When you UNDERSTAND how German adjective endings work, you only need to learn ONE TABLE!
The famous writer Mark Twain used to make fun of the phenomenon of German adjective endings. Please keep reading, if you do not want to become just as desperate about it as he was …
declining it until the common sense is all declined out of it.
Every time I had to teach German adjective endings I was really happy that I had already learned it naturally as a child; so, today I „just know“ how it works. This topic is one of the most difficult of basic German grammar, and I have never known a student who hasn’t struggled with it.
I’m not surprised! Very often we, teachers, give our students simply 3 or 4 tables, which they have to learn by heart. And the textbooks most of the time don’t contain any better ideas. Many textbooks try to totally avoid any tables and treat the adjective and several accompanying words only incidentally, in the hope that the students practice and learn the rules of the German adjective endings more or less unconsciously. Sooner or later, some tables are given all the same, – although most of the time they are very unmethodical.
At the beginning of the intermediate level, it can happen that the textbooks simply provide 3 or 4 tables “to remember”. But who can memorize this? Have a look here at 3 such tables for German adjective endings “to remember” and decide for yourself if it’s really possible to memorize something like that:
Table 1: German adjective endings with the definite article
(der, die, das …)
Table 2: German adjective endings with the indefinite article „ein“
Table 3: German adjective endings without article
Let’s face it again:
Nobody is able to memorize this and to learn the German adjective endings this way. Well, that´s what I think, at least :).
Students of German don’t want to simply learn the German adjective endings by heart, but they want to understand how it works. And once you have understood, it’s very easy to learn that bit by heart – if you use a good memory technique …
If you understand 2 important principles …
your life with the German adjective endings will be a lot easier.
You know that in German a noun always uses a certain case (nominative, dative, etc.). In German grammar the case is indicated by the definite article. From this arises the first of both the principles for the declension of the adjective:
1. Case-endings are in principle identical with the definite article, but without the “d”.
„Huh?“OK, that was a bit too abstract, so here’s an example for the …
… Case Endings
These case-endings are sometimes also used by other accompanying words, we call them then strong endings. Strong endings always indicate the case! They are also used by the demonstrative pronouns (dieser, dieses…), and often as well by the indefinite articles (ein, eine …) and sometimes by the possessive pronouns (mein, dein, sein…). They can also be used by the adjectives.
But when do accompanying words use strong endings and when do adjectives use strong endings?
This questions brings us to the second principle, which helps us with the learning of German adjective endings:
2. In an “adjective-noun” (noun + adjective) there is always EXACTLY ONE case-ending.
What does this mean exactly? You know, that the definite article does not always precedes the noun, it can be another accompanying word or sometimes there isn’t even an accompanying word or article at all. Let’s have a look at an example with a noun with a possessive pronoun:
„Mein Computer war sehr teuer.“ (My computer was very expensive)
The possessive pronoun mein doesn’t always have a case-ending, for instance not in the nominative with a masculine noun:
In principle you now really only have to learn one table, and this is for the cases where the case-ending precedes the adjective.
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from Neustadt, Germany, developed an excellent overview and allowed me to present it to you on my website. She managed to integrate adjective and article declinations in only one table. Moreover the relationships between the interrogative pronouns, the declension of the article and adjective and the personal pronoun are developed.
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