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The adjective ( latin [noun] adiectivum , adiectivum by ancient Greek ἐπίθετον epithet "The added") is in the linguistics that part of speech that describes the nature of a specific thing, an abstract matter of a process or state, etc..

The adjective is also an adjective or epithet called, in the primary school also Wiewort ( "What's that?").

Term and demarcation from the adverb

According to traditional part-of-speech theory, a distinction is made between adjective and adverb (circumstance word ). Adverbs are never inflected , but occasionally increased . Occasionally, adverbs are not distinguished from adjectives as a category, but summarized as "adjectives in the broader sense".

Adjectives can

be used.

You are in Deutsche inflected usually when they are (attributive beautiful , the beautiful day), but not in predicative or adverbial use. Immutable adjectives are not inflected even when used as an attribute ( pink , the pink dress).

The adjective in the German language

In German grammar , adjectives can be distinguished from other parts of speech as follows:

  1. Adjectives are declined (demarcation from non-declinable types of words such as prepositions , etc.).
  2. Adjectives do not have a fixed gender , but appear with different gender depending on the reference (differentiated from nouns).
  3. Adjectives can be increased (differentiated from pronouns ).

Form theory


Adjectives can be changed according to their form (bent, inflected, i.e. declined here ). They inflect according to gender, case , number and determination .

The inflection according to determination is typical of many Germanic languages. In traditional grammar, which is strongly based on the Latin model, it was often neglected, because Latin knows no determinacy. The inflection according to determinateness is expressed in the fact that adjectives in certain noun phrases receive different endings than in indefinite ones. Every adjective has two forms of endings, namely strong and weak, whereby some grammars with mixed inflection add an additional, third paradigm.

  • Example : (strong :) hot oven; (mixed :) a hot oven; (weakly :) the hot stove

Increase (comparison)

Most of the adjectives in the German language can be increased. This process is called comparison :

This also works with substantiated adjectives: the beautiful, the more beautiful, the most beautiful.

There are also adjectives in which the word stem is changed to increase :

  • good, better, the best;
  • much, more, most.

Many foreign words and borrowed color names, such as pink, can neither be declined nor increased (unchangeable adjectives). Other adjectives, such as terms for absolute properties such as pregnant, dead ( absolute adjectives ) can be declined, but not increased. On the other hand, color names such as blue can also be increased because they do not describe an absolute property.

Graduations of the properties can sometimes also be achieved with auxiliary words (this occurs particularly often in the form of the quasi-adverbial qualification of adjectival participles ). In addition to strengthening the properties, a weakening can also be achieved: more obvious, most heard, less significant, particularly meaningless, fuller formed, furthest up, most burned, stronger orange, weaker green, least clean .

In dialects and in colloquial language , words that cannot be compared otherwise are increased or adverbs are used as adjectives: rosa - rosaner .

Other languages ​​also know the elative (also known as “absolute superlative”) as a further step, which, however, does not express any comparison and is described in German as “very”, “extremely”, “most” etc. In Italian , like the superlative, it is formed with the morpheme -issim- . E.g. bellissimo : when used as a superlative 'the most beautiful', when used as an elative 'very beautiful', 'most beautiful'. Whether the form is to be understood as a superlative or an elative can only be determined through the context. See also the section on intensifying compounds .

Sentence theory

Syntactic function

The part of speech adjective is independent of its syntactic function. The adjective can have four syntactical uses:

  • attributive ( adjective attribute ) - addition to a noun or adjective: "She had brown eyes."
  • Predicative - in connection with to be , will , remain and a few similar verbs: “He was curious . He was always friendly . "
  • modal adverbial : "She sings beautifully ." (The way she sings - beautifully refers to singing .)
  • sentence adverbial : "He cries quickly ." (It quickly happens that he cries - quickly refers to the entire remaining sentence.)

sentence position

In German, “only adjectives can stand between definite article and noun” - provided that the basic number and the ordinal number are regarded as adjectives.


Semantic function

Adjectives are classified differently in semantic terms.

The division into

  • Adjectives (in the narrow sense) (also: qualifying adjectives );
  • Relationship adjectives (also: relational adjectives );
  • Number adjectives (also: quantifying adjectives ).

Position in the German vocabulary

Adjectives make up about one sixth of the entire German vocabulary. Most of them are derived from nouns (erratic, hardworking, calm, skillful, ecstatic) , verbs (giggling, sticky) and prepositions (outer, behind, inner, upper, lower, front) or arise from combinations of adjectives and ..

  • other adjectives (loud)
  • Nouns (lively, beautiful)
  • Verbs (running strong)
  • Suffixes , such as -able, -haft, -ig, -isch, -ly, -less, -sam, -en, -ern
  • Prefixes (be, ge, un-) .

