Adjective endings vary according to four possibilities.
The easiest are predicate adjectives. They take no endings at all. If you are trying to converse in German and can’t remember your adjective endings, instead of saying “What is the name of that beautiful girl?” you can always say, “Das Mädchen ist schön. Wie heißt es?”
When an adjective precedes a noun and is thus descriptive or attributive, there are three possibilities:
- The definite article (and related “der” words) shows the most forms and thus gives the most information. Therefore if the definite article is used, the adjective endings are simpler. With “der” words, the only endings used on attributive adjectives are –e and –en. The ending -e is used only for the nom. sg (all genders); and the acc. sg both neut. and fem. For the other cases in the singular and for all plural forms, –en is used.
- With “ein” words the nom. sg. endings -er, -es, -e are used. The neut. and fem. repeat the nom. endings for the acc. (Both the neuter and the feminine singular forms are like the Greek neuter forms in this respect: the accusative ending is the same as the nominative.) Otherwise the ending is always -en.
- When an adjective is used without any article (or related “der” or “ein” words) the adjective ending has to take over the work of showing the variety of forms. Therefore, the endings of “der” words are transferred to the adjectives (except for the gen. sg. m. and n.) The endings are listed below in the Greek order, going down N, G, D, A; going across M, N, F, Plural (all)
- -er -es -e -e
- -en -en -er -er
- -em -em -er -en
- -en -es -e -e
(See next lesson for a chart of adjective endings)