes be a crucial reading skill in order to detect the case and number of a noun.

Noun Phrases without an Article

When a noun phrase does not begin with either a der– word or an ein– word, then essentially any adjectives have to take their place as far as providing signals to you about the case, number, and gender of the noun they are modifying. The chart or “paradigm” below shows what happens to the adjectives if we take the three nouns der Wein, die Milch, and das Bier and describe them with the simple adjectives rot (red), frisch (fresh) and kalt (cold):

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative roter Wein frische Milch kaltes Bier rote Weine
Accusative roten Wein frische Milch kaltes Bier rote Weine
Dative rotem Wein frischer Milch kaltem Bier roten Weinen
Genitive roten Weines frischer Milch kalten Bieres roter Weine

Compare this to the der– word chart in Unit 3 (as well as the definite article chart in Unit 2) and you will notice only one difference; the genitive singular (masculine and neuter) ends in –en rather than ‑es. Otherwise the endings are the same. In other words, you will be able to apply those same reading skills from Units 2 and 3 to this kind of noun phrase, using the above adjective endings to help you identify the case, number, and gender of the noun being modified.

Noun Phrases with an Article

When articles (der and ein words) begin the noun phrase, then any adjectives modifying a noun show a different pattern of endings than above. It is not necessary to memorize these declensions in order to read and comprehend German. Remember that it is the article that begins the noun phrase that best helps you identify the role the noun is playing in a sentence.

Nevertheless, it is often useful to recognize that some ending has been added:

  1. To help you distinguish adjectives from other kinds of modifiers within the noun phrase which, naturally, do not appear with “adjective endings.” We’ll return to this in the next section.
  2. To give you confidence when looking up adjectives in the dictionary, knowing what letters at the end will not be included in the dictionary listing.
  3. In the case of some ein word phrases, the adjective endings immediately give you more information about the noun than the ein word does alone.

So, here are the adjective endings when an article is present:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
N. der alte Mann
ein alter Mann
die alte Frau
eine alte Frau
das junge Mädchen
ein junges Mädchen
die alten Frauen
keine alten Frauen
A. den alten Mann
einen alten Mann
die alte Frau
eine alte Frau
das junge Mädchen
ein junges Mädchen
die alten Frauen
keine alten Frauen
D. dem alten Mann
einem alten Mann
der alten Frau
einer alten Frau
dem jungen Mädchen
einem jungen Mädchen
den alten Frauen
keinen alten Frauen
G. des alten Mannes
eines alten Mannes
der alten Frau
einer alten Frau
des jungen Mädchens
eines jungen Mädchens
der alten Frauen
keiner alten Frauen

Points to remember for both of the above charts:

  1. The ending of the first word in the noun phrase – whether article or adjective – is often sufficient to determine the role the noun plays in the sentence, i.e., its case and its number.
  2. When you see no ending on an ein– word, you know this noun phrase can only be singular nominative or singular accusative.
  3. The ending –em is unique to dative singular.
  4. You know the noun phrase is plural when you see the article die – or an ein– word ending in –e (e.g. keine) – when either is followed by an adjective which ends in ‑en.
  5. Note the significance of adjective endings on number words. See the end of Reference section 1.


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