I'd be very grateful to anybody who could help me with the following question:

My question: Why is it "faulen" here? See text below:


Die Stiefmutter weckt Hänsel und Gretel: Ihr faulen Kinder! Steht auf. Wir wollen in den Wald gehen. Und Holz sammeln.

My (mis)understanding: the adjective 'faul' should be declined here according to the strong inflection table since there is no article in the sentence. The noun "Kinder" is nominative plural. So that means the ending should be just '-e': faule. But the text gives "faulen". It doesn't sound wrong – I just can't explain why it is "faulen". The 'ihr' here is also not a possessive determiner, but rather nominative personal pronoun (2nd person plural informal). What am I missing?

Would anyone be able to explain to me why it is 'faulen'? Thank you!

Text Source: "Hänsel und Gretel" translated into simple language by Franziska Baumgärtner & Annemarie Vogel. Märchen in Leichter Sprache. Norddeutscher Rundfunk. Link to text.


2 Answers 2


According to the Duden grammar (2009 ed., p. 962), there is simply variation in adjective forms after pronouns ("variation" is indeed the chapter heading). They state that usually the strong inflection of an adjective would be used in construction with a personal pronoun, but there are other cases as well. They explicitly mention that in a vocative phrase, "ihr" is predominantly followed by the weak inflection. Full stop. That is very specific isn't it. There is no hint as to a systematic reason in that text.

In my opinion, the whole area is not well understood, because it already seems unclear what kind of construction we are dealing with precisely. The traditional analysis (defended also in the Duden grammar) is that the adjective + noun in your example follow the pronoun in the same way as an "apposition" would follow a noun (I can't determine what kind of apposition, though, for this can refer to very different constructions). But alternatively, the personal pronoun could be treated like a determiner. Maybe we should not expect systematic and clear rules here.

  • 2
    Thanks, Alazon. Thank you in particular for the Duden page number. "In der Anrede (Andredenominativ) dominiert nach ihr die schwache Flexion." (p. 963, § 1529). That is very specific! One of the examples that Duden gives "Hallo ihr Lieben" is useful since that phrase is very common and probably why I am somehow accustomed to it but couldn't explain it.
    – Lujama
    Jul 13 at 19:02
  • 3
    To give a parallel: in all North Germanic languages it is – as far as I know – completely exception-free that vocative constructions of this type (personal pronoun + adjective + noun) always use the weak form of the adjective, regardless of the pronoun. Certainly in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, using the strong form would be utterly ungrammatical, and a quick Google search implies this to be true of Icelandic and Faroese also. Not sure about Dutch. Jul 14 at 11:25

the adjective 'faul' should be declined here according to the strong inflection table since there is no article in the sentence.

In fact, there is: "Ihr". Now, "Ihr" is not an article, but it acts as one here. The whole sentence is imperative form, so if we rephrase it without the "Ihr" you would be right:

Faule Kinder, geht hinaus!

but with the "ihr", it is correct as it is written.


As I have already written here grammar is post festum. Language is what is spoken/written and grammar only tries afterwards to identify patterns ("rules") to systematize what is already there.

It is true, I have no have no explanation for, as @JanusBahsJacquet put it in a comment:

The fact that "du" and "ihr" work differently with respect to adjective inflection is just bizarre.

No, it is not "bizarre", it is simply how it is and that grammar has no explanation for that is a shortcoming of grammar, not one of language. Just because physics can't explain some phenomena in nature doesn't mean nature is at fault, but simply that physics still has some work to do.

Neither, btw., has the Duden any explanation to offer. It only states that:

Schwache Formen erscheinen außerdem im Nominativ Plural nach ihr und wir; diese Pronomen verhalten sich hier also wie Artikelwörter
§1529, "Schwankungen nach Personalpronomen", p.962, Duden Die Grammatik, 8. Auflage

It is prudent to ask what "verhalten sich wie Artikelwörter" means. Hold on one moment, while i activate my telephatic connection to the Duden authors ...

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    Ihr is a personal pronoun, not a determiner. Note du faules Kind, für euch faule Kinder etc., which all show strong inflection on the adjective. Ihr faulen Kinder is very much unexpected (but common and accepted).
    – David Vogt
    Jul 13 at 18:52
  • Thanks, bakunin. I found this in Duden to support. Duden also understands the pronoun to 'act as' an article: "verhalten sich wie...": "Schwache Formen erscheinen außerdem im Nominativ Plural nach ihr und wir; diese Pronomen verhalten sich hier also wie Artikelwörter" ( § 1529, "Schwankungen nach Personalpronomen", p.962, Duden Die Grammatik, 8. Auflage)
    – Lujama
    Jul 13 at 18:55
  • @DavidVogt: I actually said it acts like one. There is a slight difference between "acts like" and "is". Also - as Lujama pointed out - the Duden agrees with me. "Du faules Kind" is Singular, "für euch faule Kinder" is Akkusativ, whereas "Ihr faule Kinder" is Plural and Nominativ.
    – bakunin
    Jul 13 at 21:22
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    What does acts as an article mean? Determiners do not automatically trigger weak inflection. Does it act as an article in ihr faule Kinder?
    – David Vogt
    Jul 13 at 21:34
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    @DavidVogt Personal pronouns are inherently definite, so in this case, ‘article’ implicitly means ‘definite article’, not just any determiner. And in this context, sich wie ein Artikelwort verhalten clearly means ‘affects adjectival declension in the same way a definite article would’. Jul 14 at 11:17

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