The 3 main types of German adjectives
Check out the video to see Anja's primer on adjective endings for adjectives in the Nominative.
Ah, you’re back to learn more about adjectives? Perfect! Today, we’re going to look at the three grammatical types of German adjectives. As we learned in the overview, those are called predicative, adverbial, and attributive adjectives.
Alright, I'm sure that sounds exciting. So, why could that possibly be important? Well...
Because, as a German learner, understanding these adjective types can be a minty fresh life saver! Native speakers normally do their best to sleep through this part of grammar-class as kids. That's not us, though!
The simplest way to use an adjective is as a "predicative adjective". This type of adjective is a follower, not a leader. It always comes after a verb that describes a state of being. Those verbs are:
- sein (to be)
- bleiben (to stay)
- werden (to become)
- scheinen (to seem)
Let’s do some examples!
- Bobbis Auto ist alt. (Bobbi’s car is old.)
- Der Kaffee bleibt heiß. (The coffee will stay hot.)
- Morgen wird das Wetter warm. (Tomorrow, the weather is going to be warm.)
Looking at these, you might notice a few things. All of the sentences are short and simple. There are also no new endings, and it might even look familiar. That’s because English does the same thing.
If we want to describe the weather, we would say “The weather is nice”. "Nice" is describing the weather, but it’s really attached to the verb “is”. In German, that matters a whole lot, because of a technicality.
The adjective is doing something that adjectives should not do. It's describing a verb and that's what adverbs do. So, it works like an adverb would… without adjective endings. For a German learner who is still starting out, this is huge. Critical. Stupendous! It means that you can start using predicative adjectives without first mastering all of the grammar rules surrounding adjectives.
Another awesome type of adjective that’s very similar is an "adverbial adjective".
An adverbial adjective comes after a verb other than sein, bleiben, and werden. That means they're adjectives that are acting like adverbs. They might be adjectives, but we’re using them to describe verbs.
Let’s do a few examples!
- Pietro geht schnell nach Hause. (Pietro is going home quickly.)
- Der Motor brummt laut. (The motor is humming loudly.)
- Das Essen schmeckt gut. (The meal tastes good.)
Just like before, the adjectives here don’t need to be modified at all. They're easygoing and don't like to make a fuss.
This makes them very easy to use. It gives helps us to express more complicated ideas without all of the complicated rules that we'll see in a moment with the last kind of adjective. Now, while we’re using these two simpler kinds, we can study up on the fun ones.
Attributive adjectives follow all the rules, and do all the things a good and proper adjective is expected to do. Unlike their delinquent siblings, they describe nouns and only nouns.
Usually, a noun’s article (those are words like der, die, das etc…) will tell us what the case and gender of that noun is. Sometimes, though, the article is indefinite (like ein, eine, einem). Sometimes it calls in sick, so there is no article. Then the adjective has to take over with a special ending!
- Der warme Tee ist gesund. (The warm tea is healthy.)
- Ein warmer Tee ist gesund. (A warm tea is healthy.)
- Warmer Tee ist gesund. (Warm tea is healthy.)
See that? Depending on the type of article, the adjective-ending has to do more and more work. Because of that, we have 3 completely different sets of adjective endings that we use depending on whether the article is definite, indefinite, or missing.
Ok, ok, don’t worry. It’s going to be alright. We’re not looking at all of the possible endings (and special bonus exceptions!) today. For that, we have a totally different post that you can find here.
Today, we’re just going to look at a few examples of different endings, which we grammar nerds call weak, mixed, and strong declensions.
- Bobbi steigt in das neue Auto und fährt zu dem schönen Cafe. (Bobbi gets into the new car, and drives to the nice cafe.)
- Der heiße Tee ist noch untrinkbar. (The hot tea is still undrinkable.)
- Katie spielt etwas auf ihrer kleinen Ukulele. (Katie plays something on her little ukulele.)
When the definite article is there to clearly tell us what case and gender we’re dealing with, adjectives always end in either -e (for nominative singular nouns) or -en (for everything else). Easy-peasy, right?
Indefinite articles don’t really tell us as much, so the adjective does a little more work. For that, we get 4 different endings (-e, -en, -er, and -es).
- Bobbi wollte schon immer einen schicken Neuwagen. (Bobbi has always wanted a nice new car.)
- Gogo kommt zu spät und setzt sich mit einem starken Kaffee. (Gogo arrives late and sits down with a strong coffee.)
