German Adjective Endings: The Nominative Case

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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)
Masculine
der
Feminine
die
Neuter
das
Plural
die
der neue Wagen
the new car
die schöne Stadt
the beautiful city
das alte Auto
the old car
die neuen Bücher
the new books
Masculine
ein
Feminine
eine
Neuter
ein
Plural
keine
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 seeAdjective 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.

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 blaueWagen..." (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 (derdiedas) or the so-called der-words (dieserjeder, 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 (eindeinkeine, etc.), the adjective must reflect the gender of the noun that follows. The adjective endings -er, -e, and -escorrespond to the articles derdie, and das respectively (masc., fem., and neuter). Once you notice the parallel and the agreement of the letters res with derdiedas, 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 derdie, or das!

On the next page, you can learn about Accusative/Dative adjective endings.

The following chart shows the adjective endings for the accusative and dative cases with the definite articles (der, dem, der) and the indefinite articles (einen, einem, einer, keinen). Thenominative case endings were previously outlined on page one. The adjective endings for the genitive case follow the same pattern as the dative. (For more, check out this article on using the Genitive Case.)

Accusative Case (Direct Object)
Masculine
den
Feminine
die
Neuter
das
Plural
die
den neuen Wagen
the new car
die schöne Stadt
the beautiful city
das alte Auto
the old car
die neuen Bücher
the new books
Masculine
einen
Feminine
eine
Neuter
ein
Plural
keine
einen neuen Wagen
a new car
eine schöne Stadt
a beautiful city
ein altes Auto
an old car
keine neuen Bücher
no new books
Dative Case (Indirect Object)
Masculine
dem
Feminine
der
Neuter
dem
Plural
den
dem netten Mann
(to) the nice man
der schönen Frau
(to) the beautiful woman
dem netten Mädchen
(to) the nice girl
den anderen Leuten*
(to) the other people
Masculine
einem
Feminine
einer
Neuter
einem
Plural
keinen
einem netten Mann
(to) a nice man
einer schönen Frau
(to) a beautiful woman
einem netten Mädchen
(to) a nice girl
keinen anderen Leuten*
(to) no other people
*Plural nouns in the dative add an -n or -en ending if the plural form does not already end in -(e)n.

NOTE: The adjective endings in the Genitive Case are the same as in the DATIVE - all -en!

Also seeAdjective Endings I (Nominative)

As we saw earlier on page one (Nominative), an adjective that precedes a noun must have an ending--at least an -e. Also notice that the endings shown here in the ACCUSATIVE (direct object) case are identical to those in the NOMINATIVE (subject) case--with the sole exception of themasculine gender (der/den).

The masculine gender is the only one that looks any different when the case changes from nominative (der) to accusative (den).

In the sentence "Der blaue Wagen ist neu," the subject is der Wagen and der Wagen isnominative. But if we say "Ich kaufe den blauen Wagen." ("I'm buying the blue car."), then "der Wagen" changes to "den Wagen" as the accusative object.

The adjective ending rule here is: in the accusative case with the definite article (the/den, die, das) the adjective ending is always -enfor the masculine (den) form. But it remains -e for die or das. So we would get "...den blauenWagen..." (...the blue car...), but "...die blaue Tür.." (the blue door), or "...das blaue Buch..." (the blue book).

When the adjective is used with an ein-word (einendeinkeine, etc.), the accusative adjective ending must reflect the gender and case of the noun that follows. The adjective endings -en, -e, and -es correspond to the articles dendie, and das respectively (masc., fem., and neuter). Once you notice the parallel and the agreement of the letters nes with dendiedas, it makes the process a little clearer.

Many German learners find the DATIVE (indirect object) case to be intimidating, but when it comes to adjective endings in the dative, it couldn't be more simple. The ending is ALWAYS -en! That's it! And this simple rule applies to adjectives used with either the definite or indefinte articles (and ein-words).

If you need more help, see Udo Klinger's Deklination von Adjektiven (in German only).

This is another illustration of why it is important to learn the gender of nouns in German.

If you don't know that Wagen is masculine (der), then you won't be able to say (or write) "Er hat einen neuen Wagen." ("He has a new car.")