When you hear of pronouns, the first thing that should come to your mind is that it is a replacement of something (a noun). Having this as first thought helps one to seek out the noun that is being replaced. This is important particularly for German language learners because German nouns are of four genders and as a result, there are several pronouns which must be correctly used when replacing a noun, while paying critical attention to it’s grammatical case. Find out more below.
|Content in this post|
|1. Definition of pronouns|
2. Different categories of pronouns with examples
3. How to the different pronouns in a German sentence
4. How to formulate pronouns with prepositions
5. How to ask and respond to questions that involve a prepositional pronoun
Pronouns are words that are used to replace nouns in a sentence. Unlike English, deutsch pronouns are quite many and have seven main categories as listed below.
- Personal Pronouns
- Possessive Pronouns
- Reflexive Pronouns
- Relative Pronouns
- Demonstrative Pronouns
- Interrogative Pronouns
- Indefinite Pronouns
- Prepositional Pronouns
There are four sub-categories of personal pronouns;
- Nominativ/ subject pronouns
- Akkusativ/ direct object pronouns
- Dativ/ indirect object pronouns
- Genitiv/ possessive pronouns
Nominative Pronouns are the pronouns that replace Nominativ nouns. They are also called subject pronouns. The pronouns are;
|Nominativ pronoun||English translation||Description|
|ich||I||First person singular|
|du||you||Second person informal singular|
|Third person singular|
|wir||we||First person plural|
|ihr||you (guys)||Second person informal plural|
|sie||they||Third person plural|
|Sie||You||Second person formal singular & plural|
**Note that “er/sie/es” and “sie” are the pronouns for the four genders in German. Where;
- er is the pronoun for all masculine nouns.
- sie (she) is the pronoun for all feminine nouns.
- es is the pronoun for all neuter nouns.
- sie (they) is the pronoun for all plural nouns.
- He is coming.—— er kommt.
- They are playing.—— sie spielen.
- You are waiting.—— du wartest.
Akkusativ Pronouns are those that replace all akkusative nouns. They are equally called object pronouns
|Akkusativ pronouns||English translation|
you (formal sing. & pl.)
- Mary is calling you (on telephone).—— Maria ruft dich an.
- We can do it.—— wir schaffen es./ wir können es machen./
wir können es schaffen
- I am not working today because my dog is sick. unfortunately I have to look after it.—— ich arbeite heute nicht, weil mein Hund krank ist. Leider muss ich auf ihn aufpassen.
Dativ Pronouns are used to replace the Dativ nouns as well. Recall that Dativ always take the preposition “to” or “for” in English. Hence, their pronouns are also translated so as shown below.
|Dative pronouns||English translation|
|mir||me/ for me/ to me|
|dir||you/ for you/ to you|
|him/ for him/ to him|
her/ for her/ to her
it/ for it/ to it
|uns||us/ for us/ to us|
|euch||you/ for you/ to you|
|them/ for them/ to them|
you/ for you/ to you
- I am buying the bag for her.—— ich kaufe ihr die Tasche.
- Sarah is baking the cake for them.—— Sara bäckt ihnen den Kuchen.
- He is taking the water to you.—— er nimmt dir das Wasser.
- She will not help you.—— sie wird dir nicht helfen.
Genitiv Pronouns are used to show possession of something. They are;
|Genitiv pronouns||English translation|
you (formal sing. & pl.)
- We never forget our grandpa, that is why we often commemorate him.—— wir vergessen nie unsere Opa, deshalb gedanken wir oft seiner.
- I sold the shoes because of you.—— wegen deiner/dir habe ich die Schuhe verkauft.
These are pronouns that expressively show what belongs to someone. They somewhat have roots that are similar to possessive articles and also have declensions. The choice of declension or suffix is dependent on;
- The type of noun it is replacing
- The grammatical case
- The bag is mine.—— die Tasche ist meine.
- The skirt is hers.—— der Rock ist ihrer.
- I have found his pen. Have you found yours?—— ich habe seinen Kugelschreiber. Hast du deinen gefunden?
These are pronouns that accompany reflexive verbs. In German, these pronouns mostly used when the verb has to do with what someone is doing to themselves. Reflexive pronouns in English are not always used to accompany verbs. That is to say the sentence/ expression can still be made without using them.
The reflexive pronouns in German are of two categories;
Akkusativ reflexive pronouns are used when the only object in the sentence is the same as the subject. For instance: “I am looking at myself”. Here I and myself referred to the same person with “myself” as the only object”. But when the sentence has another direct object that is different from the subject then the reflexive pronoun becomes Dativ. This mostly occurs when the verb is a known reflexive verb, otherwise there is absolutely no need for a Dativ reflexive pronoun.
