Adjectives in German Grammar

What is an adjective?

Adjectives (Adjektive) are describing words. They give us more information about a person, place or thing. There are three types of adjectives in German: predicative, adverbial and attributive. These types not only dictate how we form the comparative and superlative of an adjective, but also if and how we need to decline it — so it’s good to get familiar!

Learn all about the different types of adjectives in German grammar with Lingolia then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Types of German Adjectives

We can divide German adjectives into three types: predicative, adverbial and attributive.

Example

Der Clown ist lustig. Er springt lustig herum. Er ist ein sehr lustiger Clown. So einen lustigen Clown habe ich noch nie gesehen.

  • Predicative adjectives (prädikative Adjektive) come after the verbs sein, bleiben and werden. Predicative adjectives are invariable; this means that their form stays the same regardless of the gender and number of the noun they’re describing.
Example:
Der Clown ist lustig.The clown is funny.
  • Adverbial adjectives (adverbiale Adjektive) come after all verbs apart from sein, bleiben and werden. They are also invariable.
Example:
Der Clown springt lustig herum.The clown is bouncing around.
  • Attributive adjectives (attributive Adjektive) come before nouns and they have to be declined. This means that we have to change the adjective ending according to the case (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive), gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) and number (singular or plural) of the noun.
Examples:
Er ist ein sehr lustiger Clown.He’s a funny clown.
nominative case, masculine singular noun = -er ending
So einen lustigen Clown habe ich noch nie gesehen.I’ve never seen such a funny clown.
accusative case, masculine singular noun = -en ending

Comparative and Superlative Adjectives in German Grammar

German uses comparative adjectives (Steigerungsformen) in the same way as English; to make comparisons or express superlatives.

Like in English, German adjectives have three comparative forms:

  • basic (positive Form)
  • comparative (Komparativ)
  • superlative (Superlativ)
Example:
schön – schöner – am schönstennice – nicer – the nicest
basic – comparative – superlative

Example

Maria läuft so schnell wie Susanne. Friederike läuft schneller als Maria. Friederike läuft am schnellsten. Sie ist die schnellste Läuferin.

Comparisons with Basic Adjectives

In German we use basic adjectives with so … wieas … as to make comparisons.

Example:
Maria läuft so schnell wie Susanne.Maria runs just as fast as Susanne.

We can also use the following structures to make comparisons with basic adjectives:

  • genauso … wiejust as … as
  • nicht so … wienot as … as
  • fast so … wiealmost as … as
  • doppelt so … wietwice as … as
  • halb so … wiehalf as … as

Info

Comparisons with so … wie can be translated with the English structure as … as. But learners with an English-speaking background should take care to avoid this common mistake:

Example:
Maria ist genauso sportlich als Susanne.
→ Maria ist genauso sportlich wie Susanne.Maria is just as sporty as Susanne.

Comparatives in German Grammar

The comparative (der Komparativ) compares two people, places or things. To form the comparative in German, we add -er to the basic form of the adjective.

Examples:
schnell → schnellerfast → faster
klein → kleinersmall → smaller

Unlike English, all German adjectives are formed with -er and never with mehr.

Examples:
interessant → interessanterinteresting → more interesting
not: mehr interessant
schwierig → schwierigerdifficult → more difficult
not: mehr schwierig

The comparative is followed by als (= than).

Examples:
Friederike läuft schneller als Maria.
Maria läuft langsamer als gestern.

Superlatives in German Grammar

The superlative (der Superlativ) compares people, places or things against all others in the same group or category. With the superlative, we can express the highest degree of something.

In German, the way we form the superlative depends on the type of adjective:

  • Adverbial Adjectives: Superlative with am
    When an adjective describes a verb (but not sein, werden or bleiben), we form the superlative by placing am in front of the adjective and adding the ending -sten.
Example:
Friederike läuft am schnellsten.Friederike runs the fastest.
  • Attributive Adjectives: Superlative with the definite article
    When an adjective comes after a noun we form the superlative by placing the definite article in front of the adjective and adding the ending -ste.
Example:
Sie ist die schnellste Läuferin.She is the fastest runner.
  • Predicative Adjectives: Superlative with am or the definite article
    When the adjective follows the verb sein, bleiben or werden we can form the superlative with am or with the definite article.
Examples:
Diese Läuferin ist am schnellsten.That runner is the fastest.
Sie ist die schnellste Läuferin.She’s the fastest runner.

Spelling Rules & Irregular Comparatives

Spelling Rules

  • One-syllable adjectives often take an umlaut in their comparative forms.
    Example:
    jung – jünger – am jüngstenyoung – younger – the youngest
  • Adjectives that end in d/t or s/ß/x/z usually form the superlative with -est rather than just -st. The e creates an extra syllable to aid pronunciation.
    Examples:
    laut – lauter – am lautestenloud – louder – the loudest
    heiß – heißer – am heißestenhot – hotter – the hottest
  • The e of the unstressed ending el/bel is removed in the comparative, but not in the superlative.
    Examples:
    edel – edler – am edelstenprecious – more precious – the most precious
    flexibel – flexibler – am flexibelstenflexible – more flexible – the most flexible
    But: The e remains when the ending -el is stressed and for the ending ell.
    Examples:
    fidel – fideler – am fidelstenmerry – merrier – the merriest
    originell – origineller – am originellstenoriginal – more original – the most original

Irregular Comparative Forms

A handful of German adjectives have completely irregular comparative and superlative forms:

Irregular Forms
Basic Comparative Superlative
gutgood besserbetter best-the best
vielmuch/many mehrmore meist-the most
nahclose nähercloser nächst-the closest
hochhigh höherhigher höchst-the highest
großbig größerbigger größt-the biggest

Do I need to decline German comparatives?

Yes! We have to decline comparative and superlative adjectives when they come before a noun.

This means that we have to add an ending to the comparative and superlative forms that corresponds to the case (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive), gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) and number (singular or plural) of the noun.

Examples:
Maria ist eine schnellere Läuferin als Susanne.Maria is a faster runner than Susanne.
comparative ending -er + nominative feminine singular ending -e
Friederike ist eine der schnellsten Läuferinnen in unserer Klasse.Friederike is one of the fastest runners in our class.
superlative ending -ste + genitive feminine plural ending -n

Learn more about how to decline German adjectives.

More about German Adjectives

Learn how to form and decline German adjectives on our other pages: