One of the seemingly most complicated aspects of learning German is getting a handle on all the variations of German pronouns.
You're probably asking yourself how you should grasp this concept, considering that there are three different ways to say “you!”
I can't promise that you won't have to memorize a few new words. Fortunately, I can guarantee to simplify the process by showing you how to recognize common patterns.
By the end of the post, you'll be on your way to becoming a German pronoun master.
By the way, if you're just getting started in German and want to make progress fast without getting bogged down in grammar then I recommend German Uncovered, which will take you from beginner to conversationally fluent through the power of story.
Before you can choose the correct German pronoun, there are a few factors you have to determine.
Let's review the essential grammar concepts that will help you choose the correct form of a pronoun.
Don't worry! I've made the explanations as straightforward as possible.
If you've already learned about German cases, then you're no stranger to the notion of word genders and adjective endings.
If not, you may want to review my 5-part guide on the German cases.
Which pronoun to use depends on whether you're using the nominative, accusative, dative, or genitive case.
The following table displays the personal pronouns in each case:
Remember, in German, there are different pronouns for the word “you,” depending on the formality of the conversation, and whether you're speaking to one person, or multiple individuals.
Now, you're probably wondering how to decide between the nominative, accusative, and dative cases.
The next step is to identify whether a pronoun is the subject, direct object, or indirect object of the sentence.
Subject – Takes the nominative case
“I” is the subject in this sentence.
Direct object – Takes the accusative case
“I” is the subject, and “you” is the direct object.
Indirect object – Takes the dative case
“I” is the subject, “it” is the direct object, and “you” is the indirect object.
I'll dive into possessive pronouns later. Next, let's look at different types of German pronouns and how to use them.
So far, you've been introduced to the personal pronouns in German.
Altogether, there are seven different kinds of pronouns to choose from.
Personal pronouns are words like I, you, we, and they. These words replace names and enable us to talk about ourselves and others.
Below are examples of when to use personal pronouns in German.
Replace nouns with 3rd person pronouns.
Use es for impersonal statements.
Talk about yourself using the first person singular ich or plural wir pronouns
Speak about others using second-person pronouns “du,” “ihr,” and “Sie.”
Use es as a placeholder.
Example: Es freut mich dass es dir gut geht. (I'm happy that you're doing well.)
You may have noticed that there are three different ways of saying “you” in German. When addressing someone formally, choose Sie with a capital “S.” If you're talking to a friend or informal acquaintance, use du.
Some verbs in German are reflexive, which means the subject performs the action on him or herself. The equivalent in English would be myself, yourself, himself, etc.
On a positive note, you only have to deal with two cases. Let's look at the different forms of reflexive pronouns, followed by examples.
In these instances, you'll either need to use the accusative or dative form of a pronoun. Use the accusative case for the direct object and dative case for the indirect object.
Use possessive pronouns to indicate belonging. In English, we use words like mine, yours, his, and theirs.
German also uses possessive pronouns, but their endings change depending on the case and gender of the following noun.
Let's take a look at the German possessive pronouns. Note that the masculine and neuter genders are the same in the nominative case.
Notice how pronouns preceding masculine and neuter nouns appear in their most basic form, while the feminine and plural counterparts take an “e” ending.
You'll also notice patterns in the accusative case.
Pronouns preceding masculine nouns take a “en” ending, the neuter case stays the same, and the feminine and plural cases takes an “e” ending.
In dative, use an “em” ending in the masculine case, “er” ending in the feminine case, and “en” ending in the plural.
Finally, in the genitive case, use an “es” ending in the masculine and neuter cases. The feminine and plural cases are the same as the dative.
Indefinite pronouns are words such as somebody, nobody, and anyone that don't specify a particular person or object.
You'll find some examples below:
The words jemand, niemand, and jeder require endings according to their gender and case.
Instead of his/her or you, German uses the word man, meaning “one” to speak about a person in general, without indicating the gender.
The accusative form of “man” is einen, and the dative form is einem.
Interrogative pronouns, like “who” and “what,” ask questions about people and objects.
Asking these questions can often help you identify the subject, direct object, and indirect object of a sentence.
Use relative pronouns to connect clauses with a shared noun. In English, we use “which” or “that.” In German, you use welche and der, die, or das.
Typically, these connecting words allow us to describe something in more detail.
By examining the relative pronoun, you can determine which word it is referring to since it will agree by both the number and gender.
You've almost reached the finish line! Demonstrative pronouns are words like this, that, these, and those.
These pronouns take the case, number, and gender of the noun they're replacing. The good news is, German sums up all of these words in only one!
Once you're familiar with the different case endings, you can identify the appropriate ending for your demonstrative pronouns.
Aside from the personal and reflexive pronouns, you may have noticed that other pronouns follow patterns when it comes to their endings.
The chart below summarizes the genders and their typical case endings:
In some cases, there is more than one possibility for the ending. Which ending to choose becomes more obvious with practice.
Conquering German pronouns might seem like an impossible task, but they're not as difficult as you think. With practice and regular review of the rules, you'll be using pronouns like a pro in virtually no time!
I recommend familiarizing yourself with the German case system and adjective endings before learning pronoun endings. Whatever you do, don't hold back from using pronouns just because you're uncertain about the ending.
It takes time and practice to become comfortable with new grammar concepts. And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure you read often in German so that the grammar starts to become second nature.
In fact, as you progress and you immerse yourself in German by reading, you'll recognise how number, case, and gender agreement contribute to easier reading comprehension.
Eventually, you may even come to appreciate these details and how they help you distinguish between people and places.
Over to you – has this post helped you to get a grip on German pronouns? Do you feel more confident about using them in conversation? Let me know in a comment below.