About German Pronouns
Let’s talk about learning German pronouns. Personal pronouns in German are the equivalent of (I, you, he, she, it, we, you people, you all, they) in English, There are more German pronouns than English ones to learn, 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 deserves a bit of discussion before we begin. There is a formal way of talking — which you use when speaking with a person of higher status, or with people not well known to you. And a familiar way of talking, which you use when speaking with people of equal or lesser status, or friends and family.
Use the formal version (known as Sie) when:
- ◆ The other person has authority over you, such as your boss, a Government official, police officers, and the like.
- ◆ Customers and clients, especially when you are trying to show that you respect their judgement.
- ◆ Elderly citizens or in particularly formal situations speaking with the elderly.
- ◆ Anywhere else when you don’t know the other person well.
By contrast, use the informal version (known as du) when:
- ◆ Both you and the other person are subject to the same authority, such 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.
A word about you
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 I am repeating some entries, 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 German Pronouns
There are other kinds of German pronouns to learn about, but as I’m pushing 5 hours late on this post, I’ll have to add them another day. Sorry.
Look for Jennie’s German Language Classroom for English Speakers on the last Wednesday of every month. Or check out some of my other lessons for learning German. Lesson 6, Case and Declension.