German Possessive Pronouns – Possessivartikeln

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Possessivartikeln: German Possessive Pronouns

In this article, I’ll be covering German Possessive Pronouns, known as Possessivartikeln in German.

Possessive Pronoun? Possessivartikel?

This is somewhat of a digression where I explain the terminolgy.

Feel free to skip ahead to section below called “The Possessors and the Possessed” if you don’t care about the proper terminology and just want the table for the different forms and examples.

Most people wouldn’t care too much about the precise terms and names for these grammatical constructions, and that is perfectly fine.

I’m not saying that it’s crucial. It’s usually not.

Knowing how to use them in a sentence is more important if your goal is to learn how to use a language.

However, I prefer to have some level of precision. It’s personally what I want when I visit a site to explain grammar to me. (I love learning grammar, and vocab too, it’s speaking that scares me!)

I have always disliked it when a site didn’t explain the grammar properly or gloss over the details.

I’d have to go find another site and usually it takes 2-3 sites before I can finally collect the information and explanation that I want.

Usually this would even involve reading grammar articles in another language that I know (usually French), or even the target language itself.

Possessivartikeln = Possessive Determiners

In English, Possessivartikeln are formally called possessive determiners, or dependent/weak possessive pronouns in English.

They are used with a noun. (Example: “That is my book.”)

In German, these are usually referred to as Possessivartikeln.

They are called “possessive articles” because they function like articles in terms of their place in a sentence.

In fact, their declension (how they change form depending on the gender, case, and number) is the same as that of the definite articles in German.

On the other hand, independent possessive pronouns don’t require a noun. (Example: “That is mine.”)

Then what are “Possessivpronomen”?

This is where it gets tricky.

I consulted a few sites, including Wikipedia (unfortunately), and the answer I found was this:

The term “Possessivpronomen”, in modern linguistics, applies to independent/strong possessive pronouns (such as “mine”) only.

This can be confusing, because the term “possessive pronoun” can be used as an umbrella term for both dependent and independent possessive articles traditionally.

This goes for both German and English.

For the purposes of this article, when I say “possessive pronouns”, I am referring to possessive determiners that go with a noun.

I’ll leave the other type for another time.

The Possessors and the Possessed

Possessive pronouns are used to indicate possession.

In English, the possessive pronoun only changes depending on who the possessor is, which is perfectly logical.

When I say that it’s my cake, I mean that it is mine. It’s not your cake.

The possessive pronoun doesn’t change depending on the object that is being possessed.

In German, however, it changes a lot more.

The Number of Possessed Items

First, it changes based on the number of possessed items. One book or two books? One brother or ten brothers?

I don’t mean that a person is some sort of object, nor do I mean that they have been taken over by some otherworldly spirit, as shown the examples below:

English

German

This is my brother.

Das ist mein Bruder.

These are my brothers.

Das sind meine Brüder.

This is my dog.

Das ist mein Hund.

These are my dogs.

Das sind meine Hunde.

The Gender of Possessed Items

It also changes based on the gender of the possessed item.

This is the grammatical gender of the noun, and is not always identical to the physical gender, as we know that a German child (das Kind) is always an “it”.

In the examples above, both “brother” and “dog” are masculine nouns.

Observe the change for the feminine noun “Katze” (cat) and neuter noun “Pferd” (horse).

English

German

This is my cat.

Das ist meine Katze.

These are my cats.

Das sind meine Katzen.

This is my horse.

Das ist mein Pferd.

These are my horses.

Das sind meine Pferde.

The Case of Possessed Items

Let’s not forget the case of the possessed item.

In the above examples, the possessed items are all in the nominative case, where they are the subject of the sentence.

What happens when we have the accusative case, when the possessed item is the direct object of the sentence?

(What do I feed? I feed my dog.)

English

German

This is my dog.

Das ist mein Hund.

These are my dogs.

Das sind meine Hunde.

I feed my dog.

Ich füttere meinen Hund.

I feed my dogs.

Ich füttere meine Hunde.

Then there’s the dative as well, when the possessed item is the indirect object of the sentence. (What do I give to my dog? I give meat to my dog.)

English

German

I give meat to my dog.

Ich gebe meinem Hund Fleisch.

I give meat to my dogs.

Ich gebe meinen Hunden Fleisch.

For dative plural nouns, we generally add an -n to the end of the noun’s plural form in the nominative if it doesn’t end with -s or -n.

For the case of nouns ending in -d or -t like  Hund, we add an extra -e- before the -n to make it pronounceable.

(If it helps, it’s kind of like how the verb arbeiten for the third person singular is “er arbeitet”, not “er arbeitt”.)

Finally, there’s the genitive case. If it isn’t mind-bending enough, the genitive is also used to indicate… possession.

For a start, it’s not very necessary to know this case, but it’s also good to be aware that it exists.

(I successfully confused myself with this, especially as I had started venturing into Greek for a while, and the way they do possession is more like a genitive or something along those lines. I’ve since stopped to focus on one language at time for my own sanity.)

English

German

My dog’s toy.

Das Spielzeug meines Hundes.

My dogs’ toy. (The toy belonging to my dogs.)

Das Spielzeug meiner Hunde.

Did you notice how in English we simply use “my” all the time, while the German form tended to vary from one sentence to the next?

If we start to think about the combinations when adding in “your”, “his”, “her”, and… oh wait, there’s also plural “your” and formal “your”…

It’s not too difficult to imagine why many language learners hate grammar

But wait.

It might be overwhelming at first, but take it slowly.

