Describing outfits and declining adjectives – Quiz

Sie trägt grüne Schuhe – oder vielleicht hellgrüne Schuhe.
She is wearing green shoes – or perhaps light green.

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.

German Adjective Endings in the Nominative and Accusative Cases
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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 two cases you need to take into account in the quiz below are the nominative and the accusative. See this page for an introduction to the accusative case as well as the brief explanation below.

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

  • ein großer Mann
  • a tall man
  • eine schöne Frau
  • a beautiful woman
  • ein schickes Kleid
  • an elegant dress
  • With the definite article – en


die schönen Frauen

  • Without the definite article – e

schwarze Schuhe

  • den großen Mann
  • the tall man
  • einen großen Mann
  • a tall man
  • eine schöne Frau
  • a beautiful woman
  • ein schickes Kleid
  • an elegant dress

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.
In the sentence, Es ist ein gestreifter Schal, you use the nominative endings, since this is a statement describing existence and qualities. In the sentence, Ich habe einen gestreiften Schal, however, you do something to the scarf: you possess it. The same applies if you wear it, throw it or cut it into tiny pieces; it becomes the object of your action and takes the accusative endings.
  • 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.

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