22

This question also has an answer here (in German):
Warum „anderen“ anstatt „anderem“?

Adjective endings in German seem inconsistent, even if one is aware that adjective endings depend on case, gender and number.

For example:

Ein roter Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch.
Der rote Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch.
Der Apfel ist rot.

In all three sentences, the same adjective (rot) describes the same noun (Apfel), which has the same case (nominative). Still, the adjective has different endings.

How is this phenomenon called and what are the rules behind it?


This is an attempt to create a canonical question to serve as duplicate for all similar questions. Answers should therefore not only focus on the example but be capable to address all similar questions. For further details, see this post on Meta.

This question has an open bounty worth +300 reputation from Wrzlprmft ending in 3 days.

This question has not received enough attention.

David Vogt’s answer deserves more attention, be it to affirm or to correct it.

23
+150

TL;DR: Adjectives have to be declined not only according to the noun’s gender, number, and case but also according to the type of article used. If a verb links the adjective to the subject, the adjective is not declined at all.

Definite and indefinite articles

Using the German language, we differentiate between definite articles (bestimmte Artikel) and indefinite articles (unbestimmte Artikel)

Definite articles include:

this, these, that, those (English),
dieser, diese, dieses, jener, jene, jenes (German)

Indefinite articles (for our purposes) include:

a, many, few (English)
ein, eine, keiner, keine (German)

I will presume the distinctions between these two groups and their respective usages are understood.

Case 1 (weak declension)

When we use a definite article with a noun that we want to describe with an adjective, the adjective has to be declined according to the gender, number, and case of the noun:

Der rote Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch. (nominative, masculine, singular)

Ich sehe den roten Apfel. (accusative, masculine, singular)

Ich sehe die rote Tomate. (accusative, feminine, singular)

Ich sehe die roten Tomaten. (accusative, plural)

Ich sehe das rote Haus. (accusative, neutral)

(There is no distinction between genders in plural.)

Case 2 (strong declension)

When there is no article in front of the noun that we want to describe with an adjective, the adjective has to be declined according to the gender, number, and case of the noun as well, but in some cases (marked bold) the declension differs from the weak declension. This form is usually used with plural words and words that rarely or never appear in the plural (Singulariatantum), such as Wein (vine):

Roter Käse liegt auf dem Tisch. (nominative, masculine, singular)

Ich sehe roten Wein. (accusative, masculine, singular)

Ich sehe rote Milch. (accusative, feminine, singular)

Ich sehe rote Tomaten. (accusative, plural)

Ich sehe rotes Gemüse. (accusative, neutral)

The strong declension is called such because endings differ most often between genders, cases, and numbers.

Case 3 (mixed declension)

When we use an indefinite article with a noun that we want to describe with an adjective, the adjective has to be declined in yet another way. However, the declension always corresponds to either the weak or the strong declension (hence “mixed”):

Ein roter Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch. (nominative, masculine, singular)

Ich sehe einen roten Apfel. (accusative, masculine, singular)

Ich sehe eine rote Tomate. (accusative, feminine, singular)

Ich sehe keine roten Tomaten. (accusative, plural)

Ich sehe ein rotes Haus. (accusative, neutral)

Case 4 (predicative)

When we use a verb to link the noun to the adjective, we exclusively use the adjective’s base. No declension is needed:

Der Apfel ist rot.

Der Apfel schmeckt gut.

Er malte das Haus rot an.


More information and word tables can be found here.

  • Great answer, +1 for the tl;dr. Adjective endings depend on 24 different combinations, [specific, non-specific] x [masculine, feminine, neutral, plural] x [nominative, accusative, dative] – Yuval Herziger Sep 4 '15 at 4:44
  • 2
    And then there is case 5 where the attribute has fused into the noun, Rotwein. – Crissov Sep 7 '15 at 8:51
  • "TL;DR: Adjectives have to be declined according to the noun's gender, the case, and the type of article used" ... and what about number? While @YuvalHerziger above seems to do so, it feels incorrect to me to count "plural" as another "gender". – O. R. Mapper Sep 8 '15 at 8:12
  • @YuvalHerziger: What do you mean by "[specific, non-specific]"? Note that the answer correctly distinguishes three modes of article use. Also, why is genitive missing from your list of cases? I count 3 x 4 x 3 x 2 = 72 different combinations (and that is still excluding the uninflected form). – O. R. Mapper Sep 8 '15 at 8:17
  • Und Dativ? Dem rote(n?/m?) Apfel? – Carsten S Dec 21 '16 at 21:06
4

In 1 der rote Apfel the gender of Apfel is expressed by der. After der/die/das the adjective does not need a gender marker and the ending is only -e.

