German Adjectives, Adverbs and Prepositions
In English and in German we use several different parts of speech to describe other elements in a sentence, and to demonstrate the relationship between each other. Adjectives, adverbs and prepositions are all used for that very purpose. Especially adverbs and prepositions can get mixed up, as they both can modify or describe another element in the sentence based on time or place (and less often, manner). But it is important to understand that they cannot be used to modify or describe the same element. Additionally, an adverb in English
Adjectives are words that modify or describe nouns or noun phrases. In English and in German, adjectives can be placed after a noun (The house is small) and before the noun (I live in a small house.). When using adjectives in German, we have to pay close attention to its placement: if the noun appears before the adjective, then, as in an English sentence, there is no change to spelling of the adjective, regardless of the gender of the noun. (Das Haus ist klein. Die Maus ist klein.) However, adjectives that are placed before a noun will take endings depending on gender, case, and article. Because of this fact, adjectives in German are classed as “veränderlich” (changeable), and more specifically “deklinierbar” (declinable), which means they can change based on grammatical case or determiner (e.g. definite vs. indefinite article).
Der kleine Hund schläft. Ein kleiner Hund schläft. Ich sehe den kleinen Hund.
The small dog sleeps. A small dog sleeps. I see the small dog.
Adverbs never modify or describe nouns. Adverbs are used to modify verbs (hence the name adverb), but they can also be used to modify adjectives (sehr gut – very good) or another adverb (sehr gern – very gladly). In English, we can easily make an adverb out of an adjective by adding the suffix “-ly”.
The car is beautiful. (adjective)
The car drives beautifully. (adverb)In German, we do not have an equivalent of “-ly” adverbs. However, a word can be used as an adjective in one sentence, and an adverb in another. For example, we can use the word “nett” (nice) as either an adverb or an adjective.
Der Mann ist nett. The man is nice. (adjective).
Der Mann lächelt nett. The man is smiling nicely. (adverb)
Notice that the adverb “nett” did not change. Adverbs in German are classified as “unveränderlich” (unchangeable), because they do not change regardless of subject or verb. (Note: a handful of adverbs can be used in comparison, which does add comparative or superlative endings). In general, adverbs help us describe the circumstances under which a verb is done. We can describe a circumstance based on location or place (Lokaladverbien), time or frequency (Temporaladverbien), manner (Modaladverbien), or cause (Kausaladverbien). This is something that they have in common with prepositions, which adds to the confusion. But remember, an adverb describes how a verb is done.
Der Hund spielt draussen. The dog plays outside (Lokaladverb)
Der Hund spielt oft. The dog plays often. (Temporaladverb)
Der Hund spielt deshalb. The dog plays for that reason. (Kausaladverb)
Der Hund spielt komisch. The dog plays weirdly. (Modaladverb).
Prepositions are words that are used to describe the relationship between one noun or pronoun (person, object, thing, etc.) to another noun or pronoun (person, object, thing, etc.) in a sentence. Because they can describe this relationship based on time (temporale Präpositionen), place (lokale Präpositionen) and manner (modale Päpositionen), there can be confusion between them and adverbs, which can describe verbs based on time, place and manner. Prepositions are also classified as “unveränderlich” (unchangeable), because the prepositions themselves do not change, regardless of the gender or case. However, as they describe the relationship between nouns (which is exactly what the cases help us demonstrate), they trigger specific cases depending on the nature of this relationship.
Der Junge steht vor dem Haus. (lokale Präposition).
The boy stands in front of the house.
Der Junge lernt vor der Prüfung. (temporale Präposition)
The boy studies before the exam.
Der Junge schreibt mit dem Bleistift. (modale Präposition)
The boy writes with the pencil.
In the above examples, the prepositions used help us demonstrate the relationship between the boy and the house, the exam, and the pencil. Some prepositions always trigger the same case (Akkusativ Präpositionen, Dativ Präpositionen, Genitiv Präpositionen), and some can flip between accusative and dative, depending on the question that is asked (Dative: Wo? –Where?; Accusative: Wohin? – Where to?, Woher? – Where from?).
What can add to the confusion between adverbs and prepositions is that they can appear side by side in a sentence.
Der Hund spielt draussen im Garten. The dog plays outside in the yard.
In this example, the adverb “draussen” (outside) describes where the boy is playing, but the prepositional phrase “im Garten” (in the yard), also describes where the boy is playing. But if we break down the sentence a bit, we can figure out that “draussen” cannot be used directly with a noun, or to describe the relationship to a noun.
For example, we could not say “Der Hund spielt draussen Garten.”. That is because it is an adverb. However, the preposition “in” that is used here, can (and is) used to describe the relationship between the dog and the yard.
In brief, adjectives describe nouns. If placed before a noun in German, adjectives take endings depending on gender, case and article. Adverbs modify verbs, other adverbs or adjectives. They do not change. Both adjectives and adverbs can be used for comparison. Prepositions demonstrate the relationship between nouns and trigger certain cases.
Meet one or more times weekly with a dedicated German instructor online at a pace and schedule that custom fits your busy life.
Join an Academy course for course content built on top of leading German curriculum: includes videos, vocabulary, quizzes and certificate.
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.