Pronouns in German Made Easy

There are so many different pronouns in German, well, in any language to be honest. The problem is knowing when to use which. To further complicate things, there are different forms of each pronoun in the different cases in German.

Now you might be even more afraid of German pronouns than before. That is if you were not in the first place. And the thing is, most people learning German face the terrors of pronouns at some point or another. I did too. Yet, there is no reason to be scared or even confused. In this post, I will show you that these words are not nearly as scary as we make them out to be.

I guess before I continue I have to tell you what a pronoun is? Pronouns are words that stand in the place of nouns.

The next question is: what are the different pronouns that there are?

Personal Pronouns
Demonstrative Pronouns
Interrogative Pronouns
Relative Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
Reflexive Pronouns

Now, let us look at each of these pronouns in more detail.

Personal Pronouns

This type of pronoun stands in the place of a person, object, animal, idea, or anything similar. We most often use them when we do not want to repeat, for example, a person’s name over and over. Look at this example where I use the personal pronoun (the word in bold) in the accusative form:

Kennst du Sarah? Sie ist schlau.

Do you know Sarah? She is smart.

In the above sentence “sie” is used to refrain from using the proper noun “Sarah” excessively.

To help you, here is a table with all the German personal pronouns in all of their forms. In it you will see that German personal pronouns are used in the same way that English ones do. The only difference, however, is that in English there is no change in the personal pronoun in the “dative case”.

NominativeAccusativeDative
ich (I)mich (me) mir (me)
du (you, informal singular)dich (you, informal singular)dir (you, informal singular)
er (he)ihn (him)ihm (him)
sie (she)sie (her)ihr (her)
es (it)es (it)ihm (it)
wir (we)uns (us)uns (us)
ihr (you, informal plural)euch (you, informal plural)euch (you, informal plural)
sie (they)sie (them)ihnen (them)
Sie (you, formal singular or plural)Sie (you, formal singular or plural)Ihnen (you, formal singular or plural)

Here is an example of how personal pronouns are used in the accusative case (the personal pronoun will be in bold):

Hänsl seht dich.

Hänsl sees you.

If we were to use a personal pronoun in the dative case, it would look like this:

Gretl fährt mit ihr.

Gretl is driving with her.

Note that personal pronouns are in some cases also subject pronouns as they tell us who is carrying out the action that the sentence describes.

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns work a bit differently than the others. They help to give information about a noun or pronoun that was used earlier in the sentence in the main clause, by referring to them. The English versions of them are “which”, “that”, “whose”, “whom”, and “who”. They are most often used at the start of a relative clause.

Sidenote, if you do not know, a main clause is a sentence that can stand on its own and still make sense. A relative clause is a part of a sentence that cannot stand on its own.

Three things that you have to remember when working with relative pronouns are:

  1. You can never leave it out like you can in English
  2. The conjugated verb in the relative clause is pushed to the end of the clause
  3. You should alwyas put a comma between the main and relative clauses

Here is the table with the declined forms of the relative pronouns in German:

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativederdiedasdie
Accusativedendiedasdie
Dativedemderdemdenen
Genitivedessenderendessenderen

Here are a few example sentences containing them (the relative pronouns is in bold):

Ich kenne das Buch, das du meinst.

I know that book (that) you are speaking of.

Das ist die Frau, deren Hund schnell ist.

That is the woman whose dog is fast.

Note that the case and gender of the subject or object that is being described determine which form of the pronoun will be used.

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns replace nouns, but in some cases also pronouns. They then identify or emphasize the noun or pronouns that they replace. The English equivalent of the German demonstrative pronouns below is “this”, “that”, “those” or “these”. Another important thing to note is that demonstrative pronouns in the nominative case emphasize the subject and when they are in the accusative case, the object.

German Demonstrative Pronouns “die”, “der” and “das”

Here is the table for the “die, der, das” demonstrative pronouns in German (it is the same as the one for relative pronouns):

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativederdiedasdie
Accusativedendiedasdie
Dativedemderdemdenen
Genitivedessenderendessenderen

Examples of how to use these include (the demonstrative pronoun will be in bold):

Wie findest du den grünen Apfel? Den finde ich sehr lecker.

What do you think of the green apple? I think it is very tasy.

Sind die Menchen aggressiv? Ja, die sind aggressiv.

Are the people aggressive? Yes, they’re aggressive.

Note that in German the demonstrative pronoun is at the start of the sentence or phrase.

German Demonstrative Pronouns “dieser” and “jener”

Two other demonstrative pronouns in German are “dieser” and “jener”. “Dieser” is similar to “this” in English and “jener” to “that” or “those”.

