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How to form German adjectives

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Simple adjectives in German

In German, there are simple adjectives like e.g. colours, as well as derived adjectives, that were deduced from other words. You can call them descriptive adjectives, because they provide additional information about persons and (abstract) things.

  • Das bequeme Sofa. (The comfortable sofa.)
  • Der bittere Kaffee. (The bitter coffee.)
  • Ein weißes Haus. (A white house.)

enlightenedSome types of adjectives stay the same, but some of them you have to decline. Take a look at chapter for different types of adjectives for detailed information.

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Derived adjectives in German

Besides the simple adjectives there are also expanded adjectives, which can be generated by:

  • adding a seperable prefix
  • transforming a verb (verbal root)
  • transforming a noun (nominal root)
  • transforming an adverb (adverbial root)
  • transforming another adjective (addjectival root)
  • adding a seperable suffix

Prefixes of adjectives

The prefix just means before, so something will be right in front of the simple adjective. Prefixes are like short syllables added to a word. This are just some examples.

  • ab - artig (abnormal)
  • un - bequem (uncomfortable)
  • wider - sprüchlich (contradictory)
  • zer - legt  (dissambled)
  • ur - alt (age-old)
  • grund - ehrlich (thoroughly honest)

enlightenedKeep in mind, that some prefixes have a special meaning. For instance, the syllable un- often expresses the opposite of the original word (bequem = comfortable/unbequem = uncomfortable). Same case is with über- & unter-: überschätzt (overestimated) & unterschätzt (underestimated).

Verbal roots of adjectives

If a word has verbal roots, the adjective is directly derived from a verb.

Prefix and verbExample
an - dauern (to last)Er fragt andauernd nach (He is constantly asking.)
aus - brechen (to escape)der ausgebrochene Vogel (the escaped bird)
bei - liegen (to be enclosed)die beiliegende Zeitschrift (the enclosed magazine)
auf - schließen (to open-up)der aufgeschlossene Lehrer (the open-minded teacher)
er - weitern (to extend)die erweiterten Öffnungszeiten (extended opening hours)
voll - enden (to complete)ein vollendetes Manuskript (a completed manuscript)
zu - steigen (to board adter the trip has started)die zugestiegenen Fahrgäste (passengers who have just boarded)

 

enlightenedBe careful with the meaning of a verbal adjective! Sometimes it changes its meaning, e.g. aufschließen (to open-up) and der aufgeschlossene Lehrer (the open-minded teacher). The teacher is not opened-up like a door, but an open-minded person.

Nominal roots of adjectives

As it is possible to deduce adjective from verbs, it is also possible to derive them from nouns.

NounExample
das Gebilde (the formation)der gebildete Ausschuss (the composed committee)
das Gefieder (the plumage)das gefiederte Huhn (the plumaged chicken)
der Unsinn (the nonsense)das unsinnige Gerede (the nonsense talk)
der Unmensch (the brute)eine unmenschliche Aufgabe (an inhuman task)
die Unzahl (the countless number)die unzähligen Fragen (the unnumerable questions)
der Durchbruch (the break through)die durchbrochene Eisschicht (the ruptured layer of ice)
der Untergang (the downfall)

die untergangene Welt (the sunken world)

Adverbial roots of adjectives

There is only one special case for adverbs to become adjectives. By using the ending -ig an adverb can be used as an adjective.

Adverb and endingExample
bald - ig (quick)über eine baldige Antwort sind wir dankbar (an early reply will be oblige)
sofort - ig (instant)mit sofortiger Wirkung (with immediate effect)
zweimal - ig (twice)zweimalige Wiederholung (twice repeated)
rückwärt(s) - igrückwärtige Bebauung (rear development)
heut(e) - ig (contemporary)das heutige Wetter (today's weather)

Roots from other adjectives

Some adjectives might exist because two other adjectives have been linked to a new word stem. It can be done with (see first table), or without using an umlaut (second table).

Adjective and endingExample
faul + ig (putrid)der faulige Apfel (the putrid apple)
rund + lich (roundish)ein rundliches Gesicht (a roundish face)
viel + fach (multiple)vielfach bewährt (multiple proven)

 

Adjective and endingExample
voll + ig = völlig (completely)völlig ausverkauft (completely sold out)
krank + lich = kränklich (sikish)das kränkliche Mädchen (the sikish girl)
schwarz + lich = schwärzlich (blackish)ein schwärzliches Kleid (a blackish dress)

 

Suffixes of adjectives

Many words can be transformed into adjectives by adding a suffix, meaning that you add an additional ending to an existing word. By doing so, you can either transform verbs, nouns, adverbs or other adjectives into new adjectives.

