Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Der schnelle braune Fuchs - The Quick Brown Fox


Sorry to bore, but I'm going to revise adjective endings.

The first rule is that adjectives not in front of a noun do not have additional endings. Hurrah!

So:
Sie sind hoch. - They are tall.
Die Katze ist flaumig. - The cat is fluffy.
Ich möchte fröhlich sein. - I'd like to be happy.
Das Wetter war schrecklich. - The weather was ghastly.
Du bist tot. - You are dead.
Mein Pferd ist Kastaniebraun. - My horse is chestnut brown.
Der Pfeffer ist scharf. - The pepper is spicy hot.
Ich mag einen Hund, der freundlich ist. - I like a dog that's friendly.
Ihr Gesicht war ganz rot. - Her face was completely red.

Do you see what they all have in common? They all take forms of the verb sein. Other verbs that you could use are bleiben and werden. As in:
Sein Bruder wurde sehr reich. - His brother became very rich.
Das Wetter bleibt schön. - The weather remains good.

You can do a lot with adjectives following the noun, but to be more creative you're going to have to buckle down and learn some endings. These don't only differ by case, gender and number, but whether they are preceded by the definite article (e.g. der), or the indefinite article (e.g. eine). Or indeed, by none at all.

Let's start with the definite article (also alle, dieser, jeder, jener, welcher).
In the nominative case they are all quite simple; you just add e to the end of the adjective for all genders, or en if there are more than one of the noun.

So:
Der scharfe pfeffer brennt meine Zunge.
Die flaumige Katze schnurrt.
Das braune Pferd läuft.

Die Toten Hosen.
Die verlegenen roten Gesichter schauen unten.

In the accusative case with the definite article, the only change from the nominative is that adjectives preceding a maculine noun add en instead. Why? I have no idea, but here goes:

Meine Zunge leckte den roten, scharfen Paprikapfeffer.
( and don't forget: Ich liebe diesen freundlichen Hund.)
Ich streichele die flaumige Katze. (same as the nominative)
Die Frau reitet das braune Pferd. (ditto)
Ich küsse die verlegenen roten Gesichter. (ditto)
(and of course: Ich liebe alle flaumigen Katzen.)

The dative and genetive endings are easy-peasy again; adjectives following a definite article all end in en.
So:
Ich koche mit dem scharfen Pfeffer.
Ich gebe der flaumigen Katze einen Fisch.
Ich sprach mit dem braunen Pferd.
Außer den verlegenen roten Gesichtern war jeder glücklich.

and:
Der Geschmack des scharfen Pfeffers war ausgezeichnet.
Der Pelz der flaumigen Katze ist weich.
Trotz des braunen Pferds ging ich an.
Die Verlegenheit der roten Gesichter.

Hey, that wasn't so hard!

Hang on though, there's the indefinite article (also kein and the possessive adjectives) to tackle yet.
The nominative case adds er to adjectives before masculine nouns with the indefinite article, e to feminine, es to neuter, and en to plurals.
So:
Ein scharfer pfeffer brennt meine Zunge.
Eine flaumige Katze schnurrt.
Ein braunes Pferd läuft.
Keine roten Gesichter aufsehen.

The accusative case is the same as the nominative but, guess what?, like for the definite article adjectives describing masculine nouns end in en.
So:
Meine Zunge leckt einen scharfen Pfeffer.
Ich streichele eine flaumige Katze. (same as the nominative)
Die Frau reitet ein braune Pferd. (ditto)
Ich mag nicht keine roten Gesichter. (ditto)

The dative and genitive cases for the indefinite article are the same as for the definite article, i.e. everything ends in en. Hurrah again!

But, we're not out of the woods yet (Wir sind noch nicht über den Berg). What about if the adjective is before the noun, but there isn't any kind of article or defining word to be seen? You might rightly say, WTF! Just don't write sentences like that!
Unfortunately they are unavoidable; how else would I say 'I like green tea' (Ich mag grünen Tee)? Or ask 'do you like fast cars?' (Mögen Sie schnelle Autos?).
Which would be all well and good, but the endings for this class of adjectives are all over the place! The reason for this, I am told, is because without a definite or indefinite article the poor old adjective is having to do the work of indicating the case and gender of the noun. Why bother at all? We seem to get by in English without adding endings at all, and we seem to communicate ideas pretty effectively. Ah, but this is German, and as Mark Twain reported of an American student at Heidelburg, he would rather "decline two drinks than one German adjective."

In the nominative case the endings to add for masc, fem, neut, plural are -er, -e, -es -e.
So:
Scharfer Pfeffer schmeckt nett.
Eine kluge Frau ist so gut wie zehn blöde Männer.
Fettes Essen macht dick.
Zwei rote Pferde laufen.
And for letter-writing, start with something like Lieber Freund! Liebe Freundin!

In the accusative, the endings to add for masc, fem, neut, plural are -en, -e, -es, -e.
So:
Ich mag scharfen Pfeffer.
Ich hasse kalte Suppe.
Rotes Fleisch nicht essen.
In Cumbria gibt es schöne Seen.

In the dative, the endings are all over the place (remember they were all the same with the definite and indefinite articles?); m, f, n, p = -em, -er, -em, -en.
So:
Ich mischte Creme mit scharfem Pfeffer.
Brot mit heißer Suppe ist besser.
Ich trage immer einen Regenschirm außer schönem Wetter.
Cumbria wird mit schönen Bergen bedeckt.

And the genitive is just as mixed up; m, f, n, p, = -en, -er, -en, -er.
No examples this time; make your own up!

Of course, Germans don't wander around with tables of the 48 possible permutations of adjectival endings, not even figuratively in their head. After you get a feel for the language, it just sounds right and comes automatically.

With that in mind, look over the following simple sentences and correct the mistakes:

1) Der gross Mann gab dem kleine Mädchen einen roten Apfel.
2) Ich mag heißer Apfelstrudel mit gelbem Vanillepudding.
3) Die schwarze Katze spielt mit einer kleine graue Maus.
4) Gestern sah ich einen ausgezeichneten Film.
5) Der dunkler Mann steht gegen die hoher kaltes Mauer.
6) Keine hohe Berge fassen Deutschland im weiten Westen ein.
7) Es gibt rote, gelbe, lila und orangen Blumen in meinem grosse Blumenstrauß.
8) Sie waren freundlichen, und uns gekocht eine herzliche Mahlzeit.
9) Die industrielle Stadt von Berlin hat, trotz der reiche Firmen, viele grüne Plätze.
10) Unter dem tiefen See schwimmt der glücklichen Fisch.

If some of those adjectives just don't look right to you, then you're getting there. If they all look wrong then go and have a lie down. Indeed, one of the sentences, at least, is all correct.

I'm giving the answers below in low contrast (you'll see it better if you highlight the text):

1) Der grosse Mann ... kleinen Mädchen
2) heißen Apfelstrudel
3) kleinen grauen
4) all correct
5) dunkle Mann ... hohe kalte
6) hohen Berge
7) orange Blumen ... grossen Blumenstrauß
8) Sie waren freundlich
9) reichen Firmen
10) glückliche Fische


Were you thrown by the lila Blumen? Foreign adjectives absorbed into the German language are not declined. Lila is one, rosa another, and also prima. German speakers are a bit un-nerved by this, so they might add -farben to a colour and decline it like any other adjective, thus: ein lilafarbenes Kleid - a purple-coloured dress.
A final note comes from Mark Twain again: "As for the adjective, when in doubt, leave it out." That's good advice for anyone writing in English too, if you want to avoid 'purple prose', or even lilafarbenen Prosa.

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