Mark Twain once said that the average American would prefer to decline a drink than a German adjective. I think he had a way with words and a very good point.
All the same, there is a certain pleasure in using three adjectives in a sentence and getting them all right. That’s why you might as well embrace the inevitability of adjectival endings in German and refuse to let them beat you.
As you can see from the concept map above, three factors determine adjectival endings:
(1) the role of the noun in the sentence (the case)
(2) the gender of the noun (masculine, feminine or neuter);
(3) whether the noun is preceded by the definite article (der/die/das, etc), the indefinite article (ein/eine, etc.) or neither.
♥The noun with the power in the sentence, that does whatever has to be done, is the subject. This is used in the nominative.
♥The noun that has something done to it, that suffers the impact of the verb, is the object. This is used in the accusative.
In the sentence, My brother hit the tall man, for instance, my brother is the one acting and is in the nominative. The tall man is the victim of the verb hit (and of my brother), so he is the object of the sentence and is in the accusative.
The adjective endings after the indefinite article (ein, eine, etc.) closely mirror the definite articles, which makes them easier to remember, though not always easy to apply at speed when you are talking. Here is a little summary table:
|der||die||das||Plural adjective endings for
nominative and accusative
die schönen Frauen
Examples in Sentences
- Mein Bruder schlägt den großen Mann. My brother (subject) hits the tall man (object).
- Die schöne Frau trägt ein schickes Kleid. The beautiful woman (subject/nominative) wears the elegant dress (object/accusative).
- Der große Mann schlägt meinen Bruder. The tall man is now the subject and my brother is both his victim and the object of the verb.
- Ich trage gern eine blaue Jeans, ein altes T-Shirt und schwarze Stiefel. Manchmal trage ich auch einen warmen Pullover. I like wearing blue jeans, an old tee-shirt and black boots. Sometimes I also wear a warm jumper. I, the subject in these sentences, am wearing my clothes, which are all objects.
Note: When you say, My brother is a tall man, then my brother is still the powerful entity, but he’s not doing anything to the tall man, he actually is the tall man. In this sentence, therefore, both my brother and the tall man are in the nominative: Mein Bruder ist ein großer Mann. After the verb to be (and a couple of others) the second part of the sentence remains in the nominative.