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.
A Prelude To German Pronouns
Before you can choose the correct German pronoun, there are a few factors you have to determine.
- The person – Do you need a first (I), second (you), or third person (he/she/it) pronoun?
- Word gender – The gender of the word following the pronoun will determine its ending.
- Number – Do you require a singular or plural form of the pronoun?
- Case – Is the pronoun the subject, direct object, or indirect object of the sentence?
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.
German Cases And Pronouns
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.
Direct And Indirect Objects
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
- Example: Ich trinke Wasser. (I drink water.)
“I” is the subject in this sentence.
Direct object – Takes the accusative case
- Example: Ich mag dich. (I like you)
“I” is the subject, and “you” is the direct object.
Indirect object – Takes the dative case
- Example: Ich habe es dir gegeben. (I gave it to you.)
“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.
The 7 Types of German Pronoun
So far, you've been introduced to the personal pronouns in German.
Altogether, there are seven different kinds of pronouns to choose from.
#1 Personal Pronouns
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.
- Example: Ich habe Kuchen gemacht. Er war sehr lecker. (I made cake. It was very tasty.)
Use es for impersonal statements.
- Example: Es ist sonnig. (It is sunny.) Es ist früh. (It is early.)
Talk about yourself using the first person singular ich or plural wir pronouns
- Example: Ich bin nervös. (I'm nervous.) Mir ist das egal. (I don't care.)
Speak about others using second-person pronouns “du,” “ihr,” and “Sie.”
- Example: Wie heißt ihr? (What are your names?) Du kannst gut kochen. (You can cook well.)
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.
#2 Reflexive Pronouns
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.
- Example: Ich rasiere mich. (I'm shaving “myself.”)
- Example: Ich rasiere mir die Beine. (I'm shaving my legs.)
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.
#3 Possessive Pronouns
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.
- Example: Mein Buch liegt auf dem Tisch. (My book is lying on the table.)
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.
- Example: Kannst du mein Buch auf deinen Tisch legen? (Can you lay my book on your table?)
Pronouns preceding masculine nouns take a “en” ending, the neuter case stays the same, and the feminine and plural cases takes an “e” ending.
- Example: Was machst du mit seinem Buch? (What are you doing with his book?)
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.
#4 Indefinite Pronouns
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:
- jemand (someone)
- etwas (something)
- niemand (nobody)
- nichts (nothing)
- jeder (everyone/anyone)
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.
- Example: Das kann man nicht machen! (You “one” can't do that!)
The accusative form of “man” is einen, and the dative form is einem.
#5 Interrogative Pronouns
Interrogative pronouns, like “who” and “what,” ask questions about people and objects.
- was (what)
- wer (who- nominative)
- wen (who-accusative)
- wem (whom-dative)
- wessen (whose)
Asking these questions can often help you identify the subject, direct object, and indirect object of a sentence.
#6 Relative Pronouns
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.
- Example: Das ist die Frau, die Musik spielt. (That's the woman that plays music.)
- Example: Dort sind die Kinder, mit dem sie gespielt haben. (There are the children that they played with.)
- Example: Der Student, dessen Buch ich benutze, ist im Urlaub. (The student whose book I use is on vacation.)
By examining the relative pronoun, you can determine which word it is referring to since it will agree by both the number and gender.
#7 Demonstrative Pronouns
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.
Recognizing German Pronoun Patterns
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.
German Pronouns: Use Them Anyway
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.