Ich trinke meinen Kaffee gerne schwarz.

I understand the meaning: the speaker says he likes to drink coffee that is black (not with milk, for example). It is sure that he doesn't mean "I drink my black coffee" because the adjective here doesn't modify the noun.

However, I'm struggling to find the name of the grammatical point. What is it? "schwarz" is not adverb, but why can adjective stand alone like that?

In English, we may have the same situation: "How do you like your coffee?" "I like it black". I believe the answer is the short form of "I like it to be black" / "I like it in black". Probably we have the same name for this grammar structure in both English and German.

  • It's called an adverb.
    – RHa
    Aug 18, 2021 at 18:03
  • @RHa: No. You are wrong. It is not an adverb but an adjective. But this adverb is is used adverbial. This doesn't turn an adjective into an adverb. (For details see my answer.) Aug 18, 2021 at 20:49
  • A good exposition in this answer: german.stackexchange.com/a/63042/35111
    – David Vogt
    Aug 19, 2021 at 21:43

2 Answers 2


This is probably controversial... In this case "schwarz" is an Adjektiv im prädikativen Gebrauch.

Uses (Gebrauch) of adjectives in German:

Der schwarze Kaffee => attributiver Gebrauch
Ich trinke den Kaffee schnell => adverbialer Gebrauch, "schnell" refers to the drinking, not the coffee.
Der Kaffee ist schwarz => prädikativer Gebrauch, "schwarz" refers to the coffee, not the drinking.

Others may argue that schwarz is used adverbially in "schwarz trinken" and say that "prädikativer Gebrauch" only occurs with sein and werden. (EDIT: Hubert Schölnast for example, we wrote our answers at the same time.) Some grammars see it that way. However, since schwarz is much more a property of the coffee than a modifier for "trinken", prädikativ fits better here.

According to Duden grammar, to decide between prädikativ and adverbial use of an adjective in a sentence, the sentence can be rewritten with the same meaning but a syntax that makes it more explicit what the adjective refers to. Duden calls this "Umschreibeprobe":

Ich trinke meinen Kaffee schwarz.
Ich trinke meinen Kaffee schnell.

These are rewritten ("umgeschrieben") as:

Ich trinke meinen Kaffee, und dabei ist dieser Kaffee schwarz. => prädikativ
Ich trinke meinen Kaffee, und dieses Trinken geschieht schnell. => adverbial

Why is it called "prädikativ"? "Prädikat" is the German word for the role that the (extended) verb has in a sentence. In the sentence "Ich trinke meinen Kaffee morgens schwarz", trinke is the Prädikat. I'm using the German word because in English grammar, the predicate would be more than that. "Prädikativer Gebrauch" means that the adjective stands with the Prädikat, so it's not attributiv. However, it still doesn't refer to the verb itself (that would be adverbial), but to a subject or object in the sentence.

English: it seems to be called "predicative adjective" in English, according to Wikipedia.


We painted the door white. — Predicative adjective over the object.

  • Your "Umschreibeprobe" words only, because you completely change the grammar of the sentence. This technique can only prove a semantic role but not a grammatical function. But the question was explicitly about grammar, not about semantics. Aug 18, 2021 at 20:59
  • @HubertSchölnast Duden Grammatik (Abschnitt 217) sees this differently, "Umschreibeprobe" is one of a number of "Grammatikproben", used, um "grammatische Beziehungen deutlicher werden [zu] lassen.". I agree that for Duden, the distinction between adverbial and prädikative use of an adjective in a sentence is a semantic one. As I wrote, other grammars seem to make this distinction in a different way. (I did not downvote you answer, just to clarify.)
    – HalvarF
    Aug 18, 2021 at 21:30

The kind of a word (Wortart in German) and it's grammatical function are two different things that should not be confused.

