German Pronouns

This free German grammar lesson will focus on German pronouns and will provide easy-to-follow examples throughout. Pronouns are an essential element of German grammar which cannot be ignored or rushed.

German Pronouns

First of all, in case you're wondering:

'What is a pronoun?'

Simply put, a pronoun is a small word which can be used instead of a noun.Examples in English would be: 'mine' 'he', 'she', 'his', 'you', 'this', 'these' and'none'.

German pronouns are used, as they are in English, to make a sentence less cumbersome.

Imagine, for example, always having to use someone's name when talking about them in a conversation, rather than just being able to say 'he' or 'she'. It would become very repetitive and tiresome after a while!

All German pronouns are governed by the grammatical cases, the number (i.e. plural or singular) as well as the gender of the noun.All of these factors can affect the pronoun (i.e. change its form).

German pronouns are also split into categories as they are in English, for examples into personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns and reflexive pronouns.

Let's start off by looking at the personal pronouns.

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Personal pronouns in German

You're maybe wondering what exactly is a personal pronoun?

A personal pronoun refers to a specific person or thing. They are simplysmall words which replace nouns, e.g. 'he', 'she', 'it', 'you', etc.

They refer to the person/people speaking (e.g. I/we), the person/people spoken to (e.g. you) or the person/people or thing(s) spoken about (e.g. he/she/it).

You will commonly see these being referred to as the 1st person, 2nd person and 3rd person, respectively.

To complicate matters, though, there are several different forms of 'you' in German.

Don't worry, all will become clear very soon. However, if you are not familiar with the German cases, then I recommend you read my overview before continuing.

Before we look at an overview of the personal German pronouns, let's take a look at these various ways of saying 'you' in the nominative case.

You!, You! and You!

1. 'du' = This is the singular, informal way of saying 'you' in German. You would use this when speaking to just one person whom you know on an informal basis, such as friends, family members and children.

2. 'ihr'= This is the plural, informal way of saying 'you' in German. You would use this when speaking to two people or more whom you know on an informal basis.

3. 'Sie'= This is the singular and plural, formal way of saying 'you' in German. You would use this when addressing one or more people whom youdo not know very well, who are in a position of authority or maybe even older than yourself. For example: a police officer, strangers and your boss. The 'formal' version of 'you' in German always starts with a capital letter.

If there is one thing I suggest you learn from this lesson today then it is to learn the various forms for 'you'. You just cannot avoid this if you want to learn German properly.

More importantly, you will avoid making embarrassing mistakes which could cost you dearly in a business situation, for example.

Now we have dealt with that, let's focus our attention on the following table, which provides an overview all of the German personal pronouns in their respective grammatical cases.

Afterwards we will take a look at the cases separately with several examples. So, don't worry, by the end of this lesson German pronouns will have become much clearer to you, I promise! ;)

Table 1 - German personal pronouns in the nominative, accusative and dative case

Nominative Accusative Dative English translation
ich mich mir I / me / to me
du dich dir you / you / to you (informal singular)
er ihn ihm he / him / to him
sie sie ihr she / her / to her
es* es* ihm* it / it / to it
wir uns uns we / us / to us
ihr euch euch you / you / to you (informal plural)
Sie Sie Ihnen you / you / to you (formal singular and plural)
sie sie ihnen they / them / to them

*N.B: When using or translating the German pronoun 'it' please be careful. As we have seen all German nouns have a gender and so do German pronouns. So in English, whereas we would say 'it', in German it could be a 'he' or 'she' - regardless if it is an object and inanimate!

Let's look at an example:

German: Die Schokolade schmeckt gut. Sie schmeckt gut.

Literally (and poorly!) translated into English: The chocolate tastes good.She tastes good.

Properly translated into English:The chocolate tastes good. It tastes good.

Please also note:

You would have noticed in the table above there are three different versions of 'sie' (she, they, you) which can, unfortunately, confuse matters even more.

Wondering how to distinguish between the three?

Well, the easier one to pick out normally is the formal version of 'you' - 'Sie' as this will always beginwith a capital letter. The two others versions of 'sie' (they and she) will normally begin with lower case letters. However, if they are placed at the beginning of the sentence, they too will begin with capital letters.

So, the only real way, therefore, of knowing which 'sie/Sie' is meant, is to consider the context of the phrase as well as the following verb formation, e.g. 'sie hat' (she has) and 'sie haben' (they have).

Now let's take a look at personal German pronouns in more detail in each respective case, starting with the nominative case. Here you will find lots of examples, so don't worry if your head is spinning at the moment. Things will become clearer.

Table 2- German personal pronouns in the nominative case

The following German pronouns are found in the nominative case and will be the subject of a sentence.

