German pronouns

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German pronouns describe a set of German words with specific functions, such as being the subject of a clause, or relating the main clause to a subordinate one. Germanic pronouns are divided in to six groups;

  • Personal pronouns, which adverts an entity, such as the speaker or third parties;
  • Possessive pronouns, which describe ownership of objects, institutions, etc.;
  • Interrogative pronouns, which as the name implies, are used in questions, such as who?;
  • Reflexive pronouns, in which the subject is also one of the objects;
  • Relative pronouns, which connect clauses;
  • Indefinite pronouns, which denote entities of quantities.

The German personal pronouns must always have the same gender, same number, and same case as their antecedents. These rules apply for other pronouns, also.

In German, a pronoun may have a certain position in the sentence under special circumstances. First and second person pronouns usually do not, and they can be used anywhere in the sentence - except in certain poetical or informal contexts.

"Das im Schrank" (the thing in the cupboard)
"Das auf dem Tisch" (the thing on the table)

In formal, archaic German, there were also genitive direct objects, etc., just as with the present-day accusative and dative objects. Since the personal pronoun does not have a genitive form, the third person genitive plural of the possessive pronoun is applied in those cases. These forms are bracketed.

OLD: "Ich erinnere mich ihrer" (MODERN: "Ich erinnere mich an sie.") (I remember her.)
OLD: "Ich erinnere mich seiner" (MODERN: "Ich erinnere mich an ihn.")
OLD: "Ich entsinne mich ihrer" (MODERN: "Ich erinnere mich an sie.")

In Modern German, the prepositional phrase with the preposition an is used.

The two noun and pronoun emphasizers "selber" and "selbst" have slightly different meanings than if used with nominal phrases. They normally emphasize the pronoun, but if they are applied to a reflexive pronoun (in the objective case), they emphasize its reflexive meaning.

Personal pronouns

  Singular Plural Formal
Case First Person Second Person Third Person First Person Second Person Third Person (Singular and Plural)
(English subject pronoun) I you he she it we you they you
Nominative ich du er sie es wir ihr sie Sie
Genitive (possessive pronoun) meiner (mein-) deiner (dein-) seiner (sein-) ihrer (ihr-) seiner (sein-) unser (unser-) euer (eur-) ihrer (ihr-) Ihrer (Ihr-)
Dative mir dir ihm ihr ihm uns euch ihnen Ihnen
Accusative mich dich ihn sie es uns euch sie Sie

The verbs following the formal form of "you" - "Sie" - are conjugated identically as in the first- or third-person plurals (i.e. with the infinitive of the verb). For example, "Sie sprechen deutsch." This means either "You speak German" or "They speak German", and it is completely up to the context to determine which one it is.

"Ich rufe den Hund" - "Ich rufe ihn" (I am calling the dog - I am calling it. Literally: I am calling him.)

The third-person plural pronoun is used for formal speaking. It can address a single person (then capitalized in written German) as well as multiple persons. However, these words have the identical sound "sie" and "Sie", so it makes absolutely no difference at all. Only the context determines which meaning is intended.

"Ich grüße Sie" ["Hello" (formal). Literally: "I greet you".]

Real Genitive personal pronouns are virtually never used in Modern German, even in very high registers. These have been totally replaced by possessive pronouns in the adjectival position, or with the prepositional phrase "von + pronoun (in the Dative case)". That is, in Modern German one would always say "mein Buch", or "das Buch von mir"; and never "das Buch meiner".

Possessive pronouns (Genitive)

Possessive pronouns are formed by suffixing the possessive article of the personal pronouns' genitive case (see the above table). The suffix is determined by the case and gender.

NB: same goes for dein- sein- ...etc

Pronouns derived from articles

To replace a nominal by a pronoun that is derived from an article, you use the declined form corresponding to the gender, case, and number of the nominal phrase.

Although the pronoun form and the article form are the same in most cases, there are sometimes differences.

Example: mein- (my)
  Masculine Feminine Neuter Plurals
Nominative mein meine mein meine
accusative meinen meine mein meine
dative meinem meiner meinem meinen
genitive meines meiner meines meiner
  Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem den
Genitive des der des der

Reflexive pronouns

There are also reflexive pronouns for the dative case and the accusative case. In the first and second person, they are the same as the normal pronouns, but they only become visible in the third person singular and plural. The third person reflexive pronoun for both plural and singular is: "sich":

"Er liebt sich". (He loves himself.)
"Sie verstecken sich". (They hide.)

Reflexive pronouns can be used not only for personal pronouns:

"Sie hat sich ein Bild gekauft." (She bought herself a picture.)
"Seiner ist schon kaputt." (His is already broken.)

Relative clause

A pronoun contains, or rather, has a relative clause, if there is ever a further meaning to express behind the pronoun, that is to say, some more clarification necessary. The relative pronouns are as follows:

  Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem denen
Genitive des des des der

The relative pronoun is never omitted in German. On the other hand, in English, the phrase

The person coming around the corner is a thief.

completely omits the use of a relative pronoun. (The use of the relative pronouns "who" or "that" is optional in sentences like these.) To state such a thing in German, one would say

Die Person, die um die Ecke kommt, ist ein Dieb.

Note that the conjugated verb is customarily placed at the end of German relative clauses, though there is no overriding grammatical reason for this. This is merely a custom, relatively recently coming into use.

The use of die within the middle set of words, the relative clause, is the equivalent of saying "who" within a relative clause in English, so as to say "The person, who/that is coming around the corner, is a thief." (See relative clauses).

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are used to refer to something already defined.

diese (this, the former)
jene (that, the latter)
erstere (the former)

Use ersterer to refer to masculine nouns; erstere otherwise

letztere (the latter)

Use letzterer to refer to masculine nouns; letztere otherwise

derjenige (the one)

Declined like [def. art] + [jenig-] + weak adj. ending
Used to identify a noun to be further identified in a relative clause.

derselbe (the same)

Declined like [def. art] + [selb-] + weak adj. ending
Used to indicate an identity stronger than der gleiche would.



  1. Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod


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