German lesson 7 — Pronouns

Friedrich von Schiller

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

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.

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 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.

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