Learn the German Adjective Endings

Knowing adjectives in German will make you feel more confident and make it easier for you to converse and explain your ideas.

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Let’s explore how to use German adjective endings correctly. But first, what are adjectives? Adjectives in German help us to describe people, objects, feelings and concepts — in short, they describe the type of word we call a noun.

You can say whether someone is fröhlich (happy) or traurig (sad), or express whether an Auto (car) is schnell (fast) or langsam (slow). We’ll show you how to use adjectives to add more detail and thus enrich any sentence or conversation.

Compared to the English language, adjectives work a bit differently in German. That’s because they change their endings based on certain rules, depending on the gender, number and case of the noun they describe.

But don’t worry, once you get the hang of it, you can easily spot adjectives and construct their form.

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German adjectives in a sentence

Let’s begin by explaining how to use German adjectives in a sentence. A main point to consider when using adjectives is their position.

Adjectives before the noun they describe Adjectives after the noun they describe
Das ist der alte Computer. (This is the old computer.) Der Computer ist alt. (The computer is old.)
Das ist der neue Schuh. (This is the new shoe.) Der Schuh ist neu. (The shoe is new.)
Das ist der alte Teddy. (This is the old teddy.) Der Teddy ist alt. (The teddy is old.)
Das ist die schwere Tasche. (This is the heavy bag.) Die Tasche ist schwer. (The bag is heavy.)
Das ist das leichte Paket. (This is the light parcel.) Das Paket ist leicht. (The parcel is light.)

As you can see, German adjectives are either placed before or after the word they describe. This is the same as in English. However, you might have noticed that the German adjective changes when placed before the noun it refers to. It requires a special ending to match the noun’s gender, number and case.

This means, when learning how to use German adjectives, we also need to learn the rules for adapting them.

German adjectives and gender

Adjectives accompany a word they describe, so you usually see them referring to a noun. Since German nouns have a gender — masculine, feminine, or neuter — it is no surprise that adjectives often change their endings to match it. And as if that wasn’t enough, a major factor in these changes is the little word we call an article.

Adjective endings and articles

As you already know, nouns are usually accompanied by articles in German. We use a definite article (der, die or das, meaning “the”) when talking about a specific person, thing, feeling or concept, and an indefinite article (ein or eine, meaning “a”) when referring to a person, thing, feeling, or concept in general.

You might also know that sometimes German nouns don’t require an article, for example, when referring to things in general.

Have a look at the charts below to see how adjectives behave after different articles:

Gender Adjective with definite article Adjective with indefinite article Adjective with kein/keine
masculine der alte Hut (the old hat) ein alter Hut (an old hat) kein alter Hut (no old hat)
neuter das neue Fahrrad (the new bike) ein neues Fahrrad (a new bike) kein neues Fahrrad (no new bike)
feminine die wichtige E-Mail (the important email) eine wichtige E-Mail (an important email) keine wichtige E-Mail (no important email)
Gender Adjective with definite article Adjective with no article Adjective with keine
masculine die alten Hüte (the old hats) alte Hüte (old hats) keine alten Hüte (no old hats)
neuter die neuen Fahrräder (the new bikes) neue Fahrräder (new bikes) keine neuen Fahrräder (no new bikes)
feminine die wichtigen E-Mails (the important emails) wichtige E-Mails (important emails) keine wichtigen E-Mails (no important emails)

As you can see, German adjectives often require the ending “-e”, and in some cases, more letters.

When is the adjective ending “-e” required?

Adjective endings are easy to remember when the noun is feminine: no matter whether you use a definite or indefinite article, when the noun is singular, the ending is just “-e”, as you can see in the examples below:

  • Das ist die wichtige E-Mail. (This is the important email.)
  • Das ist eine wichtige E-Mail. (This is an important email.)

When using singular masculine and neuter nouns with a definite article, you also just need the ending “-e”:

  • Das ist der alte Hut. (This is the old hat.)
  • Das ist das neue Fahrrad. (This is the new bike.)

And regardless of gender: when the noun is in the plural and there is no article at all, the adjective ending is also “-e”:

  • Wichtige E-Mails müssen gelesen werden. (Important emails have to be read.)
  • Alte Hüte sind in Mode. (Old hats are in fashion.)
  • Neue Fahrräder werden gebraucht. (New bikes are needed.)

When do we need German adjective endings with more letters than “-e”?

When it comes to masculine, neuter and plural nouns, adjective endings can require more letters than just “-e”.This applies when using the adjectives in combination with the indefinite article einand with kein/keine as well as the possessive articles (mein/meine, dein/deine etc.).

Have a look at further examples in the chart below:

Gender Adjective with definite article Adjective with indefinite article Adjective with kein or possessive article
masculine der alte Computer (the old computer) ein alter Computer (an old computer) kein alter Computer (no old computer)
neuter das neue Büro (the new office) ein neues Büro (a new office) mein neues Büro (my new office)

As you can see, constructions with masculine nouns always require one “-er”: either on der or, in the absence of der, as an adjective ending.

