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Pronouns in German Language

(Die Pronomen)

This lesson conatins topics:

  1. German personal pronouns in the nominative case
  2. Possessive pronouns in the nominative
  3. Demonstrative pronouns in the nominative

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A pronoun is a word used in place of a noun. For example, in English language, Harry is a doctor. He lives in London. The word “he” is a personal pronoun. Like in English, German also has four categories of pronouns i.e. personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns and reflexive pronouns.

1. Personal pronouns (Personalpronomen)

Personal pronouns are used to represent a specific person/persons or a thing/things and are associated with the particular grammatical person, i.e. 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person.

In English language personal pronouns are I, we, you etc. Personal pronouns can be subject pronouns and object pronouns. In German language, subject is "Nominativ" and object is the "Akkusativ". (These names, nominative case and accusative case are also used in the English language.)

Subject pronouns replace the name of the subject in the sentence. These are I, you, he, she, it, we and they. For example, we are going to the market. He is a doctor. In German, subject pronouns (pronouns in the nominative case) are:

Personal pronouns in the nominative case

Singular Plural
1. person
ich (I) wir (we)
2. person, familiar form
du (you) ihr (you)
2. person, polite form
Sie (you) Sie (you)
3. person
er (he)
es (it)
sie(she)
sie (they)

Two forms of 2nd-person pronoun

As you can see second-person pronouns in German language has two categories:

2. person, familiar form
du (you) ihr (you plural)
2. person, polite form
Sie (you) Sie (you plural)

“Sie” (with capital S) is the formal form. It is used in official writings and talks. When you don’t know somebody or even not familiar with somebody, you would address him/her “Sie”.

"du" is used when people know each other closely, for example family members use “du” for each other. Similarly students at same level in a school or university use “du”. Office colleagues at the same level of a job use “du” but seniors or junior colleagues are normally addressed as “Sie”.

If you are not sure which form is to be used, “Sie” is always on safer side.

Important note: Apart from the second-person pronoun "Sie", there are two more “sie” pronouns in German. “sie” with small “s” is used for “she” and “they”. The structure of the sentence helps to recognize whether it’s “she” or “they”. Confusion may occur when “Sie” is written at the beginning of a new sentence because every new sentence begins with a capital letter. In this case, the context and structure of the sentence tell the nature of “Sie”. For example,

Das ist Frau Lisa Müller. Sie ist eine Professorin. (This is Mrs. Lisa Müller. She is a professor.)

In the above example, “Sie” (she) has to be capitalized because it is coming at the beginning of the sentence. In this sentence, the context of “Sie” and grammatical structure of the sentence is telling us the meaning, because “ist” (is) can’t be used with second-person pronouns.

Object pronouns replace the object of the sentence. (Object is a noun that receives the action in the sentence.) Object pronouns in English are: me, you, her, him, it, us and them. Objective case in German is called "Akkusativ". As this course is step by step and we haven’t learned verbs yet. So German personal pronouns in the accusative case (object pronouns) will be discussed in chapter 14 (Pronouns in accusative), after the discussion of accusative case.

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2. Possessive pronouns in nominative case

Possessive pronouns show possession. In English possessive pronouns are my, your, his, her, its, our, your and their.
Their German counterparts are:

Singular Plural
1. person
mein (my) unser (our)
2. person, familiar form
dein (your) euer (your)
2. person, polite form
Ihr (your) Ihr (your)
3. person
sein (his)
sein (its)
ihr(her)
ihr (their)

Again, we can see 2nd person polite form, 3rd Person feminine and 3rd person plural has the same possessive pronoun, but the difference is capitalization of 2nd person polite form.

Adding an ending "-e" with feminine and plural pronouns

When showing possession of feminine and plural nouns, an ending “-e” is added to possessive pronouns.

For example:

Sie ist meine Schwester. Ihr Name ist Katja. (She is my sister. Her name is Katja.)

Er ist mein Bruder. Sein Name ist Sebastian. (He is my brother. His name is Sebastian.)

Lisa ist seine Frau. (Lisa is his wife.)

Thomas ist ihr Sohn. (Thomas is their son.)

Ana ist ihre Tochter. (Ana is their daughter.)

Jan und Julia sind ihre Nachbarn. (Jan and Julia are their neighbors. Sind means are)

Explainations of above examples:

Sie ist meine Schwester. Ihr Name ist Kathja.
"die Schwester" (sister) is a feminine noun, and requires an ending "-e" with any possessive pronoun coming before it.

Er ist mein Bruder. Sein Name ist Sebastian.
Both nouns, i.e. "der Bruder" (borther) and "der Name" (name) are masculine nouns, therefore no ending “-e” is required.

Lisa ist seine Frau.
"die Frau" (woman / Mrs. / wife) is a feminine noun, so an ending “-e” is required here.

Thomas ist ihr Sohn.
der Sohn (son) is a masculine noun and possessive pronoun “ihr” before masculine noun requires no “-e” ending.
The translation of this sentence can be:

  1. Thomas is their son.
  2. Thomas is her son.
The context of the word "ihr" in the sentence shows whether "ihr" is being used as "her" or "their".
This "ihr" clearly not second-person pronoun "you", because it is not capitalized.

Ana ist ihre Tochter.
"die Tochter" (daughter) is a feminine noun and the possessive pronoun before feminine noun requires an ending “-e”.

Jan und Julia sind ihre Nachbarn.
die Nachbarn (neighbors) is a plural noun. Possessive pronoun before plural nouns also require an ending “-e”.

In the accusative case (direct object case) and dative case (indirect object case), some personal pronouns change their endings. These topics will be discussed under chapter 14 (Pronouns in accusative) and chapter 20 (Pronouns in dative).

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3. Demonstrative pronouns in the nominative case

Demonstrative pronouns are the words like “this”, “that”, “these” and “those”. Demonstrative pronouns are used to distinguish specific thing/things or person/persons from others. Demonstrative pronouns in German for the English words “that” and "that" are same as the German definite articles i.e. der, die, das and die (plural).

English German
Singular demonstrative pronouns
that / this der (for masculine nouns)
die (for feminine nouns)
das (for neuter nous)
Plural demonstrative pronouns
that / these die

Examples:

Der Mann ist mein Bruder. (That man is my brother.)

Die sind meine Eltern. (That are my parents.)

Die sind meine Kinder. (That are my children.)

For English word “this”, German language has a word “dieser”. It is explained further in below table.

English German
Singular demonstrative pronouns
this dieser (for masculine nouns)
diese (for feminine nouns)
dieses (for neuter nous)
Plural demonstrative pronouns
these/those diese

Examples:

Diese Frau ist seine Schwester. (This woman is his sister.)

Dieser Mann ist mein Bruder. (This man is my brother.)

Diese Kinder sind in Gruppe eins. (These children are in group one.)

Dieses Mädchen ist auch in Gruppe eins. (This girl is also in group one.)
"Das Mädchen" is a neuter noun.

4. Reflexive pronouns

A reflexive pronoun act either as an object or an indirect object. In English, reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, himself, herself, oneself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. Since all reflexive pronouns are in the objective case (accusative case), they will be discussed after the explanation of German accusative case.

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