German lesson 7 — pronouns

Friedrich von Schiller

About German pronouns

There are more German pronouns than English ones, although it’s really not that complicated. Which one to use depends on the case, the number (singular or plural), and the formality (described below).

One rather common German pronoun that’s sparsely used in English is man, meaning (someone), (anyone), or just (one) — as in “what can one do to succeed in life?” Grammatically, it follows the same rules as it, he, or she. (Be sure not to confuse man (one/someone/anyone) with Mann (man).)

Formality

Formality deserves a bit of discussion before we begin. There is a formal way of talking — which you use with a person of higher status, or one who is not well known to you — and a familiar way of talking, which you use with people of equal or lesser status, or friends and family.

Use the formal version (such as Sie) when:

  • ◆ When the other person has authority over you, such as your boss.
  • ◆ Government officials, police officers, and the like.
  • ◆ Customers and clients, especially when you are trying to show that you respect their judgement.
  • ◆ Your elders, particularly in those places where elders are treated formally.
  • ◆ Anywhere else when you don’t know the other person well.

By contrast, use the informal version (such as du) when:

  • ◆ Both you and the other person are subject to the same authority, such as as tenants living in the same apartment building. (But they would still use Sie with the landlord.)
  • ◆ Family, friends, young children, and pets.
  • ◆ A customer, when you are trying to build rapport and show you both are on the same side. (Although some customers may resent this attempt to appear friendly, considering it an attempt to break down their sales resistance.)
  • ◆ When the other person asks you to use du, and you agree to do so. (Normally, when someone asks you to use du and you agree, then you ask them the same.)
  • ◆ When talking to God. (God may be assumed to be an authority figure that has agreed to be on familiar terms.)

You may be wondering, how come English doesn’t have a word for you, familiar? Ah, but it did: the word thou is you, nominative, familiar and the word thee is you, accusative or dative, familiar. But these words are archaic and rarely seen today.

Personal pronouns

A word about you

A finger pointing directly at the reader Let’s start with an example — the word you. In German, there are seven different words meaning you. Take a look at the following table:

 Engl.   case   formality    number   German
you nom. formal --- Sie
you nom. familiar sing. du
you nom. familiar plural ihr
you acc. formal --- Ihr
you acc. familiar sing. dich
you acc. familiar plural euch
you dat. formal --- Ihnen
you dat. familiar sing. dir
you dat. familiar plural euch

Some genitive pronouns

Your, of course, is the genitive form of you. It follows the same pattern as you, but they include a gender for the thing or person possessed (plural is considered to be a gender here).

 Engl.    case   formality   gender   German
your gen. formal neu/mas Ihr
your gen. formal fem Ihre
your gen. formal plural Ihre
your gen. familiar neu/mas dein
your gen. familiar fem deine
your gen. familiar plural deine

Note: personal genitive pronouns are also call possesive adjectives.

Its, his, hers, and ones are also genitive, but they can be gendered or bigendered — that is to say, one gender for the possessor (his in his sister) and one for the possessed (sister in his sister). Two genders are shown with two colors in the pronoun table — seine Schwester (his sister). (But formality no longer plays a role.) Please note that some entries are repeated, in various colors, to explicitly show the two genders in use.

 English   case  gender (possessor~possessed)  German
my/mine gen. --- ~ neu meins
my/mine gen. --- ~ mas mein
my/mine gen. --- ~ fem meine
my/mine gen. --- ~ plu meine
its gen. neu ~ neu/mas sein
its gen. neu ~ fem seine
its gen. neu ~ plu seine
his gen. mas ~ neu/mas sein
his gen. mas ~ fem seine
his gen. mas ~ plu seine
hers gen. fem ~ neu/mas ihr
hers gen. fem ~ fem ihre
hers gen. fem ~ plu ihre
ones gen. --- ~ neu/mas sein
ones gen. --- ~ fem seine
ones gen. --- ~ plu seine
theirs gen. plu ~ neu/mas ihr
theirs gen. plu ~ fem ihre
theirs gen. plu ~ plu ihre

Other kinds of pronouns

There are other kinds of pronouns, but as I’m pushing 5 hours late on this post, I’ll have to add them another day. Sorry.

Lesson 6, case and declension

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