The declension of these pronouns are similar and is as follows:

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativedieser / jenerdiese / jenedieses / jenesdiese / jene
Accusativediesen / jenendiese / jenedieses / jenesdiese / jene
Dativediesem / jenemdieser / jenerdiesem / jenemdiesen / jenen
Genitivedieses / jenesdieser / jenerdieses / jenesdieser / jener

Here are a few examples of how to use them:

Dieses Buch habe ich schon gelesen.

I have already read this book.

Jener Tisch ist weiß.

That table is white.

Magst du diesen oder jenen Käse?

Do you like this or that cheese?

German Demonstrative Pronouns “derjenige”

Lastly, there is “derjenige”, which, translates to “the one” in English. Here is a table with its declension:

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativederjenigediejenigedasjenigediejenigen
Accusativedenjenigendiejenigendasjenigendiejenigen
Dativedemjenigenderjenigendemjenigendenjenigen
Genitivedesjenigenderjenigendesjenigenderjenigen

Ich habe denjenigen umarmt, den die roten Haare hat.

I have hugged the one with the red hair.

In the above sentence, the word “den” is a relative pronoun as it gives us information on “the one that was hugged”.

Interrogative Pronouns

These are the pronouns that are used to ask questions with. Most people simply refer to them as question words: “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “how”, “why” and “which”.

Two of these do not change, like, ever. Which, is a relief to me. They are:

how – wie

what – was

They can be paired with other words such as “viele” (“many” or “much”), “lange” (“long”), “oft” (“often”), “weit” (“far”) or “für” (“for”, however, when paired with “was” it means “what kind of”). A few examples are:

Wie oft rennst du?

How often do you run?

Was für ein Buch liest du gern?

What kind of book do you like to read?

German Interrogative Pronouns that Change

Next up are the ones that change based either on case or on meaning. Firstly, we’ll have a look at the ones that change due to slight differences in meaning.

“wo”, “wohin” and “woher”

DeutschEnglish
wowhere
wohinwhere … to
woherwhere … from

In a sentence they would look like this:

Wo bleibst du?

Where do you live?

Wohin gehst du?

Where are you going (to)?

Woher kommst du?

Where are you coming from?

“wann” and “wenn”

These two both mean “when”, but according to yourdailygerman.com, if you can substitute it with “at what time”, you should use “wann“. Like this:

Wann gehst du zu hause?

When (at what time) are you going home?

If, however, we were to answer with:

Ich gehe zu hause wenn ich müde bin.

I’ll go home when I am tired.

In the above sentence saying “I’ll go home at what time I am tired” would simply be wrong as it doesn’t make sense.

“warum”, “wieso”, “weshalb” and “weswegen”

These four all mean why, but the difference is very subtle and also controversial. The best answer that I could get in terms of the difference is from a native speaker Sandra Rösner. She said that based on her feeling of the German language “warum” and “wieso” are more open and innocent. Meaning that when using these you indicate that you do not know if there is a reason at all. On the other hand, Sandra says that by using “weshalb” or “weswegen” you imply that you know there to be a reason.

“wer”, “wen”, “wem” and “wessen”

All four of these interrogative pronouns mean who (or whom in some instances of the accusative case or whose in the genitive case), but the one that should be used in a particular scenario is based on the case in which is. Have a look at the table below:

CaseForm of “who”
Nominativewer
Accusativewen
Dativewem
Genitivewessen

However, it can be tricky to know in which case the word is. The best way for me to determine that is to think of the answer to the question. The case in which the object or subject that you are inquiring about is will be the case that you will be using for the interrogative pronoun. Examples of these include:

Wer ist dein Freund?

Who is your friend?

The answer to this question could be:

Mein Freund ist den Lehrer.

My friend is the teacher.

“My friend” or “mein Freund” is in the nominative case and, thus, you should use “wer“.

An example of its usage in the accusative case would be:

Wen hast du gekusst?

Who have you kissed?

One could answer this question with:

Ich habe meinen Freundin gekusst.

I have kissed my girlfriend.

“My girlfriend” or “meinen Freundin” is in the accusative case and consequently, you should use “wen” when asking the question.

In the dative case the question would look as follows:

Wem gebst du das Buch?

To whom are you giving the book?

A possible answer to this question would be:

Ich gebe das Buch meiner Schwester.

I give the book to my sister.

In this sentence, “my sister” or in German, “meiner Schwester” is in the dative case, so, you should use “wem“.

Lastly, there is the genitive case:

Wessen Buch ist das?

Whose book is that?

Basically, the genitive case shows possession, so, if you were to use “whose” in English, “wessen“, would be the correct German word.

