Understanding Adjectival Nouns in German

Adjectival nouns, a unique facet of the German language, bridge the gap between adjectives and nouns. Their presence enriches the linguistic tapestry of German, offering both challenges and opportunities for learners.

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German, with its rich grammatical structures, introduces learners to the concept of adjectival nouns. These entities, while rooted in adjectives, take on the role of nouns under specific conditions, adding depth and nuance to the language.

Definition of Adjectival Nouns in German

In German, when adjectives are used in a nominal function, they transform into what are termed as adjectival nouns. These nouns, while retaining the descriptive quality of adjectives, assume the role of nouns, complete with capitalization and declension based on gender, number, and case.

For example:

AdjectiveAdjectival Noun (Masculine)English Equivalent
altder Altethe old man
jungder Jungethe young boy

Here is an authoritative resource that delves deeper into the intricacies of adjectival nouns in German.

Importance in the German Language

Adjectival nouns hold significant importance in the German language for several reasons:

  • Versatility: They allow for concise expression, eliminating the need for a noun when the context is clear.
  • Clarity: By turning adjectives into nouns, speakers can convey specific meanings with greater precision.
  • Linguistic Depth: Adjectival nouns add a layer of complexity to the language, enriching literary and everyday communication.
  • Cultural Significance: Many common phrases and idioms in German utilize adjectival nouns, making them essential for cultural immersion and understanding.

For a deeper exploration of the role of adjectival nouns in German, this article provides comprehensive insights.

Basics of Adjectival Nouns

The German language, renowned for its intricate grammar, presents learners with the concept of adjectival nouns. These entities, while rooted in adjectives, assume the role of nouns under specific conditions. To grasp this concept fully, it’s essential to understand the foundational differences between adjectives and nouns and the transformation process.

Difference between Adjectives and Nouns in German

In German, as in many languages, adjectives and nouns serve distinct roles:

  • Adjectives: These describe or modify nouns, providing information about size, color, number, and other characteristics. They adjust their endings based on the gender, case, and number of the noun they modify.Example:
    • Das rote Auto (The red car) – Here, “rote” is an adjective describing the car’s color.
  • Nouns: These are words that refer to people, places, things, ideas, or concepts. In German, nouns are always capitalized, regardless of their position in a sentence.Example:
    • Der Hund bellt (The dog barks) – “Hund” is a noun referring to an animal.

How Adjectives Transform into Nouns

The transformation of adjectives into nouns in German follows specific rules:

  1. Capitalization: When an adjective becomes a noun, it is capitalized.Example:
    • Das Auto ist rot (The car is red) – “rot” is an adjective.
    • Das Rote gefällt mir (I like the red one) – “Rote” is an adjectival noun.
  2. Declension: Adjectival nouns take on declensions based on gender, case, and number, similar to how adjectives change their endings when modifying nouns.CaseMasculineFeminineNeuterPluralNominativealter Mannalte Fraualtes Kindalte LeuteAccusativealten Mannalte Fraualtes Kindalte Leute
  3. Articles: Adjectival nouns are often accompanied by definite or indefinite articles, which also decline based on gender, case, and number.Example:
    • Der Alte ist mein Onkel (The old one is my uncle).

Types of Adjectival Nouns

In the vast landscape of the German language, adjectival nouns stand out as a unique category. These nouns, derived from adjectives, are used in specific contexts and follow certain declension patterns. Let’s delve into the common types and their usage.

Common Adjectival Nouns in German

Several adjectives in German are frequently used as nouns. Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. der Alte – the old man
  2. die Junge – the young woman
  3. das Große – the big thing
  4. der Kranke – the sick person (male)
  5. die Reiche – the rich woman
  6. das Kleine – the little one

These nouns are derived from their respective adjectives and are used to refer to people or things without explicitly mentioning the noun they describe.

Using Adjectives as Nouns: Examples and Practice

The transformation of adjectives into nouns is a common practice in German. Here are some examples and a brief practice exercise:


  1. alt (old):
    • Mein Großvater ist sehr alt. (My grandfather is very old.)
    • Der Alte wohnt nebenan. (The old man lives next door.)
  2. jung (young):
    • Das Mädchen ist noch sehr jung. (The girl is still very young.)
    • Die Junge ist meine Schwester. (The young woman is my sister.)
  3. reich (rich):
    • Sie ist reicher als ihr Bruder. (She is richer than her brother.)
    • Die Reiche kaufte das ganze Gebäude. (The rich woman bought the entire building.)


Transform the following adjectives into adjectival nouns:

  1. klein (small):
    • Das ist mein ____ Haus. (This is my small house.)
    • Das ____ gefällt mir am besten. (I like the small one the best.)
  2. krank (sick):
    • Er fühlt sich heute ____ . (He feels sick today.)
    • Der ____ muss ins Krankenhaus. (The sick person must go to the hospital.)

