German Personal Pronouns – Personalpronomen

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Personalpronomen: German Personal Pronouns

Following the previous article on possessive pronouns, we now move on to personal pronouns.

Personal pronouns are used to talk about ourselves and the people we are talking to. “I” is a personal pronoun, as is “me”. I am writing a post for you to read.

They are called Personalpronomen in German.

In the singular, the pronoun is das Pronomen, and the plural is die Pronomen.

For the third person personal pronouns, they are used to replace a previously-mentioned noun. This is so that the sentence doesn’t become too repetitive. Take the following example in English:

Heike has a dog. The dog’s name is Mike. Mike is small and brown. Heike brings Mike for a walk every day. Heike loves Mike and Mike loves Heike back.

That sounds rather stilted. We would instead write:

Heike has a dog. Its name is Mike. Mike is small and brown. She brings him for a walk every day. Heike loves Mike and he loves her back.

(As for why I opted for “it” initially before switching to “he”, that was because it felt natural. I didn’t even realise I knew this as a rule. I did look it up later, and found out that the personal pronoun for an animal can be “he/she” or “it”, depending on whether the relationship a person has to the animal is personal or not.)

When it is ambiguous, it is better to repeat the noun.

Johann and Damien were playing football yesterday. He fell down and hurt his leg.

Johann und Damien haben gestern Fußball gespielt. Er ist gefallen und hat sich am Bein verletzt.

In German, the idea is the same.

Here is the table of the declension of the personal pronouns. (The declension of a noun is how it changes according to the number, case, and gender.)

    Plural
Kasus Nom. Akk. Dat.
Singular 1. Person ich mich mir
2. Person vertraulichen Form du dich dir
Höflichkeitsform Sie Sie Ihnen
3. Person Maskulin er ihn ihm
Neutral es es ihm
Feminin sie sie ihr
Plural 1. Person wir uns uns
2. Person vertraulichen Form ihr euch euch
Höflichkeitsform Sie Sie Ihnen
3. Person sie sie ihnen

There’s more forms for the second person, because of the singular “du”, plural “ihr”, and formal “Sie” form (which works for both singular and plural).

And the same pronoun “sie” is used for different persons.

Sie confusion

The most confusing part of personal pronouns in German comes from the many meanings of “sie”.

It can mean any one of the following:

  1. 2nd person formal for both singular and plural forms (you)
  2. 3rd person plural form (they)
  3. 3rd person plural feminine form (she)

Formal You and They

The formal “you” usually has the first letter in uppercase, so it’s written as “Sie”.

The 3rd person plural form “sie” declines identically to the 2nd person formal “Sie” (you).

  • Nominative: Sie/sie
  • Accusative: Sie/sie
  • Dative: Ihnen/ihnen

She and Plural You

The 3rd person singular feminine form “sie” is has almost the same declension, except in the dative.

  • Nominative: sie
  • Accusative: sie
  • Dative: ihr

It is the same as the nominative form of the 2nd person plural (informal) “ihr”.

  • Nominative: ihr
  • Accusative: euch
  • Dative: euch

Reproduced below is the table from above with the 4 different “sie”-rows and the 1 “ihr”-row.

    Plural
Kasus Nom. Akk. Dat.
Singular 2. Person Höflichkeitsform Sie Sie Ihnen
3. Person Feminin sie sie ihr
Plural 2. Person vertraulichen Form ihr euch euch
Höflichkeitsform Sie Sie Ihnen
3. Person sie sie ihnen

The table could be written with only 1 row for formal “Sie”, but I choose to have 2 rows for clarity.

I remember being confused as to whether the formal “Sie” also applied when talking to more than one person. (Okay, in full disclosure, I had this problem with Italian. But the idea is the same, because, like in German, the formal “you” in Italian (Lei) is the same as the third person feminine singular form. At that time, I was only familiar with French, where the informal second person plural form vous was also used as the formal “you”. If this makes no sense and only confuses you further, just move on and ignore this.)

What About in the Genitive?

Personal pronouns are really rarely used in the genitive, but they do exist.

I chose not to include them in the main table above since they aren’t normally used.

Dependent possessive pronouns are used in place of the genitive personal pronouns in German. (Dependent possessive pronouns are different from independent possessive pronouns, which can be used without a noun. The difference is between “This is my book” and “This is mine”.)

Let’s take a closer look at dependent possessive pronouns and genitive personal pronouns, using an example in English.

You would more likely say “my book” (dependent possessive pronoun) instead of “the book of me”.

Wait a second… Shouldn’t it be “of mine”, you know, like “this book of mine”?

Well, the response to that is, you’re not the boss of me!

