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I recently noticed that I am unable to recognize when a vowel shift should occur in going from the noun to the adjective. I wrote vielzählig when I believe it should have been vielzahlig. On the other hand, a random occurrence is a Zufall but if you do something by accident it is zufällig. So in one case you get the vowel shift and in the other you don’t.

These particular instances came up for me in the Yiddish context, but I think the same thing applies in German. I’m just wondering if there is some succinct rule that would guide me to know when to make the vowel shift and when not to?

EDIT: Hendrik points out that vielzahlig does indeed take the umlaut: my mistake, I somehow misread my German references. And although we almost always follow the German pattern in these things, here the Yiddish dictionary (Weinreich) definitely gives the unshifted form. In any case, there are other adjectives e.g. ehemalig which eschew the umlaut in both languages.

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The Duden only has vielzählig, not vielzahlig. – Hendrik Vogt Mar 28 '12 at 7:20
The funny thing about looking at the final "e" for guidance is that in Yiddish, we drop the "e" for almost all nouns except those that entered the language most recently. – Marty Green Mar 28 '12 at 8:48
Actually I've neither ever read or used the word vielzählig anyway... While it sounds like a valid adjective for Vielzahl, I wouldn't use it. For example, for Es gibt eine Vielzahl von Möglichkeiten I'd say Es gibt vielfältige Möglichkeiten or simply* Es gibt viele Möglichkeiten*. I've never heard Es gibt vielzählige Möglichkeiten. – Thorsten Dittmar Oct 23 '12 at 7:07
up vote 4 down vote accepted

In case of Zufall -> zufällig you create an adjective from a noun. Some hints when you can shift you find on When you add the suffixes -erig, -ern, -ig, -isch or -lich to a noun you can shift. But not always (gewaltig, schaumig).

If you have an adjective and add a suffix, then shifting is possible for -ig and -lich. See again on

For all other cases, again cannonet gives some hints.

In another forum I found a rule of thumb that fits often. I think if you follow this rule you will have a good hit rate. So, have a look on the examples given on that page:

  • Tod = tödlich
  • Bruder = brüderlich
  • voll = völlig
  • ---
  • Ruhe = ruhig
  • Sonne = sonnig

In the latter examples you remove the -e and replace it with the suffix. But in the former three examples you take the root as it is and add the suffix. Now - and that seems to be the rule of thumb - you have to shift the vowel.

Exceptions I've already given in the first paragraph. But in the end I think you have to learn them by heart.

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Here is an overview with all cases in which you can umlaut. Have fun ;p – Em1 Mar 28 '12 at 10:08

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