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German adjectives

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What are adjectives and how to use them?

Adjectives are words naming an attribute or a characteristic of a noun. So, they describe how the refering noun is. For example:

  • Das schöne Mädchen. (The pretty girl.)

Schön (pretty) is in this case the adjective, because it describes the noun.

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Different types of adjectives

In German there are four different main types of adjectives and how they are used.

Form of adjectiveCharacteristics

The predicative use

  • Noun and adjective are connected through a form of the words 'sein' (to be), 'bleiben' (to stay) or 'werden' (to become)
  • The adjective doesn't need to be conjugated
  • e.g. 'das Mädchen ist schön' (The girl is beautiful)
The attributive use
  • Adjective stands before the noun
  • It has to be conjugated according the case, number and gender of the noun
  • e.g. 'das schöne Mädchen' (The beautiful girl)
The adverbial use
  • Adjectives that refer to the time, frequency, quantity and intensity of something
  • The adjective doesn't need to be conjugated
  • e.g. 'Er kann gut singen' (He can sing well.)
The nominal use
  • The adjectives function as a noun
  • The adjective needs to be adapted to the gender, number and case that is needed
  • the word has to be written with a capital letter
  • 'Er hat nur Schlechtes im Sinn.' (He only has bad things in mind.)

enlightenedAdditionally, participles and verbs also can assume the function of an adjective.

To learn more about the different forms of adjectives, their formation and use, have a look at the chapter about it.

How to form German adjectives

You can build adjectives out of nouns, verbs, adverbs and other adjectives by adding the right syllable at the end of the word, or using prefixes or suffixes. 

enlightenedIn all cases a transformation of a vowel to an Umlaut (Ö, Ü, Ä) can be necessary. For instance: rot (red) - rötlich (redish).

 

Formation of adjectiveExample

Using prefixes

  • Das Sofa ist unbequem (The sofa is uncomfortable.)
  • Meine Oma ist uralt. (My grandmother is age-old)

Transforming a verb

verb ' liegen' (to lie):

  • Die beiliegende Zeitschrift (the enclosed magazine)

verb 'schließen' (to close):

  • die verschlossene Tür (The locked door)

Transforming a noun

noun 'das Gebilde' (the formation):

  • der gebildete Ausschuss (the composed committee)

noun 'der Untergang' (the downfall):

  • die untergegangene Welt (the sunken world)

Transforming an adverb

adverb: 'bald' (soon):

  • eine baldige Antwort (an early reply)

adverb: 'sofort' (instant):

  • mit sofortigem Effekt (with immediate effect)

Transforming an other adjective

adjective: 'faul' (lazy):

  • der faulige Apfel (the putrid apple)

adjective: 'voll' (full):

  • völlig ausverkauft (completely sold out)

Using suffixes

  • Der Boden ist klebrig. (The floor is sticky.)
  • Ein beispielhafter Aufsatz. (an exemplary essay.)

 

Additionally, there are two types of participles in German:

  1. the present participle
  2. the past participle
 CharacteristicsExample
Present participle

Is used to describe:

  • simultaneous actions
  • actions that aren't finished yet
  • Der singende Mann tanzte im Zimmer. (The singing man is dancing in the room.)
Past participle

Is used to describe:

  • activities that happen at different times
  • circumstances of an action
  • Heute trage ich meine neu gekauften Schuhe. (Today I'm wearing my new bought shoes.)

 

In German language it is also quite common to use compound words. These words are made out of two other. Of course, this can also be used to build new adjectives. For example:

First wordSecond wordCompound word
konform (compliant)das System (the system)systemkonform (in conformity with the system)
behindert (disabled)sehen (to see)sehbehindert (visually impaired)
groß (big)der Riese (the giant)riesengroß (tremendous)

 

To get a deeper unterstanding of all this possibilities of forming German adjectives, have a look at the chapter about how to form them.

Comparative and superlative adjectives in German

In German there are three degrees of comparison:

  1. Positive: das Bild ist schön. (The picture is pretty.)
  2. Comparative: das Bild ist schöner. (The picture prettier.)
  3. Superlative: das Bild ist am schönsten. (The picture is the prettiest.)

You usually form the form by adding either -er or am -sten:

  • Comparative: schöner, besser, höher
  • Superlative: am schönsten, am besten, am höchsten

Of course, there are exceptions of this rule, but to get a deeper insight have a look at the chapter about comparative and superlative in German.