Personal Pronoun English Example in German Example in English
ich I Ich bin im Urlaub I am on holiday
du you (informal singular) Wo gehst du hin? Where are you going?
er he Er ist schon im Bett He is already in bed
sie she Sie ist im Garten She is in the garden
es it Es ist noch nicht da It is not here yet
wir we Wir gehen ins Kino We are going to the cinema
ihr you (informal plural) Kommt ihr zu mir nach Hause? Are you (all) coming to my house?
Sie you (formal singular and plural) Woher kommen Sie? Where do you (all) come from?
sie they Sie sind schon da They are already there

Table 3 - German personal pronouns in the accusative case

Just as masculine nouns change in the accusative case when used as direct objects, so do most personal German pronouns. An example of this change in English would be:

Nominative Case: He lives in a house

Accusative Case: I know him

Let's take a look at the personal pronouns in the accusative case with the help of the following table:

Pronoun English Example in German Example in English
mich me Liebst du mich? Do you love me?
dich you (informal singular) Ich liebe dich I love you
ihn him Ich habe ihn im Supermarkt gesehen I saw him at the supermarket
sie her Kannst du sie sehen? Can you see her?
es it Ich habe es schon erhalten I have already received it
uns us Sie hat uns schon Bescheid gegeben She has already let us know
euch you (informal plural) Wir möchten euch besuchen We would like to visit you (all)
Sie you (formal singular and plural) Ich fahre Sie nach Hause I will drive you (all) home
sie them Ich habe sie schon gesehen I have already seen them

Table 4 - German personal pronouns in the dative case

German personal pronouns also have a dative case form. Always remember to use these when the personal pronouns are indirect objects of a sentence.

Pronoun English Example in German Example in English
mir to me Kannst du mir bitte das Salz geben? Can you please pass me the salt?
dir to you (informal singular) Ich habe es dir schon gegeben I have already given it to you
ihm to him Es hat ihm nichts ausgemacht It didn't matter to him
ihr to her Hast du ihr den Brief schon gegeben? Have you already given her the letter?
ihm to it Das Pferd hat Hunger. Ich habe ihm deshalb etwas Futter gegeben The horse is hungry. I therefore gave it some food
uns to us Können Sie uns bitte die Rechnung bringen? Could you please bring us the bill?
euch to you (informal plural) Wir haben euch geschrieben We have written to you
Ihnen to you (formal singular and plural) Ihnen haben wir es schließlich zu verdanken We have to thank you (all) at the end of the day
ihnen to them Der Lehrer hat ihnen viele Bücher ausgeliehen The teacher lent them lots of books

Do you now feel comfortable with these particular German pronouns? If not, why not scroll back up to Table 1 which gives you the all-important overview? Use this as your main reference table and then refer to the individual case tables as and when you need more specific examples.

Once you feel ready, let's progress to the next part of this German pronoun lesson which will focus on the possessive pronouns.

German possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns are quite simply used to show that a noun belongs to somebody or something (e.g 'mine', 'your', 'his').

The endings they take depend on the case, gender and number of the 'thing' possessed.

The basic forms of the possessive German pronouns in the nominative case are as follows:-

mein - my

dein - your (singular / informal)

Ihr - your (singular / formal)

sein / ihr / sein - his, her, its

unser - our

euer - your (plural / informal)

Ihr - your (plural / formal)

ihr - their

The 'declension' of the possessive pronouns follows the same pattern in each grammatical case (i.e. they take the same endings). So you just need to learn the one pattern and you can then apply it to every other German pronoun - every cloud has a silver lining I guess!!

Let's have a look at an example of this pattern with the possessive pronoun 'mein' (my) and the help of the following two tables.

In both tables, the following three nouns, each of a different gender, will be applied for clearer understanding: der Schlüssel (the key - masculine), die Tasche (the bag - feminine) and das Haus (the house - neuter).

Table 5. German singular possessive pronouns

This table shows all the singular (i.e. my key / my bag / my house) declension forms for the possessive pronoun 'mein' (my) in all cases and all genders, together with the above detailed nouns. Remember this pattern is the same for all the other possessive pronouns listed above in the 'singular form'. 

Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative mein Schlüssel meine Tasche mein Haus
Accusative meinen Schlüssel meine Tasche mein Haus
Dative meinem Schlüssel meiner Tasche meinem Haus
Genitive meines Schlüssels meiner Tasche meines Hauses

Table 6 - German Plural possessive pronouns

This table shows all the plural (i.e. my keys / my bags / my houses) declension forms for the possessive pronoun 'mein' in all cases and all genders. Remember this pattern is the same for all the other possessive pronouns listed above in the 'plural form'.

Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative meine Schlüssel meine Taschen meine Häuser
Accusative meine Schlüssel meine Taschen meine Häuser
Dative meinen Schlüsseln meinen Taschen meinen Häusern
Genitive meiner Schlüssel meiner Taschen meiner Häuser

Phew, are you exhausted? Is your brain feeling frazzled? Mine hurts just explaining it to you!

So, really don't worry too much about learning these all off by heart now. Just realise they exist and try to pick them up as you go along.

I think it is time for a well-earned break and a bit of fun.

So, why not sit back and have a read of my world-record breaking German words! Can you believe that the longest German word has over 80 letters?! Have a bit of fun and learn about German compound words at the same time.

The second half of this lesson, which will focus on German reflexive pronouns and German demonstrative pronouns, is currently being worked on - thank you for your patience!

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