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11.7 Adjectival nouns (1)

All adjectives can be used as nouns in German. This is much more common than in English where usage of such adjectives is restricted to certain instances in the plural (the old, the young, the French, etc.). German adjectives used as nouns (or "adjectival nouns") can either refer to people - in which case they are masculine or feminine - or abstract concepts, in which case they tend to be neuter.

Here are a list of the adjectival nouns that we have already encountered in this and other chapters, as well as other commonly used adjectival nouns:

der/die Angestellte
   der/die Fremde 
(stranger; foreigner)
der/die Bankangestellte
(bank employee)
   der/die Jugendliche 
(young person)
der Beamte
(civil servant)
   der/die Obdachlose 
(homeless person)
der/die Behinderte
(disabled person)
   der/die Reisende 
der/die Bekannte
   der/die Überlebende 
der/die Deutsche
   der/die Verlobte 
der/die Erwachsene
   der/die Verwandte 
der/die Gefangene
   der/die Vorsitzende 

1. Although formed from adjectives, adjectival nouns are written with a capital letter.

2. "Die Beamtin", a female civil servant, is not an adjectival noun. It declines just like a normal feminine noun ending in "-in" and has the plural "die Beamtinnen".

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The declension of adjectival nouns
German adjectival nouns take exactly the same endings as adjectives would in the same grammatical context. Let us take for example one of the most common adjectival nouns to have been incorporated into the German language - "der Deutsche" (= the German man). It has an "-e" ending because it is:

  • masculine
  • singular
  • in the nominative case
  • in the weak declension (i.e. it follows the definite article "der")

Likewise the feminine equivalent "the German woman" is "die Deutsche", because this adjectival noun is feminine, singular, nominative and in the weak declension.

(It may help you at first to imagine the adjectival noun followed by "Mann" or "Frau". "Der Deutsche" has the same endings as "der deutsche Mann" and "die Deutsche" has the same endings as "die deutsche Frau".)

The full table of endings for adjectival nouns in the weak declension is as follows:

Singular Masculine Feminine
Nominative der Deutsche die Deutsche
Accusative den Deutschen die Deutsche
Dative dem Deutschen der Deutschen
Nominative die Deutschen
Accusative die Deutschen
Dative den Deutschen

1. Adjectival nouns have the same endings as above after other determiners which require the weak declension such as "dieser", "jener", "welcher", "alle" and "sämtliche":

  • Mit welchem Deutschen redet er?
    (To which German (man) is he speaking?)
  • Sämtliche Behinderten sind hier.
    (All of the disabled people are here.)
  • Man muss allen Obdachlosen helfen.
    (We must help all the homeless people.)

2. Note in the following examples how the endings of the determiner and the adjectival noun serve to distinguish between different genders and numbers of people:

  • Welche Verwandte besuchen Sie?
    (Which (female) relative are you visiting?)
  • Welche Verwandten besuchen Sie?
    (Which relatives are you visiting?)
  • Welchen Verwandten besuchen Sie?
    (Which (male) relative are you visiting?)
  • Die Empfangsdame spricht mit dem Vorsitzenden.
    (The receptionist is speaking to the chairman.)
  • Die Empfangsdame spricht mit der Vorsitzenden.
    (The receptionist is speaking to the chairwoman.)
  • Die Empfangsdame spricht mit den Vorsitzenden.
    (The receptionist is speaking to the chairpersons.)

Weiter! Chapter 11.8: Adjectival nouns (2)

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