(If you’re wondering about “this book of mine”, it’s actually a double genitive – also called double possessive – construction in English, which you can read about here.)

It’s really the same idea in German that you use a possessive pronoun instead of a personal pronoun in the genitive.

Here’s the table for the genitive, with the feminine/plural genitive form of the Possessivartikeln as comparison.

    Personalpronomen Possessivartikel
Feminin + Plural
Kasus Nom. Gen. Gen.
Singular 1. Person ich meiner meiner
2. Person vertraulichen Form du deiner deiner
Höflichkeitsform Sie Ihrer Ihrer
3. Person Maskulin er seiner seiner
Neutral es
Feminin sie ihrer ihrer
Plural 1. Person wir unser unserer
2. Person vertraulichen Form ihr euer eurer
Höflichkeitsform Sie Ihrer Ihrer
3. Person sie sie ihrer

They are pretty much the same, except for the 1st person plural (“wir” or “we”) and the 2nd person plural (“ihr” or informal “you”).

Exercises

Okay, time to practise personal pronouns.

Questions

Personalpronomen

  1. Wohin gehen _______ ? (Where are we going?)
  2. Herr Schmidt ist der Mörder. _______ hat _______ getötet. (Mr. Schmidt is the murderer. He killed her.)
  3. _______ hilft _______ . (He helps her.)
  4. Heute ist das Wetter schlecht. _______ regnet gerade. (Today the weather is bad. It’s raining right now.)
  5. _______ nervst _______ . (You are getting on my nerves.)
  6. Emil und Julia, darf _______ _______ etwas zeigen? (Emil and Julia, may I show you something?)
  7. Die Entscheidung liegt bei _______, Frau Bauer. (The decision is yours, Ms Bauer.)
  8. _______ zeigte _______ Fotos. (He showed us some photographs.)
  9. Weißt _______ , wie _______ heißt? (Do you know what he is called?)
  10. Ich will diese Bücher nicht lesen. _______ behalten _______. (I don’t want to read these books. You keep them.)

Personalpronomen und Possessivartikeln

Let’s bring in those possessive pronouns as well.

  1. _______ Verhalten war abweisend. (Her manner was cold.)
  2. _______ ist _______ Aufgabe. (It is her task.)
  3. Frank ist ein Lügner. Es ist klar, dass _______ gelogen hat. Niemand glaubt _______. (Frank is a liar. It is obvious that he lied. Nobody believes him.)
  4. _______ nannte _______ Katze Azrael. (She named her cat Azrael.)
  5. _______ Erfolg hängt davon ab, ob _______ arbeitest oder nicht. (Your success depends on whether you work or not.)
  6. _______ haben _______ Brief erhalten. (We received your letter.)
  7. Buchstabieren _______ bitte _______ Namen. (Please spell your name.)
  8. _______ sind durch _______ Prüfungen gefallen. (They failed their exams.)
  9. Kinder, wo sind _______ Eltern? – _______ Papa ist im Büro. _______ arbeitet gerade. Mama ist in der Küche. (Children, where are your parents? – Our dad is in the office. He is working. Mum is in the kitchen.)
  10. Darf _______ auf _______ Pferd reiten? (May I ride on your horse?)

Answers

Personalpronomen

  1. Wohin gehen wir?
  2. Herr Schmidt ist der Mörder. Er hat sie getötet.
  3. Er hilft ihr. (Note: The verb “helfen” requires the dative.)
  4. Heute ist das Wetter schlecht. Es regnet gerade.
  5. Du nervst mich.
  6. Emil und Julia, darf ich euch etwas zeigen?
  7. Die Entscheidung liegt bei Ihnen, Frau Bauer.
  8. Er zeigte uns Fotos.
  9. Weißt du, wie er heißt?
  10. Ich will diese Bücher nicht lesen. Sie behalten sie.

Personalpronomen und Possessivartikeln

  1. Ihr Verhalten war abweisend.
  2. Es ist ihre Aufgabe.
  3. Frank ist ein Lügner. Es ist klar, dass er gelogen hat. Niemand glaubte ihm.
  4. Sie nannte ihre Katze Azrael.
  5. Dein Erfolg hängt davon ab, ob du arbeitest oder nicht.
  6. Wir haben deinen/euren/Ihren Brief erhalten.
  7. Buchstabieren Sie bitte Ihren Namen.
  8. Sie sind durch ihre Prüfungen gefallen.
  9. Kinder, wo sind eure Eltern? – Unser Papa ist im Büro. Er arbeitet gerade. Mama ist in der Küche.
  10. Darf ich auf deinem Pferd reiten?

How was that? How many did you get correct?

Were there any questions in particular that you found more difficult?