- Katie fragt, warum Bobbi sich nicht schon früher ein neues Auto gekauft hat. (Katie asks why Bobbi didn’t buy a new car for himself sooner.)
When the article goes on vacation, the adjective has to do more work. Here we get all 5 different endings (-e, -en, -er, -es, and -em).
- Bobbi sitzt mit lauwarmem Tee am Tisch. (Bobbi is sitting at the table with lukewarm tea.)
- Gogo versteht nichts von guter Musik. (Gogo doesn’t appreciate good Music.)
- Schöne neue Autos waren zu teuer für Bobbi. (Nice new cars were too expensive for Bobbi.)
Alright beautiful learner, are you ready for the real thing? Check out our full breakdown of adjective endings (that’s declensions, technically) here.
Irregular Adjectives/Sneaky exceptions
There are, of course, always other types of German adjectives. We can call this category “miscellaneous”. As with everything else, adjectives have their share of sneaky anarchists that don’t follow the rules.
Adjectives without declensions
Some adjectives are rebels and stay exactly the same no matter where they are in the sentence, or what word they might be modifying.
The most common examples are “super” and “extra”, but also a few colors like “lila” and “rosa”. For example:
- Gogo brauchte heute eine extra Tasse Kaffee. (Gogo needed an extra cup of coffee today.)
- Katie hat einen lila Teppich. (Katie has a purple carpet.)
- Wir haben super Wetter heute. (We have great weather today.)
Adjectives with irregular comparative forms
Some adjectives mostly play by the rules, but they need a bit of extra attention. We introduced comparative forms in the overview post here, and you’ll be able to see that these are a little different.
teuer (expensive) - teurer (more expensive) - am teuersten (most expensive)
- Bobbis erstes Auto war nicht teuer. (Bobbi's first car wasn't expensive.)
- Das Auto ist teurer als sein altes. (The car is more expensive than his old one.)
- Der BMW war am teuersten. (The BMW was the most expensive.)
According to the rules, teuer should become “teuerer”, but the e in front is deleted instead.
groß (big) - größer (bigger) - am größten (biggest)
- Bald ist eine große Party. (There's going to be a big party soon.)
- Die Party ist noch größer als die vom letzten Jahr. (The party is even bigger than last year's.)
- Gogo geht zu der größten Party aller Zeiten. (Gogo is going to the biggest party of all time.)
Instead of using the superlative -esten that usually comes after s-sounds, this adjective wants to be like all the other adjectives that just use -sten.
hoch (tall/high) - höher (taller/higher) - am höchsten (tallest/highest)
- Der Turm is sehr hoch. (The tower is very tall.)
- Der Fernsehturm ist höher als die anderen Gebäude beim Alexanderplatz. (The Fernsehturm is taller than the other buildings at Alexanderplatz.)
- Von allen Restaurants in Berlin, ist das im Fernsehturm am höchsten. (Of all the restaurants in Berlin, the one in the Fernsehturm is the highest.)
Instead of just gaining an umlaut, “hoch” also loses the “ch” sound in the comparative form. Of course, it comes back in the superlative form, though.
Extra irregular types of German adjectives
Lastly, we have the most unique characters among all German adjectives. These just threw all the rules out the window, and decided to swap in entirely different root forms.
gut (good) - besser (better) - am besten (best)
- Tee ist gut. (Tea is good.)
- Kaffee schmeckt besser. (Coffee tastes better.)
- Der Arzt behauptet aber, dass Wasser am besten ist. (The doctor claims that water is best, though.)
viel (much) - mehr (more) - am meisten (the most)
- Bobbi hat viel gearbeitet. (Bobbi has done a lot of work.)
- Er muss heute noch mehr arbeiten. (He needs to work even more today.)
- Am Wochenende arbeitet er am meisten. (On the weekends, he works the most.)
nah (close) - näher (closer) - am nächsten (closest)
- Mein Bruder ist mir nah. (My brother and I are close.)
- Meine Schwester ist mir näher. (My sister and I are closer.)
- Meine Eltern sind mir am nächsten. (My parents and I are the closest to me.)
Whew! Alright! Those were the 3 main types of German adjectives, plus a handful of extra special ones. Congratulations! Now, let’s take a cookie break.
You want more? Let’s go! We’ll eat double the cookies when we’re finished. If you want to learn more about adjectives, check out some of our other posts on the subject over here!