I remember when I first learnt this in class that I was overwhelmed. This was despite having learnt French before, where the pronouns also change based on gender and number.

Possessivartikeln Table

Here’s the table for how the possessive pronoun changes. (And yes, there is a whole other table for the other kind of possessive pronouns, but there is a method to the madness!)

Note: If your screen is small, the table may look truncated. Simply scroll to the right to see more.

  Singular Plural
Maskulin Feminin Neutral
Nom. Akk. Dat. Gen. Nom. Akk. Dat. Gen. Nom. Akk. Dat. Gen. Nom. Akk. Dat. Gen.
ich mein meinen meinem meines meine meine meiner meiner mein mein meinem meines meine meine meinen meiner
du dein deinen deinem deines deine deine deiner deiner dein dein deinem deines deine deine deinen deiner
er/es sein seinen seinem seines seine seine seiner seiner sein sein seinem seines seine seine seinen seiner
sie ihr ihren ihrem ihres ihre ihre ihrer ihrer ihr ihr ihrem ihres ihre ihre ihren ihrer
wir unser unseren unserem unseres unsere unsere unserer unserer unser unser unserem unseres unsere unsere unseren unserer
ihr euer euren eurem eures eure eure eurer eurer euer euer eurem eures eure eure euren eurer
sie/Sie ihr/Ihr ihren/Ihren ihrem/Ihrem ihres/Ihres Ihre/Ihre ihre/Ihre ihrer/Ihrer ihrer/Ihrer ihr/Ihr ihr/Ihr ihrem/Ihrem ihres/Ihres ihre/Ihre ihre/Ihre ihren/Ihren ihrer/Ihrer

How to Determine the Correct Possessive Pronoun

There really are two questions that you have to answer.

  1. Who is the possessor?
  2. What is being possessed?

(That might sound weird, but you know what I mean.)

Answering the first question will tell you which row of the table you should be using.

The second question will guide you to the correct column.

The intersection will be the answer.

Let’s go step-by-step, with the following sentence as an example:

Ich schätze _______ Freundschaft. (I value our friendship.)

Step 1: Identify the possessor.

  1. Who is the possessor?

Now, this might be a bit tricky. The subject of this particular sentence it “I”, and it is tempting to think that “ich” is the possessor. But it is not.

The possessor that you are looking out for is the word that comes right before the noun in the English translation: “our”.

If you think about it, friendship is not something that belongs to one person, but both.

I’m talking to you, so we are the ones that share the friendship.

Therefore, the possessor is “wir”.

Remember that the subject is not necessarily the one doing the possessing!

Great, we have the correct row.

Now, let’s move on to Step 2…

Step 2: Identify the number and gender of the possessed.

  1. Is the possessed singular?
  2. If yes, what is the gender?

You need to know whether it is singular or plural to know which rules to apply. If it’s singular, then you also need to know the gender.

Now, the possessed is “Freundschaft”, and it is in the singular. (The plural is “Freundschaften”.)

Since it is in the singular, we ask the next question: What is the gender?

Now, the subject of grammatical gender belongs to an article on its own, so let’s say that we either know that words ending in -schaft are feminine, or that we simply looked it up in a dictionary that this word is feminine.

(Looking it up in a dictionary is not cheating, unless it’s a test and the teacher forbids it. This is the real world. It’s an open-book exam.)

Onwards to the last step!

Step 3: Identify the case of the possessed.

  1. What is the case of the possessed?

With these two pieces of information, we narrow down the row to the 4 columns that are in red in the “wir” row.

Our four candidates are:

Nominativ

Akkusativ

Dativ

Genitiv

unsere

unsere

unserer

unserer

Okay, so we really only have two to choose from, since the forms are identical for the nominative and accusative as well as for the dative and genitive.

Let’s go back to the sentence: Ich schätze _______ Freundschaft. (I value our friendship.)

In the sentence, the subject is “I”. So we are not looking at the nominative.

Freundschaft is clearly an object, but is it the direct object or indirect?

It’s the direct object of the sentence, because we’re not performing an action to friendship.

This means that the case is the accusative.

So finally, we have “unsere” as the correct form: Ich schätze unsere Freundschaft.

Exercises

Here’s some sentences for practising. Someday I might code something that will auto grade itself, but for now here’s the old-fashioned way of doing things.

(Best to use pen and paper, writing does help!)

Questions

  1. _______ Zug hat Verspätung. (Our train is late.)
  2. Der Lehrer kennte _______ Namen. (The teacher knows his name.)
  3. Hier ist _______ Schreibtisch, Herr Schmidt. (Here is your table, Mr. Smith.)
  4. Maria, _______ Küche ist fantastisch. (Maria, your kitchen is fantastic.)
  5. Ich finde _______ Zeitung interessant. (I find her newspaper interesting.)
  6. Sofia und Hans, wo ist _______ Haus? (Sofia and Hans, where is your house?)
  7. Willkommen in _______ Leben! (Welcome to my life!)
  8. _______ Tante und ich kennen uns. (Your aunt and I know each other.)
  9. Öffnet _______ Herzen! (Open your hearts!)
  10. Du bist die Liebe _______ Lebens. (You are the love of my life.)

Answers

  1. Unser
  2. seinen
  3. Ihr
  4. deine
  5. ihre
  6. euer
  7. meinem
  8. Deine/Eure/Ihre
  9. Eure/Ihre
  10. meines

How did you do? Did you get all of them right?

If not, don’t worry. Keep practising and you’ll get the hang of it. 😉

If you have any questions about possessive pronouns, leave a comment below.

Next up is personal pronouns.