For constructions with neuter nouns, we need an “-s” ending somewhere: either on das or, in the absence of das, as an “-es” ending on the adjective.

We also need longer adjective endings than “-e” in certain cases in the plural. Let’s look at the chart below for a little reminder:

Gender Adjective with definite article Adjective with kein/keine or possessive article Adjective with no article
masculine die alten Computer (the old computers) keine alten Computer (no old computers) alte Computer (old computers)
neuter die neuen Büros (the new offices) unsere neuen Büros (our new offices) neue Büros (new offices)
feminine die wichtigen E-Mails (the important emails) keine wichtigen E-Mails (no important emails) wichtige E-Mails (important emails)

Here, you can see that plural nouns of all genders require the adjective ending “-en” in combination with the definite article die, and with keine as well as the possessive articles (meine, deine, unsere etc.).

When there is no article, the adjective ending “-e” signifies the plural.

How adjective endings can help with understanding

Imagine you come across a new noun in a sentence. Knowing your adjective endings helps you ‌determine whether that noun is masculine, feminine, or neuter.

When using masculine and neuter nouns with the indefinite article ein, there’s no way to tell their gender (unless we happen to know it already): The article ein is used for both.

In these cases, the adjective helps us to tell the difference:

  • ein altes Bett → das Bett (the bed) = neuter
  • ein alter Tisch → der Tisch (the table) = masculine

Being able to determine the gender of a noun by looking at the adjective will enable you to understand more complex information, as you can now recognize relations in multi-structured sentences.

But don’t worry if you sometimes mix up the articles or endings – native speakers will likely understand you anyway.

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German adjective endings in the four grammatical cases

As you might remember about German nouns, they always occur in one of the four grammatical cases: the nominative, the accusative, the dative and the genitive case, depending on their function in a sentence. What does this mean for adjectives? Well, every adjective needs to match the case of the noun it describes. And that means, the adjective ending also changes depending on the noun’s case.

Adjectives describing nouns in the nominative and accusative cases

Luckily, most adjectives look exactly the same in the nominative and accusative case.

Let’s take a look at some adjectives that describe neuter nouns:

Article Nominative case Accusative case
Definite Das neue Auto ist da.
(The new car is there.)
Ich nehme das neue Auto.
(I’m taking the new car.)
Indefinite Ein neues Auto ist da.
(A new car is there.)
Ich habe ein neues Auto.
(I have a new car.)

Here, you can see that the neuter adjective endings “-e” (after the definite article) and “-es” (after the indefinite article) are exactly the same in the nominative and accusative cases.

Now, let’s have a look at the adjective endings with feminine nouns in both grammatical cases.

Article Nominative case Accusative case
Definite Die neue Kollegin heißt Sophie. (The new colleague is called Sophie.) Ich suche die neue Kollegin. (I’m looking for the new colleague.)
Indefinite Eine neue Kollegin ist angekommen. (A new colleague has arrived.) Wir haben eine neue Kollegin. (We have a new colleague.)

As you can see, adjectives that describe feminine nouns are easy to remember. They all have the same ending, “-e”, in the nominative and accusative cases.

However, we need to pay special attention to masculine nouns, as their corresponding adjective endings differ in the nominative and accusative cases:

Article Nominative case Accusative case
Definite Der neue Computer ist schnell.
(The new computer ist fast.)
Ich benutze den neuen Computer.
(I’m using the new computer.)
Indefinite Das ist ein neuer Computer.
(This is a new computer.)
Ich brauche einen neuen Computer.
(I need a new computer.)

As you can see, adjectives describing masculine nouns in the accusative case take the ending “-en”. The good thing is, this stays the same regardless of whether the article is definite or indefinite.

Adjective endings for plural nouns in the nominative and accusative case

And how do adjective endings for plural nouns behave in the accusative case? As you can see in the chart below, just the same as in the nominative!

Article Nominative case Accusative case
Definite Die neuen Computer sind schnell.
(The new computers are fast.)
Wir brauchen die neuen Computer.
(We need the new computers.)
Keine or possessive articles Das sind keine neuen Computer.
(These are no new computers.)
Wir brauchen keine neuen Computer.
(We don’t need new computers.)
No article Neue Computer sind immer schnell.
(New computers are always fast.)
Wir brauchen neue Computer.
(We need new computers.)

Adjectives describing nouns in the dative case

In the dative case, it doesn’t matter which article you use: The adjective ending after the definite and indefinite article is always “-en”. Let’s look at a few examples:

Gender/Number Nominative case Dative case
Masculine Mein kleiner Bruder möchte ein Buch lesen. (My little brother would like to read a book.) Meine Mutter liest meinem kleinen Bruder ein Buch vor. (My mother reads a book to my little brother.)
Feminine Meine kleine Tocher möchte ein Glas Saft. (My little daughter wants a glass of juice.) Ich gebe meiner kleinen Tochter ein Glas Saft. (I give a glass of juice to my little daughter.)
Neuter Das kleine Kind braucht Hilfe. (The small child needs help.) Ich helfe dem kleinen Kind. (I’m helping the small child.)
Plural Die kleinen Kinder wollen spielen. (The small children want to play.) Ich spiele mit den kleinen Kindern. (I’m playing with the small children.)

