"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?
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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").