German/Grammar/Adjectives and Adverbs

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Adjectives[edit]

Adjectives are words that describe nouns. Most adjectives are stand-alone words; however, present and past participles can also be used as adjectives. Numbers are also adjectives, though they do not decline.

Adjectives may be either predicate or attributive. Predicate adjectives are adjectives connected to a noun through a verb known as a copula. Those verbs in German are sein (to be), werden (to become), and bleiben (to remain). Other verbs, such as machen and lassen impart a predicate adjective onto an accusative object. Predicate adjectives are never inflected.

Ich bin noch ledig.  (I am still single.)
Trotz des Streites bleiben wir verheiratet.  (Despite the argument we remain married.)
Ich werde böse.  (I am getting angry.)
Die alte Milch wird dich krank machen.  (The old milk will make you sick.)

Attributive adjectives precede the noun that they are describing, and are always declined. Learning the adjective endings is a central part to the study of German. The adjective endings are frequently one of the hardest topics for new students to learn. It is best to commit the declension tables to memory, while attempting to speak independently. Proper use of adjective endings, especially in speaking, will come with repeated use. They are described in the next part of this chapter.

Adjective Endings[edit]

Forms[edit]

This section will make use of the mnemonic Oklahoma, which denotes the fields of nominative masculine; nominative neuter; accusative neuter; nominative feminine; and accusative feminine, which resemble the state of Oklahoma in the tables used below. The concept is used to describe endings in two declension tables: the weak adjective declension, and the indefinite-article/ein-word declension.

The endings of attributive adjectives can be divided into two groups: strong endings and weak endings.


Strong Adjective Declension
Case Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative -er -es -e -e
Accusative -en -es -e -e
Dative -em -em -er -en
Genitive -en -en -er -er

The strong adjective endings are nearly the same as the der-word endings, with the exceptions of masculine and neuter adjectives in the genitive case (marked in bold).

State of Oklahoma
Note the shape of the state Oklahoma
Weak Adjective Declension
Case Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative -e -e -e -en
Accusative -en -e -e -en
Dative -en -en -en -en
Genitive -en -en -en -en

Make note of the region, Oklahoma, in the nominative and accusitive cases, for weak endings.


The use of a weak or a strong adjective ending depends on what precedes it:

Choice of Adjective Ending
Preceding Article Choice of Ending
Definite Article, der-words Weak Ending
Indefinite Article, ein-words Within Oklahoma, Strong Ending
Outside Oklahoma, Weak Ending
No article Strong Ending

The principle guiding adjective endings is that a noun, when possible, should have a primary case ending. Definite articles and der-words always provide a primary case ending. Indefinite articles and ein-words provide primary case endings outside of Oklahoma. Sometimes nouns have no article, in which case adjectives provide the primary case ending.

Forms in Context of Articles[edit]

This terminology - strong and weak endings - is confusing for many students. As the student develops, he or she will develop an ear for case endings, and will recognize when a noun has and has not received a case ending. Nonetheless, it is worth providing the three declension tables that result from this principle.


Adjective Declension following a Definite Article or der-word
Case Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
the large man the small book the quiet cat the red apples
Nominative der große Mann das kleine Buch die ruhige Katze die roten Äpfel
Accusative den großen Mann
Dative dem großen Mann dem kleinen Buch der ruhigen Katze den roten Äpfeln
Genitive des großen Mannes des kleinen Buches der roten Äpfel

Adjectives following a definite article or der-word always have a weak ending. Within Oklahoma, that is "-e", and outside of Oklahoma, that is "-en". Also dies.., jed.., manch.., welch.., solch.. and all.. get the same ending as in the table above.


Adjective Declension following an Indefinite Article or ein-word
Case Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
a large man a small book a quiet cat no red apples
Nominative ein großer Mann ein kleines Buch eine ruhige Katze keine roten Äpfel
Accusative einen großen Mann
Dative einem großen Mann einem kleinen Buch einer ruhigen Katze keinen roten Äpfeln
Genitive eines großen Mannes eines kleinen Buches keiner roten Äpfel

Note how, within Oklahoma, adjectives take strong endings, and outside Oklahoma, they take weak endings. This is because indefinite articles provide primary endings only outside of Oklahoma. Also mein.., dein.., sein.., ihr.., unser.., euer.. and Ihr.. get the same ending as in the table above.


Adjective Declension with no preceding article
Case Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative großer Mann kleines Buch ruhige Katze rote Äpfel
Accusative großen Mann
Dative großem Mann kleinem Buch ruhiger Katze roten Äpfeln
Genitive großen Mannes kleinen Buches roter Äpfel

Forms of nouns without articles are rare compared to those with definite and indefinite articles; however, one must still know the strong declension. Note that the strong adjective declension is almost the same as the der-word endings, with the exceptions of masculine and neuter in the genitive case (in bold).