For instance; “I am washing my hand myself”. Here “myself” and “I” refer to the same person where ”myself” is one object and “my hand“ is another direct object. What this means is that the reflexive pronoun in such sentences becomes a Dativ.
**Note that English does not necessarily need the reflexive pronouns before it makes sense. Hence, “I am washing my hand myself” can also be used as “I am wash my hand”. Study the pronouns below.
- Ich sehe mich an.—— i am looking at myself.
- Du wäschst dir deine Hände.—— you are washing your hands (yourself)
- Er zieht sich an.—— he is dressing (himself) up.
These are pronouns that replaces the subject or object of the main clause in a relative clause.
A relative clause is a partial sentence that depends on another sentence known as the main sentence or clause in other to make a perfect meaning. The relative pronouns in German are the various definite articles of the different grammatical cases with slight modification with the Genitiv and Dativ
Relative pronouns are of several types depending on:
- The grammatical case
- The gender of the noun
- The relative pronoun in the relative clause can either be the subject, the direct object, the indirect object or even the possessor.
- The relative pronoun for inanimate indefinite pronouns such nichts is “was”.
- When there is a subject already in the relative clause, the relative pronoun automatically becomes that of an object (Akkusativ or Dativ depending on the situation).
- The conjugated verb using the er/sie/es column, should be placed at the end of the relative clause.
- The relative clause is constructed like a subordinate clause in which the conjugated verb goes to the end of the sentence.
- The main clause must be punctuated with a comma before the relative clause is written.
- In German sentences, the main clause can be split in two: one part at the beginning and the other at the end while the relative clause stays in the middle e.g “der Mann, der den Kugelschreiber gekauft hat, ist weg” or “der Mann ist weg, der den Kugelschreiber gekauft hat.
- When the main clause is split in two, the second part of the main clause must begin with the verb after a “comma”: “die Frau, die die Tasche gekauft hat, kommt zurück”.
- The relative clause is also a sentence of its own, hence every grammatical rules I.e SVO should be applied.
- In English sentences, the relative pronoun can sometimes be omitted but must regardless be written in German sentences. E.g either “i want back the book I gave you” or “I want back the book that I gave you” —— ich will das Buch zurück, das ich dir gegeben habe.
- The man who bought the apples is coming back.—— der Mann,der die Äpfel gekauft hat, kommt zurück.
- The table which was bought yesterday is bad.—— der Tisch, der gestern gekauft hat, ist kaputt.
- We will visit the man who had an accident.—— wir werden den Mann besuchen, der einen Unfall hatte.
- I don’t want the gift that you gave me.—— ich will das Geschenk nicht, das du mir geschenkt hast.
- Max has called the man who we met in the office.—— Max hat den Mann angerufen, den wir im Büro getroffen haben.
- I saw the man whom we helped yesterday.—— ich habe den Mann gesehen, dem wir gestern geholfen haben.
- The children we bought the gowns for are no more there.—— die Kinder, denen wir die Kleider gekauft haben, sind nicht mehr da.
- I am talking to the man whose wife had/got a baby last week.—— ich spreche mit dem Mann, dessen Frau letzte Woche ein Baby bekommen hat.
- Where is the woman whose house is on fire?—— wo ist die Frau, deren Haus brennt?
Indefinite inanimate relative pronoun
- I give you everything that you need.—— ich gebe dir alles, was du brauchst.
- Please don’t buy any we don’t need.—— Kauf bitte nichts, was wir nicht brauchen.
These pronouns otherwise known as indicative pronouns, are used to point out something or someone that has once been mentioned in a sentence or statement. They play similar roles like the personal gender pronouns (er/sie/es and sie) but differ in that they lay more emphasis on what they are being used for.
In English, there are four examples of demonstrative pronouns which are divided into two groups just like in German; singular and plural. The examples are; “this”, “that”, “these”, “those”. “This” and “that” are used to indicate singular nouns while “these” and “those” are used to indicate plural.
- The definite articles here, when used as a demonstrative pronoun does not mean “the” but instead “this/that one”.
- All demonstrative pronouns are declined like the definite articles to the different grammatical cases.
