Adjective Declension

Let's build flexible sentences, by learning how to properly decline adjectives in the nominative and accusative cases.


In the previous lesson, the sentences we built place the adjective after the verb. These adjectives are called predicative adjectives.

However, adjectives may also be placed just before the noun. These are called attributive adjectives.

Using a predicative adjective:

Die Schildkröte ist grün und isst einen Apfel.

The turtle is green and eats an apple.

Using an attributive adjective:

Die grüne Schildkröte isst einen Apfel.

The green turtle eats an apple.

Attributive Adjectives

Whilst the use of predicative adjectives calls for the inclusion of a linking verb (in the example above, that is ist), attributive adjectives do not need one, allowing for more flexibility and conciseness in a sentence.

However, when using attributive adjectives, things do get a little more complicated, grammatically.

Notice that the adjective grün in the sentence above is now declined, and has the ending: -e. This is because the adjective, when placed before the noun, becomes responsible for indicating it‘s case.

So, in summary:

Predicative AdjectivesAttributive Adjectives
... are used after the noun... are used just before the noun
... don't decline... decline

Declension Indicates Case

In the German language, being able to tell the case of a noun is very important, as this lets us know what role it plays in a sentence (e.g: subject, object), no matter where it is placed.

The case of a noun is indicated to us by the use of declension.

Declension describes the inflection (transformation) of adjectives, nouns, articles and pronouns, according to the German cases.

Two types of words need to be declined: determiners (such as articles), and attributive adjectives.

TypeExampleDeclines?
definite articlesder, die, das👍
indefinite articlesein, eine👍
adjectiveslecker, groß, schön👍

Determiners also include possessive pronouns (mein, dein, sein) and words such as welche, diese, jede, etc. However, for now, we will focus on the definite and indefinite articles.

Take a look at these two sentences, that both use determiners to indicate case:

Der durstige Mann trinkt den Wein.

The thirsty man drinks the wine.
Den Wein trinkt der durstige Mann.

The thirsty man drinks the wine.

Both sentences have the same meaning.

We can be sure of this, as the noun Wein uses the declined article den - the accusative case form of the word der, indicating the noun’s role as the direct object of the sentence (the receiver of the action).

den Wein → accusative case → direct object (action receiver)

This is also the case in the first sentence.

The noun Mann, however, uses the nominative case form of the word der and durstig, telling us that the role of this noun in both sentences is the subject.

der Mann → nominative case → subject (action performer)

So it doesn't matter where the noun is placed in the sentence, in determining it's role. What matters are the cases.

Now, let's learn how to correctly decline attributive adjectives ourselves.

Strong and Weak Declension

If a noun is preceded by a definite article and an adjective, the adjective will only need a weak declension. However, if an indefinite or no article is used, the adjective will need a strong declension.

  • definite article + adjective + noun → weak declension
  • indefinite article + adjective + noun → strong declension
  • no article + adjective + noun → strong declension
ArticleAdjectiveNoun
derglücklicheJunge
einglücklicherJunge
-glücklicherJunge

Adjective Declension (Nominative & Accusative)

Take a look at this adjective declension table:

-MascMascFemFemNeutNeutpluralplural
-strong decweak decstrong decweak decstrong decweak decstrong decweak dec
Nomroterroteroteroterotesroteroteroten
Accrotenrotenroteroterotesroteroteroten

Notice that when weak declensions only include -e and -en endings. However, strong declension include -er, -e, -es endings, indicating gender and case the same way that definite articles do.

For example, take a look at these sentences:

Der durstigen Mann trinkt Wasser

the thirsty man drinks water
Ein durstiger Mann trinkt Wasser

a thirsty man drinks water

In both sentences, the gender (masculine) and the case of the noun Mann (nominative) is made clear by the way in which either the definite article or adjective is declined before it.

We will need to memorise the rules in the declension table, in order to correctly decline adjectives used in both the nominative and accusative cases.

There are two, more advanced German cases: dative and genetive, that will be covered in another course.

Exercise

Now let's take a look at the sentences below.

Try to correctly decline the adjectives:

DasverwirrtMädchenwirftdenstinkendFischweg.
DerschnellGepardfängtdaslangsamSchwein.
DerbösManntötetdieunschuldigFrau.
DerfreundlichLehrerbegrüßtdennervösSchüler.
DergroßeElefantfrisstkleinErdnüsse.

Summary

Important considerations, when declining adjectives:

  • noun gender ('die Schildkröte', 'der Apfel')
  • noun case (nominative, accusative)
  • whether and where a strong or weak declension is needed

Well done! 🎉

You have begun to use adjective declensions in your sentences! When you‘re ready, let‘s move on to the next lesson: German Negation.



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