2

I'm not able to relate the grammatical structure behind the following to any of what I’ve learned:

etwas + [adjective]-es
etwas besseres
etwas anderes
etwas starres

What is it called? Is it a special structure exclusive to etwas?

3

It has to be etwas Besseres, as the adjective is made into a substantive here. This also works without etwas, so there is no special grammar structure behind this.

Ich habe Besseres zu tun.

I have better things to do with my time. I have something better to do with my time.

English needs the thing as far as I'm aware of. German leaves thing out. Though you can write, gramatically correct,

Ich habe bessere Dinge zu tun.

that one sounds stilted. Something literally translates into etwas, but German doesn't need the etwas here. Maybe that's the source of your confusion. German speakers will always assume etwas to be a small amount. So the quality changes when etwas is used:

Ich habe etwas Besseres zu tun.

I have some very tiny, yet better thing to do with my time.

  • Thank you! One small question: how should one determine the ending of such substantiated adjectives? As in this case it is not clear to me why we should assign the neutral gender to Besseres. – Tung Nguyen Oct 16 '16 at 0:15
  • Adjectives don't have a fixed gender, they go along with some substantive. This applies to nominalizationed adjectives as well. Most time, you would use the gender asked for. Consider Was für eine Antwort erwartest du? – Die Richtige! | Wem gibst du dein Jawort? – Dem Richtigen! | Was tust du? – Das Richtige! | Was tust du? – Richtiges! The latter one is the plural. – Janka Oct 16 '16 at 0:46
  • Why is the plural form different? I see in other cases they follow normal patterns of adjective declension. Isn't it more logical to say Richtigen or Ich habe Besseren zu tun for the plural form, since we say die richtigen Dinge or die besseren Dinge ? – Tung Nguyen Oct 16 '16 at 1:00
  • There is no logic. German is a mess. To be clear Richtiges is the plural for Das Richtige only. But someone else has to dig out the rule here, I'm a bit lost, too. – Janka Oct 16 '16 at 2:47
  • So Besseres also an exception ? In other circumstances we say adj-en for plural ? – Tung Nguyen Oct 16 '16 at 3:05

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