Apart from the colors (blue, blonde, brown, yellow, gray, green, red, black, white) and various foreign and loan words (active, beige, cool, fair, fidel, fix, fit, kaputt, krude, lax, purple, pink, prudish, pure, quitt, pink, chic, simple, super) there are only about 250 "primary" (independent) adjectives in German, including:

  • silly old bad bang (e) bar perch honest bitter bare pale blind stupid (e) just bad (e) broke good wide colorful coarse German dense thick stupid buxom brazen thin thin gloomy stupid dull dark just really noble own vain wretched narrow serious bland (e) pale wrong lazy cowardly (e) fine fat distant fesch firm fat moist nasty dark firn shallow dull nimble brisk brisk cheeky free foreign happy pious early very horny very smooth equal gram old man (e) glaring grim coarse large good half gaunt harsh hard noble delicate holy hoarse hot cheerful bright (e) bitter high / high hollow lovely pretty irr (e) suddenly young bald cold barren perky chaste chaste cramp clear small clever scarce sick crass frizzy crooked short cool bold lame long lax lukewarm loud loud lick delicious empty light quiet light dear lind link loose go (e) lean matt weak lousy mild (e) rotten tired crumbly (e) lively naked close (e) wet nice new low wasted (e) open flat flat broke plump bulging rank rare fast rough, quite brisk, rich, ripe, pure, raw, round, soft, gentle, full, clean, sour, a shame shawl sharp scheel shy lopsided sheer limp slim limp cunning bad plain bad narrow jewelry fast disdainful beautiful schofel oblique shrill craggy shallow weak pregnant heavy sultry gay shallow seldom sure sick late pointed brittle strong rigid steady stiff steep bull silent proud tight tight strict dumb dull stubborn sweet brave deaf expensive deep great dead lazy trust loyal dry cloudy dumb evil much full awake brave true warm hurt soft wise far withered welsch value wild confused sore desolate tough tame tender


As with nouns, compound words are also possible with adjectives , such as stupid, wet and cold, sweet and sour, deaf and dumb .

Specifying compounds

Specifying compounds limit the basic meaning : sky blue specifies the basic adjective blue , namely: as blue as the sky .

Intensifying compounds

Intensifying compounds are particularly interesting for the German and English languages: For example, murderous does not mean as funny as murder , but very funny . This type of adjectival compound includes countless idiomatic intensifications such as very young , kreuzfidel , dirt cheap , storm-free , outlawed or drunk . English examples are dog-tired , stock-still, or stone-deaf . Since intensifying elements in the language are always subject to wear and tear, there are also compounds made up of three or more elements: fox devil (3), coal pitch black (4), silent as a mouse (3).

Changeable compounds

Some compounds can appear specifying / semantic as well as intensifying / idiomatic. So there are quite filthy rich alpine meadows (specifying / semantically, alpine meadows, which are rich in stones ) and stone rich people (/ idiomatic, intensifying people who are very rich ). Which case is present in each case can be analyzed by a predicative position: In Die Alpwiese is steinreich the emphasis is on stone , while in Man is very rich it is on stone as well as on rich .

Further meanings in the word family


An adjective is the derivation of an adjective from another part of speech: wooden (to the noun wood ), ridiculous (to the verb to laugh ).

Adjective and adjective

The word adjective can also be used in lower case as an adjective ( i.e. adjective ) and then means

  • attached or also
  • suitable for adding .


In German, adjectives are written in lower case.

Exceptions to this rule are substantiated adjectives (example: fishing in the dark ) as well as adjectives that are components of proper names (the old Fritz), of titles and honors (Royal Highness), of special calendar days (May Day) or of technical terms used in zoology (Black widow), botany (hardworking Lieschen) or theology (the Last Judgment) . In some other special cases, the writer can capitalize or lowercase adjectives at his own discretion (Examples: The doctor provides first aid. We condemn the sanctions in the strictest / severest terms. She tries again / again. ).

Words derived from geographical objects that end in -er and cannot be declined (e.g. Alsatian ) are another exception . These are written using the traditional and new spelling with capital letters.

  • Example: To write that Swiss cantonal savings banks are larger than German banks, but the Swiss state is smaller than a Luxembourg farm, is only orthographically correct.

The adjective in other languages


The adjective has the task of indicating the quality of a person or thing denoted by a noun or pronoun. It can appear as an attribute to a noun ( He is a clever boy ) or as part of the sentence statement, as a predicate noun ( He is clever ) .

In English, the adverb can contain the content of a word (a verb ( He quickly ran ) , an adjective ( He is seriously crazy ) , adverb ( He plays very well ) or a noun ( He is only a beginner ) ) or a whole sentence ( Perhaps we shall go ) .

English adjectives are not inflected ( inflected by case, number or gender), but can be increased .


In Spanish there is a congruence between the noun and the adjective, i.e. That is, the adjective is based on gender and number according to that of the noun. Since there is no noun in the neuter in Spanish, this also applies to adjectives.

