German pronouns

German pronouns

German words that function as pronouns

German pronouns are German words that function as pronouns. As with pronouns in other languages, they are frequently employed as the subject or object of a clause, acting as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases, but are also used in relative clauses to relate the main clause to a subordinate one.

Classification and usage

Germanic pronouns are divided into several groups;

With few exceptions, German pronouns must always have the same gender, same number, and same case as their antecedents.

In German, a pronoun may have a certain position in the sentence under special circumstances. First and second person pronouns usually do not, and they can be used anywhere in the sentence—except in certain poetical or informal contexts.

Das im Schrank (the thing in the cupboard)
Das auf dem Tisch (the thing on the table)

There are also genitive direct objects. But the genitive object, other than accusative or dative objects, is somewhat outdated:

OLD: Ich erinnere mich ihrer (MODERN: Ich erinnere mich an sie.) (I remember her.)
OLD: Ich erinnere mich seiner (MODERN: Ich erinnere mich an ihn.)
OLD: Ich entsinne mich ihrer (MODERN: Ich erinnere mich an sie.)

In Modern German, erinnern rather takes the prepositional phrase with the preposition an. However, some verbs cannot be constructed otherwise, and thus genitive objects remain common language to some degree. This is true for entsinnen (which is archaic in itself), but also for sentences such as:

OLD AND MODERN: Lasst uns der Opfer gedenken. (Let us commemorate the victims.)
OLD AND MODERN: Ich klage Herrn Max Mustermann des Mordes an. (I accuse Mr. John Doe of murder.)

The two noun and pronoun emphasizers selber and selbst have slightly different meanings than if used with nominal phrases. They normally emphasize the pronoun, but if they are applied to a reflexive pronoun (in the objective case), they emphasize its reflexive meaning.

Personal pronouns

More information Singular, Plural ...

The verbs following the formal form of "you"—"Sie"—are conjugated identically as in the third-person plurals. For example, "Sie sprechen Deutsch." This means either "You speak German" or "They speak German", and it is completely up to the context to determine which one it is. "Sie spricht Deutsch." is third person female; this is shown by the change of "en" to "t" in the action (i.e., "sprechen" vs. "spricht"), not context.

"Wann ist dein Geburtstag?" – "Er ist morgen." (When is your birthday?It is tomorrow. Overliterally: He is tomorrow.)
"Ich rufe den Hund" – "Ich rufe ihn." (I am calling the dogI am calling it. Overliterally: I am calling him.)

The first of these is an example of gender-based pronoun usage that may not be intuitive to an English speaker because in English an inanimate object is almost always referenced by the pronoun "it." In German, nouns always have a relevant gender to consider. In the above examples, both birthday and dog are masculine, so "it" becomes "er" in the nominative case and "ihn" in accusative.

Genitive personal pronouns (not to be confused with other instances of the genitive case such as "des"—see below) are sometimes explained as indicating possession; however, this is incorrect and redundant, as the definition of a possessive pronoun (mein) is already to indicate possession. For example, my book translates to "mein Buch", or "das Buch von mir" (the latter an alternate formulation translated literally as the book from/of me), and never "das Buch meiner".

The genitive personal pronouns in the table above find very seldom use in modern German and are nearly always made obsolete by modern formulations. There is a well-known German saying "Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod" (The dative case is the death of the genitive case), referring to the frequent colloquial replacement of traditionally genitive formulations with dative formulations (e.g. "statt mir" instead of "statt meiner"). Genitive personal pronouns may be used for the genitive object ("gedenke meiner": commemorate me). Archaically, the pronoun form without -er can be used, e.g. Vergissmeinnicht (instead of: "vergiss meiner nicht" or—vergessen takes the accusative as well—"vergiss mich nicht" in more modern form). Another use is after prepositions requiring the genitive case, e.g. "seitens meiner" ("on my part", more typically "meinerseits").

Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns are formed by adding endings to the genitive case of the personal pronoun, eventually stripping it of its genitive ending. The endings are identical to those of the indefinite article ein.