 

Declension of German adjectives

In German language it is extremely important to decline the word in the right way. To do so, you have to consider:

  • the article of the noun (der, die, das, ein, eine, ....)
  • the number (singular vs. plural)
  • the gender (masculine, feminine, neuter)
  • the case (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive)

To decline the adjective in the right way, there are 3 different types of possible declension:

  1. the weak declension (definite article + adjective, e.g. der liebe Vater)
  2. the mixed declension (indefinite article + adjective, e.g. ein lieber Vater)
  3. the strong declension (no article + adjective, e.g. lieber Vater)

To see the whole declension and exceptional cases, have a look at the chapter about the declension of German adjectives.

Forming and declension of ordinal numbers in German

In German, you can use ordinal numbers to express the relative position of a thing etc. or to express a certain order.

To form the numbers you just:

  • add -te to numbers from 1 to 19
  • add -ste to numbers above 19

For example:

Cardinal numberOrdinal number
eins (1)erste (1.)
zwei (2)zweite (2.)
drei (3)dritte (3.)
fünfzehn (15)fünfzehnte (15.)
einundzwanzig (21)einundzwanzigste (21.)
zweiunddreißig (32)zweiunddreißigste (32.)

 

In German it is common to use these numbers as adjectives. Here are some examples:

  • Wir wohnen im fünfzehnten Stock. (We live on the 15th floor.)
  • Felix ist unser zweites Kind. (Felix is our second child.)
  • Das ist mein erster Besuch in Berlin. (This is my first visit in Berlin.)

To see some more examples, the declension and usage of ordinal numbers, especially their use as adjectives, have a look at the chapter abour forming and declension of ordninal numbers.

Special adjectives in German

Additionally, there are some special forms of words in German, that can either be used as adjectives, or as pronouns.

enlightenedYou might have heard of e.g. possessive pronouns instead of adjectives. The difference between the use as adjective and as pronouns is, that a pronoun replaces a noun of a sentence, whether an adjective accompanies a noun.

Here you can have a look at the special forms of adjectives:

Type of adjectiveWords used
Possessive adjectives

mein, dein, sein, ihr, unser, euer, ihr

  • Vielen Dank für Deinen Brief. (Thanks a lot for your letter.)
Demonstrative adjectives

dieser, diese, dieses, jener, jene, jenes

  • Dieser Baum hier ist größer, als jener Baum dort. (That tree is bigger than that one over there.)
Interrogative and exclamatory adjectives

welch-, was für (ein-)

  • Welcher Mantel gehört Paul? (Which coat is Pauls?) (Interrogative)
  • Welch kluger Mann er ist! (What an intelligent guy he is!)
Indefinite adjectives

e.g. etwas, wenige, ein paar, viele etc.

  • Viele Menschen möger lieber Wein als Bier. (Many people like wine better than beer.)

 

To learn more about each of the types of adjectives used in German, just click on the name and you will get to the special chapter about it.

Additionally, there is a chapter with a list of German adjectives, representing the most common used adjectives in German language.

yes In the following chapters you will learn all about the German adjectives and how to use them. Have fun.


Exercises

  1. Exercise for building German adjectives
  2. Determine the form of use of these German adjectives!
  3. Transform these German adjectives to their nominal form
  4. Build the comparative and superlative of these German adjectives
  5. Insert the German attributive adjective!

Exercise for building German adjectives


Determine the form of use of these German adjectives!


Transform these German adjectives to their nominal form


Build the comparative and superlative of these German adjectives


Insert the German attributive adjective!


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Next lessons

1 Different types of adjectives in German Learn about predicative, adverbial and attributive adjectives in German.
2 How to form German adjectives Learn how to form German adjectives in the right way
3 German participle as adjectives Learn about the German participle used as adjective
4 Comparative and superlative adjectives in German Learn about the German comparative form of adjectives.
5 Declension of German adjectives Learn how to correctly conjugate the German adjectives
6 Forming and declension of ordinal numbers in German Learn about German cardinal and ordinal numbers and their use as adjectives.
7 Possessive adjectives in German Learn about possessive forms of adjectives and their usage.
8 Demonstrative adjectives in German Learn more about demonstrative adjectives in German.
9 Interrogative and exclamatory adjectives in German Learn about interrogative and exclamatory adjectives in German and see some useful examples.
10 Indefinite adjectives in German Learn more about German indefinite adjectives, their usage and the difference to pronouns.
11 List of German Adjectives Here you'll find a list of different kinds of German adjectives