The kind of a word is a property of a word, that it always has, even if it's not a part of sentence, for example when it's the heading of an entry in a dictionary. "Tree" is a noun, "fast" is an adjective, "eat" is a verb and "the" is an article. I can say this without building sentences using these words.

A word can only have a grammatical function when it's a part of a sentence or at least of a phrase. Standalone words are not embedded in any grammar, so they can't have any grammatical function.

Ich trinke meinen Kaffee gerne schwarz.

The German word "schwarz" is an adjective. This is the kind of word to which it belongs, no matter if this word stands in a sentence or if it's the heading of an entry in a dictionary (like Wiktionary, DWDS or Duden)

So, what is this word's grammatical function in this sentence?

Adjectives can be used in three different manners:

  • attributive
    This means, it accompanies and modifies a noun, which means, that it appears together with this noun inside a nominal group:

    Das schnelle Auto gehört meiner Tante.
    The fast car belongs to my aunt.

    Here the adjective "schnell" describes a property of the car.

  • predicative
    Here you need a copula (a verb like sein, bleiben, werden) which can bind two nouns in nominative case to each other ("Hunde sind Tiere"), but copulas also can bind adjectives to subjects, and this is predicative usage of an adjective:

    Das Auto ist schnell.
    The car is fast.

    Similar to the attributive usage the adjective "schnell" describes a property of the car, but it is not an attribute of the car. Instead it is bound to the subject (the word "car") via a copula.

  • adverbial
    The third version looks very similar to the predicative usage, but the verb is not a copula, but any other verb. And this means, that the adjective is not bound to a noun. Instead it is bound to the verb itself. It is in fact an attribute of the verb:

    Das Auto fährt schnell.
    The car moves fast.

    Here the adjective doesn't describe a property of the car. It instead describes how it moves.

    The adverbial usage is not limited to verbs. Also participles and even other adjectives can be modified:

    Dein kunstvoll gemachtes Kleid ist kräftig rot.
    Your artfully made dress is bold red.

    Here the adjectiv "kunstvoll" describes the participle "gemacht" and the adjective "kräftig" describes the adjective "rot".

So, what does this mean for your sentence?

The adjective "schwarz" is neither an attribute of the noun "Kaffee" nor is it bound to this noun with a copula like in these examples:

attributive: Ich trinke den schwarzen Kaffee.
predicative: Der Kaffe, den ich trinke, ist schwarz.

Instead the adjective "schwarz" describes the way how you drink it. It modifies the verb "trinken". And this means: It is used in an adverbial manner.

Well, on a semantic level it still describes a property of the coffee. This can be a little bit confusing. But we are not talking about semantics here. We are talking about grammar. And when we strictly focus on grammar, it is quite clear.

But be careful! That an adjective is used adverbial doesn't turn it into an adverb! Adverbs can only be uses adverbial, they can not be used as attributes or predicative:

wrong (attributive usage of an adverb): Dort drüben steht der ofte Bus.
wrong (predicative usage of an adverb): Der Bus, der dort drüben steht, ist oft.
correct (attributive usage of an adverb): Der Bus, der dort drüben steht, fährt oft.

  • The definition of predicative used in this answer is too narrow and the classification of schwarz in trinkt den Kaffee schwarz as adverbial is wrong. For more information about predicatives, see for instance de.wikipedia.org/wiki/….
    – David Vogt
    Aug 19, 2021 at 13:09
  • @DavidVogt: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Aug 20, 2021 at 6:14
  • Der Übersichtsartikel lässt diverse Möglichkeiten aus. Den detaillierteren Artikel habe ich verlinkt, HalvarF hat die Duden-Grammatik erwähnt. Die Begriffe Objektsprädikativ, freies Prädikativ, resultatives/depiktives Prädikativ sind übliche sprachwissenschaftliche Begriffe. Schwarz im Beispiel würde klassifiziert als depiktiv, auf das Objekt bezogen, frei.
    – David Vogt
    Aug 20, 2021 at 7:11

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