As you can see, the adjective ending “-en” for the dative case also remains the same in singular and plural.

And last but not least, let’s look at the adjective endings in the genitive case:

Adjectives describing nouns in the genitive case

The endings in the genitive case follow the same pattern as the ones in the dative. Here are a few examples:

Gender/Number Nominative case Dative case
Masculine Mein großer Bruder hat ein Auto. (My older brother has a car.) Das Auto meines großen Bruders ist neu. (My older brother’s car is new.)
Feminine Meine nette Nachbarin hat einen Hund. (My nice neighbour has a dog.) Der Hund meiner netten Nachbarin ist laut. (My nice neighbor's dog is noisy.)
Neuter Das große Haus hat einen schönen Balkon. (The big house has a beautiful balcony.) Der Balkon des großen Hauses ist schön. (The balcony of the big house is beautiful.)
Plural Diese schönen Häuser haben große Gärten. (These beautiful houses have big gardens.) Die Gärten dieser schönen Häuser sind groß. (The gardens of these beautiful houses are big.)

Luckily, you only have to remember the adjective ending “-en” for the genitive case. Just keep in mind that the genitive case is not frequently used anymore — especially not in spoken German. However, there are still some situations in which you need to understand it, and to use it for efficient communication.

Now that we’ve revised the four cases and looked at their respective adjective endings, you can use the charts below for a more concise overview.

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative -e -e -e -en
Accusative -en -e -e -en
Dative -en -en -en -en
Genitive -en -en -en -en

Adjective endings when there is no article

Sometimes, German nouns don’t need to be accompanied by an article. For example, when we’re talking about the names of places, particular skills and abilities, certain non-countable nouns, materials and substances, nouns in the plural (when referring to things in general), or in newspaper headlines and bullet points.

The absence of an article also affects adjectives and their endings. Let’s have a look at the examples below to get a better idea:

Nominative case:

  • Masculine: Brauner Reis ist gesünder. (Brown rice is healthier.)
  • Feminine: Weiße Schokolade schmeckt lecker. (White chocolate is tasty.)
  • Neuter: Frisches Obst ist gut für uns. (Fresh fruit is good for us.)
  • Plural: Neue Computer sind meistens schneller. (New computers are usually faster.)

Accusative case:

  • Masculine: Ich esse immer braunen Reis. (I always eat brown rice.)
  • Feminine: Ich kaufe heute weiße Schokolade. (I’m buying white chocolate today.)
  • Neuter: Dieser Stand hat frisches Obst. (This market stall has fresh fruit.)
  • Plural: Unsere Firma braucht neue Computer. (Our company needs new computers.)

And here comes a chart for a complete overview of adjective endings without articles:

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative -er -es -e -e
Accusative -en -es -e -e
Dative -em -em -er -en
Genitive -en -en -er -er

Some exceptions

When it comes to learning a language, there are no rules without exceptions! But you are probably going to like the following one: You don’t need to worry about the adjective endings of the colors lila, rosa, beige and orange, because they don’t change at all:

  • Der lila Pullover ist schön. (The purple sweater is beautiful.)
  • Ich trage einen rosa Badeanzug. (I am wearing a pink swimsuit.)

However, some native speakers still add the usual adjective endings to those colors in spoken German.

You also don’t have to add any endings to some colloquial adjectives such as klasse, prima (both mean great) and some adjectives borrowed from English, such as trendy

  • Ich habe eine prima Deutschlehrerin. (I have a great German teacher.)
  • Ich kaufe die trendy Sonnenbrille. (I am buying the trendy sunglasses.)

Changing more than just the ending

Some adjectives change slightly when you add different endings. To be more precise: they swap or drop letters to better accommodate the endings. We’ll introduce you to three of these exceptions: dunkel (dark), hoch (high) and teuer (expensive).

  • hoch: In Berlin steht ein hoher Turm. (In Berlin there is a high tower.)

Here, the “c” is dropped so that you don’t have to pronounce the tricky “ch” sound with the adjective ending.

  • dunkel: Ich möchte lieber die dunkle Jacke. (I’d prefer the dark jacket.)

Here, the “e” before the “l” is dropped to create shorter forms, which are also easier to pronounce.

  • teuer: Das ist ein teures Fahrrad. (This is an expensive bicycle.)

Here, the “r” and the “e” are swapped for easier pronunciation.

Wrapping up with German adjectives

Congratulations! Now you know how to spot and form German adjectives, and how to use them in a sentence. Are you wondering about the next step?

Memorizing the endings and practicing them will help you describe particular attributes of people, objects and situations more fluently and confidently. Adjectives are a great way of enriching your language and conversations, and with some practice, demonstrate just how strong your language skills are.

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