Adjective declension in German

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Adjective declension in German

Adjective declension is one of the most complicated tasks in the German language. Sometimes they are declined (there are three types of declensions) and other times not. But don’t worry; we will explain it so that you can understand easily.

Adjective Functions

Adjectives can have 3 functions in a sentence and only the attributive function is declined. Let’s see the three functions to distinguish them from one another:
  • Attributive (adjective accompanying a noun).

    Der gute Mann arbeitet viel

    [DECLINED]Often, it is understood which noun is being referred to so the adjective appears without the noun but it is still declined

    Er mag den roten Apfel, ich mag den gelben

    (apple is omitted in the second clause)
  • Predicative (the adjective is in a sentence with the copulative verbs [ sein,  bleiben and  werden] and is not accompanied by a noun)

    Der Mann ist gut[NOT DECLINED]

  • Adverbial (the adjective behaves like an adverb)

    Sie singt gut[NOT DECLINED]

Adjective declension

As we have stated, there are 3 types of declension, depending on the the particle that comes before the adjective:
  • Weak declension (the definite article + adjective).

    Das schöne Sofa The beautiful sofa

  • Mixed declension(indefinite article + adjective).

    Ein schönes Sofa A beautiful sofa

  • Strong declination (no article + adjective).

    Schönes Sofa Beautiful sofa

Weak declension

The weak declension is used when:
  • the definite articles (der, die, das)
or the pronouns:
  • dieser (this)
  • jener (that)
  • derjenige (that one)
  • derselbe (the same)
  • welcher (which)
or declined indicators of quantity:
  • jeder (every)
  • mancher (some)
  • alle (all)
come before the adjective and the adjective before the noun. This is called weak declension because the case marker is not carried by the adjective but rather particle before it.
Weak declension Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der gute Mann die gute Frau das gute Kind die guten Männer/Frauen/Kinder
Accusative den guten Mann die gute Frau das gute Kind die guten Männer/Frauen/Kinder
Dative dem guten Mann(e) der guten Frau dem guten Kind(e) den guten Männern/Frauen/Kindern
Genitive des guten Mannes der guten Frau des guten Kindes der guten Männer/Frauen/Kinder
If we look closely, we see that you just add “-e” or “-en”.

Mixed declension

Mixed declension is used when:
  • the indefinite articles (ein,…)
  • the possessive pronouns (mein, …)
  • kein, … (none)
come before the adjective and the adjective before the noun.
Mixed declension Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative ein guter Mann eine gute Frau ein gutes Kind keine guten Männer/Frauen/Kinder
Accusative einen guten Mann eine gute Frau ein gutes Kind keine guten Männer/Frauen/Kinder
Dative einem guten Mann(e) einer guten Frau einem guten Kind(e) keinen guten Männern/Frauen/Kindern
Genitive eines guten Mannes einer guten Frau eines guten Kindes keiner guten Männer/Frauen/Kinder

Strong declension

The strong declension is used when nothing comes before the adjective. But there are also other cases such as when the adjective is preceded by any of the following pronouns:
  • dergleichen, … (the same)
  • derlei, … (such)
  • dessen, deren (whose)
  • wessen (whose)
  • manch (some)
  • etliche mehrere (a few more)
  • etwas (something)
  • ein bisschen (a bit)
  • ein wenig (a little)
  • ein paar (a couple)
or by:
  • wie viel (how much)
  • viel (a lot)
  • wenig (little)
or declined indicators of quantity that are only used in the plural:
  • viele (many)
  • wenige (few)
  • einige (some)
Strong declension Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative guter Mann gute Frau gutes Kind gute Männer/Frauen/Kinder
Accusative guten Mann gute Frau gutes Kind gute Männer/Frauen/Kinder
Dative gutem Mann(e) guter Frau gutem Kind(e) guten Männern/ Frauen/Kindern
Genitive guten Mannes guter Frau guten Kindes guter Männer/ Frauen/Kinder

Declension of 2 or more consecutive adjectives

If two or more consecutive adjectives are in a sentence, they will be declined with the same type of declension:

Wir möchten in einem guten japanischen Restaurant essen We would like to eat in a good Japanese Restaurant

In this example, “gut” and “japanisch” are declined with the mixed declension because the adjectives are preceded by the indefinite article (ein). “ein” is declined in dative (einem) because it is preceded by the preposition “in” (with a situational concept).

Declension Tables

Now that we’ve covered gender, plurals and case, here’s how they all fit together:
Nominative (subject) der Mann die Frau das Kind die Kinder
Accusative (direct object) den Mann die Frau das Kind die Kinder
Dative (indirect object) dem Mann der Frau dem Kind den Kindern
Genitive (possession) des Mannes der Frau des Kindes der Kinder
Again, notice that the noun itself rarely changes – it only picks up an ending in three places. Most of the changes take place in the article. The highlighted letters are the signal or “hard” endings; in addition to der/die/das, they apply as above to the following definite articles:
  • dieser / diese / dieses (“this/that, these/those”)
  • solcher / solche / solches (“such”)
  • welcher / welche / welches (“which”)
And here are two more, but they sound poetic or fancy in modern German and are not used as often:
  • jener / jene / jedes (“that, those”)
  • mancher / manche / manches (“many a”)
You may be wondering how “that” and “those” can be rare words in any language. The short answer is that you can use “dies-“ for both this/these and that/those, as we’ve indicated above. The full answer is a little more complicated. Our this/that distinction in English – what linguists call the proximal/distal distinction – is not handled the same way in all languages, and German just doesn’t have it to the same degree. Even “dies-” is less common than “this” in English; it’s most often used when distinguishing among a group of similar items, not just in referring to anything nearby. For example, if you’re helping someone pick out a dress, you’d say Ich mag dieses Kleid (“I like this one [as opposed to the others]”) but “this beer [in my hand] is too warm” would often just be das Bier ist zu warm. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, but it’s way too much to get into here. If you’re really struggling to get across a this/that distinction in German, remember that you can always use extra words to help (“this building here,” “the guy over there,” etc.) The other two categories are the indefinite articles (like a/an in English) and possessives (my, your, his, etc). These words have the same hard endings as the definite articles above, except that they drop them in three places. Here’s how to say: “my dog/cat/bunny/birds”:
Nominative (subject) mein Hund meine Katze meinKaninchen meine Vögel
Accusative (direct object) meinen Hund meine Katze meinKaninchen meine Vögel
Dative (indirect object) meinem Hund meiner Katze meinemKaninchen meinenVögeln
Genitive (possession) meinesHundes meiner Katze meinesKaninchens meiner Vögel
We will fully review the possessives in Section 6 (Pronouns), but here are the two indefinite articles:
  • ein / eine / ein (“a/an ___”)
  • kein / keine / kein (“no/not a ___“)
Ein Hund folgte mir nach Hause. A dog followed me home. Ich spreche kein Deutsch. I speak no German. Das ist keine Lösung. That’s not a solution.
In learning these declensions, as well as the adjective forms in the next section, it’s better to focus on those 16 hard endings and the few exceptions to them than to memorize every table by rote.