German for Music Lovers

©A. Campitelli, Greensboro, North Carolina, 1999-2008
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Warum soll man Adjektivendungen lernen?

Learning adjective endings: "weak" adjective endings

Learning adjective endings: "strong" adjective endings

Flow Chart of Adjective Endings

Wortschatz: Vocabulary

Before you attempt to learn the adjective endings, you must know the patterns of the "der"- and "ein"-words. When you have learned these patterns, learning the adjective endings is not at all difficult. Click here to review these patterns.

Why Learn Adjective Endings?

Learning Adjective Endings Improves Comprehension Skills.

Adjective endings are one of those pesky details for the beginning student of German. But learning them might be a little easier if you have an idea of why they are so important. This returns us to the role of case in German.

Case in German

Word order indicates function in English.
Case indicates function in German.

 

German word order follows very different rules from English. English shows "who is doing what to whom" with the word order. In German, information about '"who is doing what to whom" is conveyed instead through case.

To change the meaning, English uses the same words in different order. German uses different words in the same order.

1. Der Komponist schickte dem Sänger die Musikerin.
1. The composer sent the singer the musician.

(The composer sent the musician to the singer.)

2. Dem Komponisten schickte den Sänger die Musikerin.
2. The musician sent the composer the singer.

(The musician sent the singer to the composer.)

3. Dem Komponisten schickte der Sänger die Musikerin.
3. The singer sent the composer the musician.

(The singer sent the musician to the composer.)

4. Der Komponist schickte den Sänger der Musikerin.
4. The composer sent the musician the singer.

(The composer sent the singer to the musician.)

The English sentences use the same words but convey different scenarios depending on the arrangement of the words. In German, the same word order conveys the different scenarios because changes in function are indicated by the articles ("the," "a," "an," "der," "ein," etc.).

In which sentence does the composer send the singer? Only in sentence 4, where "der" indicates the subject and "den" indicates the direct object.

Unless you know the "der"-words, looking up "Komponist," "Sänger," and "Musikerin" will not help you understand the German sentences.

Because case communicates the function of the nouns and pronouns in German sentences,

noun modifiers, adjectives as well as articles, show case,

providing information about the meaning and function of nouns.

 

Adjective endings help distinguish between singular and plural nouns.

Notice how the adjective endings "-e" and "-en" help distinguish between singular and plural nouns in the following sentences.
Der gute Musiker gehört zur Gesellschaft der guten Musiker.

The good musician belongs to the Society of the Good Musicians.

Die neuen Eltern zeigten das schöne Mädchen den schönen Mädchen.

The new parents showed the beautiful girl to the beautiful girls.

Der rote Mantel steht nicht auf der Liste; die Nummer der roten Mäntel auf der Liste ist falsch.

The red coat isn't on the list; the number of red coats on the list is wrong.

Adjective endings reinforce gender and case patterns.

Notice in the following sentences how the adjective endings reinforce patterns you have noticed before: the association of the letter "-e" with the feminine, and the association of the letter "n" with the masculine accusatives and dative plurals.

feminine: "e"

Meine gute Freundin trägt eine neue Jacke, und meine schicke Schwester trägt eine weiße Bluse.

masculine: "n"

Ich kenne einen intelligenten Studenten, einen netten Menschen, einen modischen Journalisten, und einen konservativen Kandidaten.

dative plural: "n"

Ich trage die Schuhe mit warmen weißen Socken, oder die Stiefel mit schwarzen wollenen Strümpfen, wenn ich mit meinen kleinen wilden Kindern im Schnee spiele.

Summary

The differences in word order make German challenging for English-speaking learners. Knowing the case system improves reading skills, enabling you to identify not just the dictionary definition of a word, but also its function in the sentence.

The beginner should aim for competence in distinguishing case and in using the correct endings when writing. Do not worry if the right adjective ending doesn't spring immediately to the tongue when speaking German; that kind of fluency eventually will come from repeated exposure and practice.


Flow Chart of Adjective Endings | Learning adjective endings: "weak" adjective endings | Learning adjective endings: "strong" adjective endings | Wortschatz: Vocabulary
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©A. Campitelli; Greensboro, NC 1999-2006

 

© A. Campitelli, 2006