Unlike in German, the Spanish adjectives usually come after the noun they refer to. However, there are a few important exceptions where the adjective can precede the noun. There is no clear rule as to which adjectives have to be put in front and which have to be put after, in many cases both are possible and correct. The prefix of the adjective in Spanish can have a stylistic effect, this expresses the special intentionality and subjective approach.

In some cases the position of the adjective is determined by the register : the expression “la primera vez” (“the first time”) belongs to the spoken language, while “la vez primera” is assigned to the written language.

Different understanding (terminology) of attributive use

It should be emphasized - even if it relates more to the theory of the attribute - that in Spanish grammar the use of an adjective in connection with a copula verb is viewed as an attributive use and not as a predicative, as in German grammar theory.

There are five known syntactic functions:

  1. Adyacente of a noun - " buen libro grande " (good, big book)
  2. Attribute of a noun through a copulative verb - "Pedro es, está o parece sano " (Pedro is / seems healthy)
  3. Complemento predicativo (predicative addition ) - "la mujer llegó cansada " (The woman arrived tired)
  4. Núcleo (core) of a sintagma adjetivo (adjectival syntagma ) - "Muy próximo al barrio" (very close to the quarter)
  5. Núcleo of a sintagma preposicional ( propositional syntagmas) - "Lo acusaron por tonto " (They declared him stupid)

In German grammar theory , the use of an adjective with a copulative verb is classified as predictive.

Example (see also above):

  • the beautiful day (attributive use)
  • The day is beautiful (predictive use)
  • He sings beautifully (adverbial circumstance )


In Latin, the adjective is adjusted in case, number and gender to a noun to express that the adjective describes the noun (e.g. Puer magnus est “The boy is tall”). This KNG congruence allows the adjective to be syntactically separated from the associated noun (e.g. magna cum laude "with great praise"). This phenomenon, which is also possible with other parts of sentences that actually belong together, is called hyperbaton . The adjective can be raised in Latin.

Other languages

While the two parts of speech noun and verb are available in most languages, the part of speech adjective is absent in many languages. Qualities are then expressed either through nouns ("the house of beauty" for "the beautiful house") or verbs ("the house that is big " for "the big house", as in many West African languages). But even in languages ​​that have an adjective part of speech, their number is often limited. Yimas , for example , a language in Papua New Guinea , has only five adjectives: big, small, good, bad, other .

See also


  • Rudi Keller, Ilja Kirschbaum: Change of meaning. An introduction. de Gruyter, Berlin 2003, ISBN 978-3-11-017667-4 .
  • Ilja Kirschbaum: Terribly nice and completely crazy: Patterns of adjective intensification in German. Dissertation at the University of Düsseldorf 2002.
  • Günter Schmale (Ed.): The adjective in today's German: Syntax, semantics, pragmatics. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-86057-389-1 (= Eurogermanistics , Volume 29).

Web links

Wiktionary: adjective  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: epithet  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Adjective  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: List of German adjectives  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Bußmann: Lexicon of Linguistics . 3. Edition. 2002; adjective
  2. ^ According to Ulrich: Basic Linguistic Concepts, 5th edition. 2002; Word Class of Glinz , but see here part of speech .
  3. Kürschner: Grammatical Compendium . 4th edition. 2003, ISBN 3-8252-1526-1 , p. 135; similar to Bussmann: Lexicon of Linguistics . 3. Edition. 2002.
  4. ^ Kessel / Reimann: Basic knowledge of contemporary German language 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 64.
  5. Duden - The grammar. 7th edition. 2005, ISBN 3-411-04047-5 , Rn. 457
  6. Duden: Spelling and grammar - made easy. 2007, p. 166. Duden - The grammar . 7th edition. 2005, ISBN 3-411-04047-5 , Rn. 459. Ulrich: Basic Linguistic Concepts. 5th edition. 2002; Brinkmann adjectives another division into: Orientation words (space, time, origin, material); Impression words (silvery); Adjectives (brave); Valuable words (first class); Aptitude words (drinkable); Behavioral words (crying).
  7. Fabian Berz: The composition type "rich in stone". Dissertation Bern 1953.
  8. ^ Leonhard Lipka: Waterproof and grass green. In: Mother tongue, magazine for maintaining and researching the German language. Bibliographical Institute, Mannheim 1967.
  9. Upper and lower case of adjectives ( Wiktionary )
  10. ^ Röhr, Bartels: The English Companion's Modern Grammar . 7th edition. 1969, para. 127
  11. José Vera Morales: Spanish Grammar . Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 1995, p. 114 .
  12. ^ Jacques de Bruyne: Spanish grammar . Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 2002, p. 105 .
  13. ^ According to Kürschner: Grammatical Compendium . 4th edition. 2003, ISBN 3-8252-1526-1 , p. 135.