“welcher”, “welche” and “welches”

These pronouns’ changes are the same as the changes that demonstrative pronouns undergo. Here is a table with these changes in case you do not understand what I mean:

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativewelcherwelchewelcheswelche
Accusativewelchenwelchewelcheswelche
Dativewelchemwelcherwelchemwelchen
Genitivewelcheswelcherwelcheswelcher

Here are some examples of how to use these German interrogative pronouns:

Welches Buch ist das?

Which book is that?

Mit welchem Auto soll ich fahren?

With which car should I drive?

Possessive Pronouns

Technically these are actually adjectives and they are also treated as such. However, someone somewhere at some point in the past decided that they are pronouns too. So, what can we do? Anyhow, they are the words that tell us who or what possesses the object or person at hand. Here is a table with all the possessive pronouns in German:

DeutschEnglish
meinmy
deinyour (informal, singular)
Ihryour (formal, singular)
seinhis or its
ihrhers
unserour
eueryour (informal, plural)
Ihryour (formal, plural)
ihrtheir

Like most things in German these words, however, changes based on case and gender of the noun that they indicate to be possessed. Their endings work as follows:

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominative-e-e
Accusative-en-e-e
Dative-em-er-em-en
Genitive-es-er-es-er

Now, all you have to do is take the base form of the word in the first table and determine which ending you should use. For example, if I were to say: “That is my book”. I would take the German for my, which is “mein“. Then I would determine which ending to use by looking at the case and gender of “book”. The gender of it is neuter and the case in which it appears is nominative, so, there is no ending to add:

Das ist mein Buch.

That is my book.

We can also take the same sentence, but change the object to a masculine word. Let’s use “dog”, which, is “Hund” in German. As the sentence is basically the same, “Hund” will also be in the nominative case as “Buch” was earlier. Thus, the ending that is applicable is “-en” and the sentence would look as follows:

Das ist meinen Hund.

That is my dog.

Reflexive Pronouns

This type of pronoun refers to the subject of the sentence. Basically, they reflect back on it. Okay firstly, here is a table with the changes that these pronouns undergo based case. Note that reflexive pronouns can only be in the accusative or dative cases, but I will put the nominative personal pronouns in the first column for reference:

Personal Pronouns in the Nominative CaseAccusativeDative
ich (I)mich (myself) mir (myself)
du (you, informal singular)dich (yourself)dir (yourself)
er (he)sich (himself)sich (himself)
sie (she)sich (herself)sich (herself)
es (it)sich (itself)sich (itself)
wir (we)uns (ourselves)uns (ourselves)
ihr (you, informal plural)euch (yourselves)euch (yourselves)
sie (they)sich (themselves)sich (themselves)
Sie (you, formal singular or plural)sich (yourself or yourselves)Ihnen (yourself or yourselves)

You might notice that this table looks very similar to the one with the personal pronouns. That really helps and also note that the ones that change all change to “sich“.

A few things that you need to know about reflexive pronouns:

  1. When used in a statement, a reflexive pronoun directly follows the conjugated verb
  2. In a question, the reflexive verb is used after the pronoun it reflects back to
  3. If used in conjuntion with a separable-prefix verb in the present tense, the prefix is put at the end of the sentence
  4. They are used with reflexive verbs
  5. Sometimes reflexive verbs are paired with prepositions, which indicate case
  6. Knowing in which case the pronoun should be can be determined by asking one of the following two questions (other than if a preposition determines it for you):
    1. Accusative case: if the information in the sentence answers the question “who is doing what”
    2. Dative case: if the information in the sentence answers the question “who is doing what to what or whom”

Here are some examples:

Ich fühle mich viel schlechter.

I feel much worse.

In the above example, “I” feels worse, meaning that “I” is doing (if you can actually say that feeling worse is doing something) the action, and what is being done is “feeling worse”. Thus, the question “who is doing what” can be answered.

Ich sehe mir einen Film an.

I am watching a movie.

In this sentence, we can ask: “who is doing what to whom”. “I” is doing “watching” to (well actually at) a movie. Also, in this sentence, I used the separable-prefix verb “ansehen“. You can now see that the prefix “an-” is put at the end of the sentence and the rest of the verb “-sehen” is conjugated.

Ich interessiere mich für Geschichte.

I am interested in History.

Für” is an accusative preposition and, thus, the reflexive pronoun (“mich“) should also be in the accusative case.

Conclusion: Pronouns in German

German pronouns needn’t be complex. I hope that this post helped you a bit in this regard. Do you have any other tips that you have used while learning German that made learning pronouns easier?

xoxo,
Charlé

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