The demonstrative pronouns in German always have endings and are declined like the definite articles in the various grammatical cases except “selbst” and “selber”. They may or may not stand before a noun. When they come before a noun, they are simply translated as “this”, “that”, “these”, “those” but when they are used alone, “one” is often added to it’s meaning. Hence, it becomes “this/that one” etc.
|Demonstrative pronouns||English translation|
|the same (one)|
|the one who/that|
*Those with (-) have various ending depending on their the grammatical case and/or gender of the nouns in front of them.
Also, “dies-„ which is the German corresponding indicative pronoun for “this” and “these” in English are used to indicate nouns that are within a very close range to the speaker while “jen-” which corresponds to “that” and “those” are used for nouns that are a bit far away.
- This Bag is beautiful.—— diese Tasche ist schön.
- These bags are beautiful.—— diese Taschen sind schön.
- I want that skirt.—— ich will jenen Rock.
- I want those skirts—— ich will jene Röcke.
These are pronouns that are used to ask questions and are often called W-Fragewörter. When used, they certainly require some level of explanation as a response. There are individual pronuns- at least one for each- for the four grammatical cases. Examples are;
|Ingterrogative pronouns||English translation|
- What is wrong with you?—— was ist mit dir los? (Nom.)
- What am i doing now?—— was mache ich jetzt? (Akk.)
- Who is calling you?—— wer ruft dich an? (Nom.)
- Who are you calling?—— wen rufst du an? (Akk.)
- Who are you giving the money to?—— wem gibst du das Geld? (Dat.)
- Whose child is that?—— wessen Kind ist das? (Gen.)
These are pronouns that do not refer to a particular person or thing. They describe a thing by being non specific. Just like every other pronoun except the various personal pronouns, these pronouns belong to the third person and when they are the subject off sentence, the verb must be conjugated to them in the third person (er/sie/es) format. The indefinite pronouns are;
|Indefinite pronouns||English translation|
|niemand-||no one/ nobody|
|jed-||everyone/ each one (sing.)|
|kein-||none/ no one|
- Those with (-) have various ending depending on their the grammatical case and/or gender of the nouns in front of them.
- Irgend- can sometimes be added to jemand and others to show more emphasis. e.g irgendjemand, irgendetwas/irgendwas.
- Some indefinite pronouns are declined to the various grammatical cases based on the assumed noun that the replace. e.g alle, jeder, aller, keiner etc.
- Jed- is used as singular while all- is plural.
|1. Hast du etwas gekocht?—— did you cook something?|
2. Julia hat nichts gesagt.—— Juliet did not say anything.
3. Jemand hat mein Handy gestohlen.—— someone has stolen my Cellphone.
4. Wartest du auf jemanden?—— are you waiting for someone?
5. Ich habe jemandem mein Handy gegeben.—— I have given my phone to someone.
6. Jeder soll auf sich kümmern.—— each one should cater to himself.
7. Alle sollen auf sich aufpassen.—— everyone should take care each other.
This group of pronouns are formed with prepositions. They are often used in a relative sentence or sentences with “infinitive with zu” as well as alone. Most often, they are used in sentences or questions that involve verbs with preposition. To form prepositional pronouns, da or dar is attached to the preposition. Da is used when the preposition begins with a consonant but when it begins with a vowel, dar is used. For example; darüber, davon, daran, damit etc.
When prepositional pronouns are used as object in a response to a question with preposition, the translation of the pronoun in English becomes “it” plus the meaning of the preposition. For instance damit would be translated in English as “with it”. Note that the translation in English of the prepositional pronoun is not always literal. What this means is that “damit” may not always be translated as “with it “. Rather, the translation of a prepositional pronoun is dependent on the meaning of the verb + preposition (prepositional phrase) that it might have been coined from. See illustration below…
|Verb + Preposition||Possible Question||Possible Response|
|an wen denkt ihr?|
(who are you guys thinking of)
woran denkt euch?
(what are you guys thinking of?)
|wir denken an unseren Vater.|
(we are thinking of our father)
wir denken darauf, das Haus aufzuräumen.
(we are think of cleaning up the house)*
|sich freuen auf|
(look forward to)
|worauf freuest du dich?|
(What do you look forward to?)
|Ich freue mich darauf, dich zu sehen.|
(I look forward to seeing you)*
|wovon ist das abhängig?|
(What is that dependent on)
|Das ist abhängig davon.|
(That is dependent on it)
|seid ihr dafür?|
(are you guys for it?)
|Nein, wir sind nicht dafür.|
(No, we are not for it)
*Prepositional pronouns are not literally translated in English when they are used in a sentences with “infinitive with zu”.