Adjective and suffixExample
ess - bar (eatable)Das Essen ist essbar. (The food is eatable.)
kleb - rig (sticky)Der Fußboden ist klebrig. (The floor is sticky.)
beispiel - haft (exemplary)ein beispielhafter Aufsatz (an exemplary essay)
alkohol - isch (alcoholic)eine alkoholische Bowle (an alcoholic punch)
nachdenk - lich (thoughtful)das nachdenkliche Mädchen (the thoughtful girl)
gewalt - sam (by violence)Sie wurden gewaltsam befreit. (They were freed by violence.)

 

enlightenedDo not learn those endings by heart, but keep them in mind, because it might be helpful while learning new vocabulary.

Adjectives formed out of past or present participles in German

The participle is a special type of a word. To use it as an adjective, we have two different types of participles in German:

  1. The present participle (describes two simultaneous actions)
  2. The past participle (describes two actions didn't happen at the same time)

The present participle used as an adjective

This participle is used if you want to describe

  • simultaneous actions
  • or actions that are not finished yet

enlightenedYou can either put the participle in front of the noun (then it needs to be conjugated in accordance to fit to the noun), or behind the the noun (then the participle stays the same).

Infinitive of the verbParticiple before the nounParticiple after the noun
singen (to sing)Der singende Mann tanzte im Zimmer. (The singing man is dancing in the room.)Der Mann tanzte singend im Zimmer. (The man danced singing in the room.)
schweigen(to keep silent)Die schweigenden Kinder lesen. (The silent kids are reading.)Die Kinder lesen schweigend. (The kids are reading silently.)
weinen (to cry)Das weinende Kind liegt im Bett. (The crying child lies in bed.)Das Kind liegt weinend im Bett. (The child lies crying in bed.)

 

enlightenedIf you want to learn more about the characteristics and especially the conjugation of present participles in German, have a look at the chapter about German participles.

The past participle used as an adjective

The past participle is used to describe

  • activities that happen at different times

  • the circumstances in which an action happens

In German, there are different possibilities to construct the past participle. For instance by using prefixes or suffixes. For the exact construction of this, please habe a look at the chapter about German principles.

Infinitive of the verbSentence with past participle
verlieren (to lose)Endlich fand sie den verlorenen Schlüssel (Finally, she found the lost keys.)
kaufen (to buy)Heute baue ich den neu gekauften Schrank auf. (Today I build the bought wardrobe.)
backen (to bake)Ich teile den frisch gebackenen Kuchen. (I share the freshly baked cake.)

 

enlightenedAs you can see in the examples, some things happened before (e.g. the keys got lost) and then the second happening occured afterwards.

Compound adjectives in German

In German it is possible to create new words by combining two other words. To learn more about compounds in German language, have a look at the chapter about compound nouns in German.

  • berufstätig, compound of "der Beruf" und "tätig" (employed)
  • umweltfreundlich, compound of "die Umwelt" und "freundlich" (eco-friendly)

The second word of these combinations is called the "primary word", as it determines the gender and number of a compound.

enlightenedIn English the words of the resulting word chain are typically seperated by a free space or hyphens, while in German the compounds normally appear as one word.

Compound adjectives made from nouns, verbs and other adjectives

Some compound words are formed by joining an adjective and a noun

AdjectiveNounCompoundMeaning
konformdas Systemsystemkonformin confirmity with the system
großder Rieseriesengroßtremendous
volldas Verständnisverständnisvollappreciative

 

enlightenedIn this case, the noun is always the primary word and of course states the gender and number of the compound.

It is also possible to match up an adjective and a verb to form a new word.

AdjectiveVerbCompoundMeaning
faullaufenlauffaultoo lazy to run
behindertsehensehbehindertvisually impaired
gutmachengutmachento put something right

 

The last possibility to create compounds is by using adjectives as the primary word.

AdjectiveCompoundMeaning
bereitarbeitsbereitready for work
tätigberufstätigemployed
sichertodsicherdead certain

 

enlightenedOf couse, it's also possible to do it the other way around, which means to create another word out of an adjective. For instance, combining an adjective and a noun to create a new noun, e.g. "rot" and "der Kohl" will be "der Rotkohl" (the cabbage).

 


Exercises

  1. Exercise on the different roots of adjectives in German

Exercise on the different roots of adjectives in German


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