In 2 ein Apfel you can’t see the gender because ein has dropped the endings -er/-es. That is why the gender marker -er goes to the adjective and we say ein roter Apfel.

In 3 you have rot as a predicative adjective. In this position the adjective never has an ending.

In German there are article words with the gender endings -er/-es such as der, dieser, jener, welcher etc. After these article words the adjective has no gender endings, but only the endings -e/-en. This declension is called weak declension.

The second group of article words has dropped the gender markers -er/-es such as ein, mein, dein etc. Now the adjective takes on the task to mark the gender (strong adjective declension).

2

An alternative answer that does not involve definiteness and does away with "mixed declension".

Adjectives have two sets of endings: strong and weak.

  1. The adjective bears a strong ending when it is not preceded by an article, or when the article preceding it bears no ending.

    kühles Bier, ein kühles Bier
    schöne Federhüte, welch schöne Federhüte
    mit großer Spannung, mit manch neuem Detail

  2. The adjective bears a weak ending when it is preceded by an article bearing an ending.

    dieses kühle Bier
    welche schönen Federhüte
    mit manchem neuen Detail

  3. The strong endings of adjectives are identical to the Pronominale Flexion (dies-er, jen-es, jed-e, welch-e), with the exception of the genitive singular masculine and neuter, where the adjective has -en instead of -es.

    jener Vorschlag, guter Vorschlag
    welches Brot, frisches Brot
    aufgrund dieses Problems, aufgrund defekten Materials

  4. The weak ending is -e in the nominative singular only and -en otherwise. (Note that, outside of the masculine singular, nominative and accusative are always identical, so that the accusative singular neuter and feminine also has -e).

    dieser/dieses/diese kluge Mann/Kind/Frau
    diesen klugen Mann
    diese klugen Menschen
    mit diesem/diesem/dieser/diesen klugen Mann/Kind/Frau/Menschen

0
  1. Ein roter Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch.
  2. Der rote Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch.
  3. Der Apfel ist rot.

Das letzte Beispiel „Der Apfel ist rot“ gehört nicht zu den ersten beiden Beispielen. Es ist eine Farbenangabe eines Artikels (Prädikat), nicht ein Eigenschaftswort (Attribut) des Apfels.

In den beiden ersten Fällen, Apfel ist maskulin „ein roter Apfel“ das ‚r‘ beschreibt einen maskulinen Artikel. In „Der rote Apfel liegt auf dem Tisch“ ist das ‚r‘ bereits im Artikel vorhanden und ist dann im Eigenschaftswort nicht mehr nötig.

  • 1
    "bereits im Artikel vorhanden" - das mag eine gute Eselsbrücke für diesen Fall sein, aber es taugt leider nicht als generelle Erklärung. In "Ich lege den roten Apfel auf den Tisch." ist das "n" schließlich auch "bereits im Artikel vorhanden", muss aber dennoch auch zu "roten" hinzugefügt werden. – O. R. Mapper Sep 8 '15 at 8:20
  • Es scheint, dass die Adjektivendungen auf -r, -s und -m sich abschwächen zu Endungen auf -e und -en, insoweit der Artikel bereits auf einen der Konsonanten endet. – shuhalo Sep 8 '15 at 23:17
  • Das letzte Beispiel „Der Apfel ist rot“ gehört nicht zu den ersten beiden Beispielen. – Beachte, dass dieses Beispiel durchaus relevant ist, da zum Beispiel im Französischen prädikative Adjektive durchaus gemäß des zugehörigen Nomens dekliniert werden, z. B.: La fille est petite. – Le garçon es petit. – Les garçons sont petites. – Wrzlprmft Sep 13 '15 at 9:12

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

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