I am learning German, very slowly though and when I typed red it came up as "rot" in Google translator. Then I typed a red apple and it came up as "ein roter Apfel". The only part I don't get is why it added a -er to the end of it?

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    "Why"-Fragen sind aber ein hartes Brot. "Why not?" oder "Wieso sagen die Briten nicht 'a reddy apple'?" :) Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 13:23
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    warum wurde das im englischen abgeschafft? :D en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_English_grammar#Adjectives
    – devio
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 11:24
  • @devio, da hatte ich auch schon geschaut, aber Maskulin/Singular/Nominativ war ohne Endung ;)
    – Carsten S
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 7:44

6 Answers 6


Ok, first, every noun is capitalized.

Ein roter apfel

is wrong. It should be

ein roter Apfel.

That said, the -er is added to the adjective rot (i.e. the adjective rot is declined) according to rules for indefinite articles (starke Deklination). In your case, your combination indefinite article + adjective + noun is in nominative, and Apfel is masculine.

Notice that you can translate a red apple as ein roter Apfel if that combination appears in nominative:

Ein roter Apfel wird weggeschmissen.

But it would be wrong to translate a red apple as ein roter Apfel if you eat it:

Ich esse ein roter Apfel. (total falsch! [i.e. plain wrong :) ])

It should read:

Ich esse einen roten Apfel.

This answer contains the information you need. To understand it, it might be helpful to you to have precisely the table you need (the table in that answer is for schwache Deklination, but the procedure is the is the same, once you have a table.)

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    C.p.'s answer is correct, but I want to provide some additional explanation in case you're wondering why all that trouble is necessary. German relies on word order much less than English does; it is essential that you learn the gender of every noun you acquire. Once you get comfortable with the grammar, the declension of the articles/adjectives will allow you to easily tell the role of the noun in the sentence.
    – emaltman
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 1:44

You can't just map German vocabulary onto English syntax and grammar. The basic rule of learning a foreign language is not to think in terms of your native language.

German has its own rules of grammar, and one of those rules will modify some adjectives (such as rot) prior to their objects (i.e. Apfel). A structured course of instruction should help you learn this and other rules that do not directly map onto English.

  • +1 because of the first statement.
    – c.p.
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 22:25
  • > Roter is the adjective form that precedes Apfel in the nominative case. -- Das ist ja nicht ganz richtig. Was ist mit "Der rote Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch"?
    – Robert
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 21:59
  • Thanks, I removed that portion rather than trying to clarify it.
    – NL7
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 22:18

Of the various aspects of basic German grammar, I found adjective declension one of the hardest to get a grip on. I recommend that you use a well-designed German course, and don't worry about it too much until after you already understand gender and case. However, here's some more detailed information in case you are curious.

German attributive adjectives decline (i.e. change endings) depending on three things:

  • the gender (masculine, feminine or neuter) and number (singular or plural) of the noun they describe
  • the case (nominative, accusative, dative or genitive) of the noun phrase that they are a part of
  • the declension of the noun phrase, which depends on the case and whether they are preceded by a definite, indefinite, or no article.

Gender All German singular nouns have a property called gender: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Note that this is not necessarily related to the sex of the person or animal the noun refers to. For each noun you must learn its gender.

Case Each German noun phrase has one of four cases, depending on its role in the sentence. The subject is always in the nominative case; the object may be any of the four, depending on the verb, but usually accusative; noun phrases which follow prepositions and show the place where something takes place are in the dative case; and so on.

Declension There are two declensions: weak and strong. Which one to use depends on whether the article gives a "primary case ending": if it does, use the weak, otherwise use the strong declension. Definite articles always provide a primary case ending. Indefinite articles provide primary case endings for some gender/case combinations. If there is no article, the strong declension is used.

An attributive adjective is one that directly modifies the noun (like "ein roter Apfel") rather than through a verb ("Der Apfel ist rot"). Predicative adjectives (the latter) don't decline in German.


Adding the -er is called inflection.


the apple is red -- der Apfel ist rot

the red apple -- der rote Apfel

Give you which apple?
The red ONE - Den Roten.
Der rote Apfel wurde gegeben.

Give you which rose?
The red ONE- Die Rote.
Die rote Rose wurde gegeben.

So German has additional information inside the word red. Namely if it is masculin or feminin or neutrum.

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    I took the liberty to reformat your answer a bit. If you don't like it, you cam roll back im revisions.
    – Vogel612
    Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 14:18

Without a grammar in bookform - a grammar for beginners - you won't crack the problem of the two adjective declensions in German. Today the adjectives in English have no endings, but German adjectives have a lot of endings. Curiously Old English had the same system as German adjectives today. But English has abandoned all endings, whereas German still has them. And you have to understand why German has two sets of endings. It is no good learning such declension tables by heart, one has to understand the system. And not every grammar can explain this.

In German the gender, case and number are show by article-words or the adjective. "ein" has dropped the ending -er/es, so the adjective gets the ending -er/es.

  • "It is no good learning such declension tables by heart, one has to understand the system. And not every grammar can explain this." - This is interesting - do you know of an example, either online resource or a book, that explains the system in this particular way? It would be really helpful!
    – EkcenierK
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 11:04
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    I'm sorry, I'm not so much in the matter of Grammar books for German as a foreign languages. But the system is, when the article word gives not enough information about gender, case, and number, the adjective takes on this task.
    – rogermue
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 11:48
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    There are two ways to look at words in etymology. You can simply look at a Latin word and at the equivalent words in modern languages. In most cases this is much simpler than to do it the other way, to try to give the historical process of evolution.
    – rogermue
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 11:54
  • "It is no good learning such declension tables by heart, one has to understand the system." - I disagree with this statement. In fact, I'd argue there is no system (if there were one, you could somehow deduce for what combination of case/gender/number etc. to append -r or -n) and the only thing you can do is memorize the declensions. Of course, you need to have a general overview of what factors influence adjective declension at all and how to correctly identify them in a given sentence. Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 12:14

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