"traurig" and other adjectives get an -es affix after "etwas" (e.g., etwas trauriges)

What are the conditions for this affixation? Does this have anything to do with case?

  • This has been answered before, see (german.stackexchange.com/questions/3886/…).
    – Uwe
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 19:03
  • @Uwe: in the question you linked to we have the case of nominalized adjectives, the question here is not covered by this (your answer says why). So as this Q here is admittedly very similar it is not an exact duplicate.
    – Takkat
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 19:16
  • 1
    May be this is a related question (or the same) german.stackexchange.com/questions/6489/… As for me, the OP is asking about the nominalization of adjectives.
    – c.p.
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 20:43
  • @c.p. No, the question you linked is primarily: are the resulting words nouns and do they have to be capitalized?
    – Uwe
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 21:18
  • @Uwe eigentlich nicht. The linked question already states that they are nouns: the question is why are they and whether every adjective can be substantivized that way.
    – c.p.
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 2:48

3 Answers 3


First off, the -es ending of an adjective is the indefinite neuter nominative declination, e.g. ein schönes Wochenende, ein rotes Fahrrad, …

There are two more occasions where the -es ending is added to an adjective:

1) The adjective is used as a noun (nominalised/substantiviert) and in the nominative case. Adjectives used as nouns always have the neuter gender. Remember: Nouns must always be capitalised.

In sentence construction, 'etwas+noun' or the noun alone can be a nominative subject or a nominative object, e.g.

a) as a nominative object:

• Er sah etwas Trauriges. — He saw something sad/saddening.

• Zu Mittag aßen sie in der Kantine Geschnetzeltes. – For lunch they had Geschnetzeltes in the cafeteria. (Geschnetzeltes=meat cut into small stripes in a sauce, from adjective 'geschnetzelt' – cut into small stripes; actually, Geschnetzeltes has become a proper noun for this kind of dish.)

b) as a nominative subject:

Etwas Feuchtes kroch ihr das Bein hinauf. – Something wet slithered its way up her leg (think Slither, the 2006 comedy horror film).

Hässliches verkauft sich schlecht. – Ugly things don't sell well.

Now, what's the difference between 'etwas Hässliches' and 'Hässliches'? Same as in English: 'something ugly' versus 'ugly things in general'. Etwas/something is an indefinite pronoun here.

2) It's a different thing when 'etwas' is used as an adverb meaning 'a bit / a little / somewhat') to describe the adjective that itself describes a neuter noun in the nominative case:

• Es war ein etwas unangenehmes Erlebnis. – It was a somewhat unpleasant experience.

• Er gab ein etwas trauriges Bild ab. – He made a bit of an awkward impression.

(ein x Bild abgeben = colloquial expression for 'to look / make an impression / to appear' x.)

• Er machte ein etwas trauriges Gesicht. – He made a somewhat sad face.


It's just the usual neuter form of the adjective after an indefinite article, the same as in "ein trauriges Kind". ("etwas" is neuter.)

Sorry, this was incorrect: it's the "no article" form, not the "indefinite article" form. The difference is only visible in the dative case ("einem traurigen" vs. "etwas traurigem").


Do you mean nominative subject and accusative object? Because what you show in your example is an accusative object Er sah etwas Trauriges.


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