Master German Pronouns
German grammar seems intimidating without the right resources. Luckily, this guide will let you in on a little secret to German grammar: how to master German pronouns. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. And, who knows? Maybe it will even be fun. Here are all the pronouns you need to know to become fluent in German.
What Is a Pronoun?
Pronouns are a big part of everyday speech. In English, you use them in almost every sentence. Pronouns are the words you use to replace a noun in a sentence. In English, these are words like “you”, “him”, or “who”. But, there are a lot of categories of pronouns, fulfilling different roles in a sentence. And they all exist in German. Here are all the categories you need to know to speak German fluently.
Summary of German Pronouns:
- Interrogative (question words)
This seems like a lot. But, I promise you, it’s not that hard to learn or distinguish. These all have their English equivalents, so as long as you understand the grammar behind it, you can use German pronouns comfortably.
German Personal Pronouns
You use personal pronouns every day. These are the words you use to replace the name of a person. In English, personal subject pronouns are “I”, “you”, “he”, “she”, “it”, “we”, “you”, and “they”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Actually there are three different kinds of personal pronouns, both in English and German: subject, direct object, and indirect object pronouns. You use subject when the person who’s name you’re replacing is completing the action.
- She ate an apple. (Sie hat einen Apfel gegessen.)
“She” is the subject pronoun in this sentence.
- She ate it. (Sie hat es gegessen.)
“It” is the direct object pronoun because the action of the sentence directly affected it. So, what’s the difference between direct objects and indirect objects? You have to take a look at the action. If the action (the verb) directly affects the object, it’s a direct object, and you need a direct object pronoun to replace it. Whereas if the verb doesn’t directly affect the object, it’s indirect. Here’s an example of this:
- I gave her an apple. (Ich habe ihr einen Apfel gegeben)
“I” is the subject pronoun, “gave” is the verb, “her” is the indirect object pronoun, and “an apple” is the direct object pronouns. The act of giving was only directly tied to the object of the apple.
Now, these three kinds of personal pronouns exist in German too. But, instead of calling it subject, direct object, and indirect object, we identify them by cases. German uses cases to show what function a word fulfills in a sentence. So, the personal pronouns coincide with the following cases:
- Nominative: subject pronoun
- Accusative: direct object pronoun
- Dative: indirect object pronoun
German Personal Pronouns Chart
This chart includes all German personal pronouns you need to know in all the cases.
mir (to) me
du you (inf. sing.)
dir (to) you
er he, it
ihn him, it
ihm (to) him, it
sie she, it
sie her, it
ihr (to) her, it
ihm (to) it
uns (to) us
ihr you (inf. pl.)
euch (to) you
ihnen (to) them
Sie you(formal. sing. & pl.)
Ihnen (to) you
Note that there is no genitive case for these pronouns, as the genitive case demonstrates possession. Possessive pronouns are used for this purpose.
German Reflexive Pronouns
In German grammar, a reflexive pronoun indicates that the person who is realizing the action of the verb is also the recipient of the action. A summary of German reflexive pronouns is provided in the table below:
yourself (inf. sing.)
himself, herself, itself, oneself
yourselves (inf. pl.)
yourself, yourselves (formal)
Demonstrative Pronouns in German
You use demonstrative pronouns to point to something specific. These pronouns can indicate items in space or time, and they can be either singular or plural. In English, these would be words like “this” or “that”.
In German, you use definite articles for the demonstrative pronouns. The four demonstrative pronouns in German are der, die, das, and die. They’re identical to the definite article, except in the genitive and the dative plural.
Interrogative Pronouns in German
Interrogative pronouns are also known as question words. In German they’re sometimes called W-Wörter, since they all start with “W”. In English, there are five interrogative pronouns: who, what, where, when, why, how. In German, all these concepts are similar, but there are small differences to how you say them.
Let’s start with the most basic German interrogative pronouns. These all have direct counterparts in English.
Common Question Words in German
- why – warum
- what – was
- when – wann
- how – wie
Forms of “where” in German
The word for “where” gets a bit more complicated. This is because in German, the form of “where” changes based on the direction in which the action is taking place.
- where – wo
- where from – woher
- where to – wohin
Forms of “who” in German
The German pronoun “who” is the most complex, as it has a number of declensions.
German Relative pronouns
The relative pronouns who, that, which are identical to the demonstrative pronouns der, die, das. Note that unlike in English, the relative pronoun cannot be omitted in German.
German Indefinite Pronouns
This pronouns is not to be confused with an indefinite object pronoun. You use indefinite pronouns in German when you can’t refer to any specific person or thing. In English, these kinds of pronouns would be words like “someone” or “something”.
Just like in English, German indefinite pronouns may refer to the presence or absence of something. In German, einer, eine, eines all refer to someone, or one thing. The pronouns keiner, keine, kein(e)s refer to no one, not any, or not anyone.
Both sets of indefinite pronouns need to be conjugated, just like articles.
Possessive Pronouns in German
Possessive pronouns demonstrate ownership or relationships, and are similar between English and German. The possessive pronouns meiner, deiner, seiner, etc. (mine, yours, his, hers, etc.) are formed by adding the case endings for the definite article to the possessive adjectives:
- Deine Jacke ist sehr schön, meine ist nicht so schön. – Your jacket is very nice; mine isn’t as nice.
- Ihr könnt euer Auto überall parken, mit unserem ist das nicht möglich. – You can park your car everywhere. With ours that’s not possible.
The six basic possessive pronouns in German are:
- mein – my
- dein – your
- sein – his, hers
- unser – our
- euch – your (plural)
- sein – their, your (formal)
But, you need to conjugate these to fit the noun. All the possible endings for German possessive pronouns are in the charts below.
Dependent Possessive Pronouns Chart
You use dependent possessive pronouns in German when you know the noun and it hasn’t been established before. “My”, “your”, “his”, “her”, “our”, “your”, and “their” are the English dependent possessive pronouns. Add the following endings to conjugate German dependent possessive pronouns.
- Example: I’m reading my book. – Ich lese mein Buch.
Independent Possessive Pronouns Chart
With independent possessive pronouns, you don’t need a noun in the sentence. But, you do need to mention it before to make it clear what you’re possessing. In English, independent possessive pronouns are “mine”, “yours”, “his”, “hers”, “ours”, “yours”, and “theirs”. In German, take the base possessive pronouns, and add these endings to conjugate them.
- Example: You’re reading yours. – Du liest deins.
Discover German Pronouns By Using Them
There seems to be a lot of different kinds of pronouns in German. While they do coincide with English pronouns, this is a whole new list of vocabulary. Not to mention all the conjugation you have to keep in mind. Luckily, you don’t actually have to cram all this knowledge. You can discover German pronouns through everyday phrases from OptiLingo.
OptiLingo is an app with a collection of the most useful German phrases. This is exactly how real locals speak. So, if you learn these, you’ll reach fluency in record time. Don’t waste time trying to painfully cram German grammar. Learn German naturally by downloading OptiLingo!