More information Uninflected forms, m., n. sg. ...
More information Example: mein (my), Masculine ...

Note: When unser and euer have a suffix, the -er gets reduced to -r; e.g. unsrem, eurem.

Pronouns derived from articles

To replace a nominal by a pronoun that is derived from an article, the declined form corresponding to the gender, case, and number of the nominal phrase is used.

Although the pronoun form and the article form are the same in most cases, there are sometimes differences.

The German definite article:

More information Masculine, Neuter ...

The German indicative pronouns derived from the definite articles:

More information Masculine, Neuter ...

Derer is to be used only for remarking an antecedent it follows.

Reflexive pronouns

There are also reflexive pronouns for the dative case and the accusative case (reflexive pronouns for the genitive case are possessive pronouns with a "selbst" following after them). In the first and second person, they are the same as the normal pronouns, but they only become visible in the third person singular and plural. The third person reflexive pronoun for both plural and singular is: "sich":

"Er liebt sich". (He loves himself.)
"Sie verstecken sich". (They hide themselves.)

Reflexive pronouns can be used not only for personal pronouns:

"Sie hat sich ein Bild gekauft." (She bought herself a picture.)
"Seiner ist schon kaputt." (His is already broken.)

Relative clause

A pronoun contains, or rather, has a relative clause, if there is ever a further meaning to express behind the pronoun, that is to say, some more clarification necessary. The relative pronouns are as follows:

More information Masculine, Neuter ...

Instead, welcher (-e, -es) may be used, which is seen to be more formal, and only common in interdependent multi-relative clauses, or as a mnemonic to German pupils to learn to distinguish das from dass (it is the first of these if one can say dieses, jenes or welches instead). The relative pronoun is never omitted in German. On the other hand, in English, the phrase

The young woman I invited for coffee yesterday is my cousin's fiancée.

completely omits the use of a relative pronoun. (The use of the relative pronouns "who" or "that" is optional in sentences like these.) To state such a thing in German, one would say

Die junge Frau, die ich gestern zum Kaffee eingeladen habe, ist die Verlobte meines Cousins.

The conjugated verb is placed at the end of German relative clauses. This was the preferable use in Latin sentences as well as in Old High German even for main clauses, and remains intact for subclauses, whereas in main clauses the verb takes the second place. (Exceptions: jokes begin with the verb: "Treffen sich zwei Freunde. Kommt einer nicht." which might be translated in a way such as this: Meeting two friends. Coming one fails to do. In family event lyrics, the old custom may be revived for the sake of forced rhyme, e.g. "Mein Onkel ist der beste Mann / und ich dies auch begründen kann." My uncle is right best a man / a thing that really prove I can.)

Likewise, an English participle such as

The man coming round the corner is a thief.

is best translated to a relative clause, e.g.

Der Mann, der gerade um die Ecke kommt, ist ein Dieb.

However, it might be translated literally which would result in what some call a very German sentence, e.g.

Der gerade um die Ecke kommende Mann ist ein Dieb.

(See relative clauses).

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are used to refer to something already defined.

jener, -e, -es (that, the former)
dieser, -e, -es (this, the latter) (or "dies" as abbreviation for dieses)
ersterer, -e, -es (the former)
letzterer, -e, -es (the latter)

all decline

derjenige, diejenige, dasjenige (the one)

Declined like [def. art] + [jenig-] + weak adj. ending
Used to identify a noun to be further identified in a relative clause.

derselbe, dieselbe, dasselbe (the same)

Declined like [def. art] + [selb-] + weak adj. ending
Used to indicate an identity stronger than der gleiche ("the equal") would. However, the derselbe / der gleiche distinction is not present in all varieties of German.

They follow the format

More information Masculine, Neuter ...

Interrogative pronouns

In German, there are the interrogative pronouns. Most of them have a direct English equivalent:

"Wer?" Who?

"Was?" What?

"Welch" (which) is declined by gender and case.[1]


  1. "German for English Speakers - Interrogative Pronouns". Retrieved 2014-07-15.

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