Take the 2-minute tour ×
German Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of German wanting to discuss the finer points of the language and translation. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I know that some adjectives like prima, lila, rosa, orange, and beige don't take adjective endings:

Das prima Auto

Ein beige Haus

So is the rule that any adjective ending in a vowel doesn't take an adjective ending? If so, are there exceptions (adjectives ending in vowels that take endings)? Or are there adjectives that don't end in vowels, but don't take endings?

share|improve this question
5  
I'd say "Ein orangenes Haus" ;) –  Em1 Dec 29 '13 at 3:05
2  
Me too... "die lilane Tasse" ... and as for "beige" I would pronounce an ending "Die beige-e Tasse" –  Emanuel Dec 29 '13 at 21:38
    
Some inflected adjectives ending on vowels: leise, frei, blau, neu. However, I could not think of a single adjective ending neither on e or a diphtong. –  Wrzlprmft Dec 30 '13 at 0:31
1  
I found the "rule" on the UMich page (www.lsa.umich.edu/german/hmr/Grammatik/Adjektive/Adjektivendungen.html) but now I'm definitely thinking that it's erroneous –  thekeyofgb Dec 30 '13 at 0:41
2  
(Also: In some sense, neither beige nor orange ends on a vowel, but the inflected sicher does.) –  Wrzlprmft Dec 30 '13 at 0:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The probable reason behind all this is that the German language does not have many primary adjectives, i.e., adjectives that are neither loaned nor derived from some other word (like hässlich, einig, porös, chaotisch, machbar, golden, verwandt, kafkaesk, Berliner, …). Wikipedia states their number to be ca. 250 and gives a list that looks quite complete to me. Of those, only 18 are ending on a pure vowel letter (e.g., müde, neu, schlau, frei) and all of those either end on a voiceless e (schwa) or a diphthong. There are also some adjectives who end on a vowel, but not on a pure vowel letter like froh, zäh or klar, whose ending turns into a consonant upon inflection (froher, zäher, klarer).

When a language loans a word, it has to assimilate it into its own grammar, which means especially that inflected forms have to be provided, which can be instantly recognised as what they are supposed to be. For nouns, this is usually not a problem, since we have a plethora of nouns already and thus many different inflection schemes, one of which can be applied to the newly loaned word. For verbs, we can usually just append an -en to form the infinitive and continue from there, e.g. downloaden. For adjectives, however, we have only one inflection scheme available, which mandates forms ending on -e, -er, -es, -en, -em and so on.

And this cannot be simply applied to everything, e.g., if we tried to inflect rosa like any other adjective, we would get:

ein rosa’er Kasten, eine rosa’e Blüte, ein rosa’es Kleid, auf rosa’em Untergrund, … [the apostrophe indicates that no diphthongisation or something similar happens]

Though these are pronounceable, the a-e collision does not appear in any other German word and therefore sounds weird to German ears and is avoided. The most common fix to this (and what most native speakers will actually do), is to insert an n for every inflected form, i.e.:

ein rosaner Kasten, eine rosane Blüte, ein rosanes Kleid, auf rosanem Untergrund, … – But: Das Haus ist rosa.

However with most adjectives ending on consonants (e.g. türkis or pink), there is no such or a similar problem.

Now, for reasons that are beyond me (see this question, some language authorities¹ in the past decided, that some adjectives (especially colour adjectives) should not be inflected at all. While some native speakers will actually do so for lila, rosa, extra, prima, super and klasse, I have never seen anybody do so for any other adjectives (e.g., orange, pink or türkis) and most people will consider it a mistake, if you use them attributively but not inflected. Also I would not know what problem should arise from inflecting these adjectives. There are also some rarer adjectives, which are not used attributively at all in my experience, but are suffixed with -farben or replaced by an entirely different adjective:

Das Kleid ist khaki. Ein khakifarbenes Kleid. (Also: Das Kleid ist khakifarben.)

However, for most such rare colour adjectives, I would stumble over them if somebody used them without -farben, since it would take me some time to identify them as what they are. Therefore I would only use them with -farben (if at all) and would also recommend this – except for audiences that deal with these colours on a daily basis.

Finally, going back to the actual question, I would recommend the following (if you want to be understood and need not be correct for correctness’s sake according to some weird authority):

  • Inflect normally:
    • Any non-loaned adjective.
    • Any relatively common loaned adjective, if it ends on schwa or does not end on another vowel in both, pronunciation and spelling. For example: orange, beige, pink, violett, purpurn, türkis, prüde. Note, that for orange appending an n before inflecting is not uncommon: »Ein orange(ne)s Haus.«
  • Do not inflect:
    • Non-loaned adjectives ending on -lei or -tel (like achtel) and adjectives ending on -er derived from geographical names.
    • The following six words: rosa, lila, prima, extra, super, klasse. For rosa and lila, adding an n for inflection is also acceptable in my opinion. (I went through Canoo’s list of non-inflected adjectives multiple times and did not see any other word that falls into this category for me.)
  • Do not use attributively (or do not use at all):
    • All other loaned adjectives ending on a vowel – use alternatives instead, such as: khakifarben, heterosexuell
    • Some non-loaned adjectives like allein.

¹ That is non-official language authorities. There has never been an official authority on German grammar.

share|improve this answer

I could not find a rule that any adjective that ends in a vowel doesn't take an adjective ending, it does sound reasonable however. I did find this though:

The mentioned adjectives are called unveränderliche Adjektive, Wikipedia states that they are mostly loan words, borrowed colour words and adjectives for geographical origin ending with -er.

Canoonet maintains a list, but does not describe a clear rule at all, however it does give examples of adjectives not ending in vowels and not taking endings, e.g. quitt.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.