Conversion and Usage

The German language, with its intricate grammar, offers a plethora of tools and exercises to aid learners in mastering the concept of adjectival nouns. Understanding the conversion and usage of these nouns is pivotal for effective communication.

Tools and Converters for Adjectival Nouns

Several online platforms and tools assist learners in converting adjectives into adjectival nouns and vice versa:

  1. Duden: Renowned as the definitive guide to the German language, Duden offers detailed explanations and examples of adjectival nouns.
  2. CanooNet: This online platform provides comprehensive grammar rules and declension patterns for adjectival nouns.
  3. German Adjective Converter: Some mobile applications and websites offer instant conversion tools where users can input an adjective and receive its noun form.

Exercises to Practice Adjectival Nouns

Practicing adjectival nouns is essential for mastering their usage. Here are some exercises:

  1. Fill in the Blanks:
    • Der ____ (alt) Mann liest eine Zeitung.
    • Die ____ (jung) Frau kauft ein Kleid.
  2. Conversion Practice: Convert the following adjectives into their noun forms:
    • hoch (high)
    • kurz (short)
  3. Sentence Formation: Use the given adjectival noun in a sentence:
    • Der Arme (the poor man)
    • Das Gute (the good thing)

Turning Nouns into Adjectives and Vice Versa

In German, some nouns can be transformed into adjectives and vice versa:

  1. Noun to Adjective:
    • Gold (gold) → golden (golden)
    • Kind (child) → kindlich (childlike)
  2. Adjective to Noun:
    • rot (red) → das Rote (the red one)
    • klug (smart) → der Kluge (the smart one)

Special Cases

While the German language is structured around rules, it’s also replete with exceptions and special cases. When it comes to adjectival nouns, there are certain nuances that learners should be aware of to ensure accurate usage.

The Role of “Nichts” with Adjectival Nouns

The word “nichts” (nothing) in German can be combined with adjectival nouns to convey a specific meaning. When “nichts” precedes an adjectival noun, it emphasizes the absence or lack of the quality described by the adjective.


  1. nichts Neues (nothing new):
    • Ich habe nichts Neues gehört. (I haven’t heard anything new.)
  2. nichts Gutes (nothing good):
    • Er erwartet nichts Gutes von dem Treffen. (He doesn’t expect anything good from the meeting.)
  3. nichts Besonderes (nothing special):
    • Das Restaurant war nichts Besonderes. (The restaurant was nothing special.)

In these examples, the adjectives “neu,” “gut,” and “besonders” are transformed into their noun forms and combined with “nichts” to emphasize the absence of the described quality.

German Nouns with Multiple Adjectives

In German, nouns can be described using multiple adjectives. When this occurs, the adjectives must be declined in agreement with the noun they modify in terms of gender, case, and number.


  1. der alte, große Baum (the old, tall tree):
    • Here, both “alte” and “große” are masculine nominative adjectives describing the masculine noun “Baum.”
  2. die kleinen, roten Äpfel (the small, red apples):
    • “Kleinen” and “roten” are plural accusative adjectives describing the plural noun “Äpfel.”
  3. ein schönes, neues Kleid (a beautiful, new dress):
    • Both “schönes” and “neues” are neuter nominative adjectives describing the neuter noun “Kleid.”

When using multiple adjectives, it’s essential to ensure that each adjective correctly matches the gender, case, and number of the noun they modify.

Resources and Further Learning

Mastering adjectival nouns in German requires consistent practice and the right resources. Fortunately, there are several tools and platforms available that cater specifically to this aspect of the German language. Here’s a curated list of resources for further learning:

German Adjectival Noun Dictionaries

  1. Duden: As the authoritative guide to the German language, Duden offers detailed explanations, examples, and declensions of adjectival nouns.
  2. CanooNet: This online platform provides comprehensive grammar rules, declension patterns, and a dictionary specifically for adjectival nouns.
  3. Dict.cc: A popular German-English dictionary that provides translations and examples of adjectival nouns in context.
  4. Leo.org: Another reliable dictionary that offers translations, pronunciations, and forums to discuss nuances like adjectival nouns.

Learning Platforms for Mastering Adjectival Nouns

  1. FluentU: FluentU offers real-world German videos, including movie trailers, music videos, news, and inspiring talks. It turns them into personalized language lessons, making it an excellent platform for context-based learning of adjectival nouns.
  2. Deutsche Welle (DW): DW’s German courses cover various aspects of the language, including grammar topics like adjectival nouns. Their interactive exercises and multimedia content make learning engaging.
  3. Babbel: Babbel offers structured courses in German, with specific lessons dedicated to nouns, adjectives, and their interplay. Their practice exercises can be particularly helpful for mastering adjectival nouns.
  4. GermanPod101: This platform offers audio and video lessons, with downloadable content and transcripts. Their advanced search allows users to focus on specific topics like adjectival nouns.
  5. Memrise: Memrise uses spaced repetition and mnemonic techniques to help learners memorize vocabulary and grammar patterns, including adjectival nouns.
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