Adverbs[edit]

Adverbs based on adjectives are one of the simplest parts of German grammar. Any adjective can be used as an adverb simply by placing its uninflected form within the sentence, usually towards the end.

Das Ehepaar ging gestern fröhlich spazieren.
(The married couple went for a walk joyfully yesterday.)

Other adverbs have no adjectival equivalent. Many of these express time.

Damals (at that time)
Ich bin gestern dort gewesen.  (I was there yesterday.)
Morgens bin ich normalerweise im Büro.  (I am normally in the office in the morning.)

Adverbs can also be based on participles (past and present). These are less common.

Er betrachtete mich bedrohlich.  (He looked at me threateningly.)

Some adverbs are formed by adding -weise to adjectives and nouns in the plural form, and mean "regarding", "with respect to", or "-wise" in English. Construction of new adverbs of this sort is usually frowned upon.


Adverbs based on prepositions[edit]

Much of the material in this section will be explained in greater detail in the chapter on prepositions.

German has a complex system of adverbs based on prepositions, which are used to indicate direction of motion, location, time, and other concepts. English also possesses such a system, though it is used less. Consider the following sentences in English:

1) Could you take the garbage out?
2) Come over this evening if you get the chance.
3) You should just give up.
4) I will look you up in the phone book.
5) The contract, and the conditions contained therein, is hereby declared null and 
   void. (Legalese)

In both English and German, prepositions and particles derived from prepositions are treated as adverbs. In many cases, these prepositional adverbs are associated with specific verbs.

In the first two examples, the italicized prepositions are used as adverbs of motion; in the first example, the word "out" indicates the direction "out of the apartment"; in the second case, "over" not only means means the direction "towards", but also implies visitation of a residence.

The third and fourth examples correspond to separable-prefix verbs in German. The word "up" is integral to the verb, which would have a different meaning without the adverb. "To give up", whose infinitive in German would be "to up-give", means "to quit", in sharp contrast to "to give". In the fourth example, it is not even possible to "look someone", whereas it is possible to "look someone up," or "look a candidate's resume over". (English even has inseparable prepositional prefix verbs; compare "to look s.o. over" to "to overlook s.o." Many of these verbs have been replaced by verbs based on Latin and Greek.)

The adverbs in the fifth example correspond to da-, wo-, hin- and her- compounds in German. Such compounds are often used in legal texts in English. In such compounds, the object of the preposition is replaced with the words "there" or "here", compounded with the preposition. "Therein" simply means "in it".

The German system of adverbs based on prepositions is considerably more rigorous, and forms the basis of a large part of the language's morphology. "To catch on" means "to begin" in English; In German, the primary word for "to begin" is literally "to catch on" (anfangen), from which the equivalent noun, der Anfang (the beginning) is derived. A remnant of this in English can be found when describe a child's upbringing.

As in English, prepositional adverbs in German to varying degrees alter the meaning of their associated verb.

Separable-prefix verbs. This topic is better explored in the chapter on verbs. Separable prefixes are themselves adverbs. As in English, many of them are integral to the meaning of the verb. Fangen means "to catch," whereas anfangen means "to begin".

Most prepositional adverbs are treated as part of the root word in the infinitive, and are used as such in the construction of participles. However, not all possible separable-prefix verbs are lexical; "vorbeikommen" (to come over), "vorbeibringen" (to bring over), and so on, may not all be listed in a dictionary. It is better to learn "vorbei" as an adverb implying visitation.

The German prefix in is of note. It has two adverbial forms. As in it describes location; when describing movement, it becomes ein. Thus, for example, darin means "in there", whereas darein means "in(to) there". Another example is the word, einleiten, to introduce.

Hin- and her-. Prepositional adverbs of motion are usually based on hin-, implying motion or direction away from the speaker, and her-, implying motion or direction towards the speaker. Hin and her are themselves stand-alone adverbs meaning the same thing, and describe less-specific motion or direction. (One example in which hin is an integral separable prefix is the verb hinrichten, which means "to execute.) Not all verbs formed from hin- and her- compounds are lexical. Some examples of hin- and her- compounds are:

herab (down, down from)
hinein (in, inside)
hinaus (out, out of, onto)
darüber hinaus (furthermore, above all)
dahin (in the direction/towards of known location)

Mastery of hin- and her- requires considerable effort from the student.

Da- compounds are also adverbs, corresponding to "there-" compounds in English. They replace specific prepositional objects. Although are used principally in legal texts and therefore sound formal in English, they are often employed in written and spoken German and are convenient replacements for long and complicated prepositional phrases. Their comprehension and active use are essential in German. Da- compounds are formed by adding da- before the preposition, with an "r" inserted before prepositions starting with a vowel. There are exceptions to this, and da- compounds are given a fuller treatment in the chapter on prepositions.

Hier- and dort- compounds also exist in German, though they are used less frequently. As in English, they are considered formal, and are used primarily in academic and legal texts. They are best memorized as vocabulary.

hierhin und dorthin - hither and thither



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