Get 31% Off With The Monster Sale. Ends Soon!
Get 31% Off With The Monster Sale. Ends Soon!
GermanPod101.com Blog
Learn German with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

You And Me Against the World Of German Pronouns

Thumbnail

You already know you need to learn about German pronouns. They’re a small but absolutely indispensable part of learning a new language.

Congratulations – you mostly know them already!

German pronouns are almost the same as the English ones, with just a couple more here and there. You know, plural second person, formal address, all that good stuff like in other European languages.

The only difficult part is, well, the grammar. Each pronoun has several different forms based on what case it’s in. You not only need to know what that means, but you also need to get used to actually making those changes during natural speech.

Since cases are the key to really understanding German pronouns, let’s start with those.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in German Table of Contents
  1. Opening Up The Cases
  2. German Pronouns in the Nominative
  3. Accusative German Pronouns
  4. Dative German Pronouns
  5. Genitive Case
  6. Conclusion

1. Opening Up The Cases

Introducing Yourself

Cases, for all their difficult reputation, are just different forms of words to mark their grammatical function, such as subject or object in the sentence. English shows that only with pronouns: she is the subject form (“she does something”) of an English pronoun, and her is the object (“something happens to her”).

German marks many parts of speech for case, especially pronouns. German has four cases, but that doesn’t mean four pronoun forms – there are overlaps. You’ll see that very quickly.

Traditionally, the German cases are known as Nominative (subject), Accusative (object), Dative (indirect object), and Genitive (possession).

Let’s have a look at an English sentence to illustrate.

         Her brother gave me the book.

Here, “her” is a possessive pronoun. “Brother” is the subject. “Me” is the indirect object. And “the book” is the direct object.

All of these kind of blend together in English, but in German, the parts of the sentence are usually crystal clear.

This, by the way, doesn’t mean German is any better or worse of a language than English for having cases.

It’s simply the way the language developed. Thousands of years ago, every language spoken in Europe had complex cases, but over time, some of them combined and others were lost entirely in different languages. It’s a natural cycle, and in a few more centuries German might lose its cases – or even give them to English!

2. German Pronouns in the Nominative

Woman Looking in Rearview Mirror

“Nominative” is the first German case, used to mark the subject. It’s the basic form of the word, and therefore the simplest to translate directly into English.

Here’s a brief chart of the personal pronouns in English and their counterparts in German, all in the nominative case.

EnglishGerman
Iich
You (informal)du
You (plural)ihr
Wewir
Heer
Shesie
Ites
You (formal)Sie
Theysie

As you can tell, German distinguishes between three different kinds of “you:” Formal, used for talking to strangers older than you or people like bosses or professors; informal, used for friends, relatives, and strangers younger than you, and plural, used when you’re talking to a group of people in an informal setting. When speaking formally to a group, the formal pronoun pulls double duty.

This makes sense from an English perspective too, by the way. A couple of centuries ago, “you” was both the plural and the formal in English, and “thou” was the informal singular. German still makes that  distinction – and even uses ihr to refer to one person in particularly formal or traditional settings, such as an apprentice to their master.

Also take note of capitalization! Only the formal Sie is always capitalized in German, though du is sometimes capitalized in advertisements or in magazines for young people. It can seem a little weird for English speaker to keep ich in lowercase, though naturally that’s balanced out by all the other capital letters floating around in German.

Let’s see some examples!

Sie ist Taxifahrerin.

She is a taxi driver.

Sie sind ein guter Lehrer.

You’re a good teacher.

Sie haben heute viel zu tun.

They have a lot of work to do today / You have a lot of work to do today.

These sentences illustrate how you have to rely on either the verb conjugation, the context, or both to make the meaning clear. Here, though, are some easier ones:

Ich wohne in Belgien.

I live in Belgium.

Hast du Hunger?

Are you hungry?

3. Accusative German Pronouns

One Man Helping Another Climb Mountain

“Accusative” is the case that marks the object. First, the chart for reference.

EnglishGerman
Memich
You (informal)dich
You (plural)euch
Uswir
Himihn
Hersie
Ites
You (formal)Sie
Theysie

Not a whole lot of difference from the nominative case! Less than half change at all from nominative to accusative. And here’s how you know when to make that change.

Whenever you’d say “me” in English to express the same concept, use the accusative in German. Think about a couple of verbs for a moment: “Pat sees me.” “The coach hit me.” Those verbs are going to be accusative in German too, and so look at the examples:

Hast du ihn gesehen?

Did you see him?

Ich werde euch nicht beraten.

I won’t give you (plural) advice.

Magst du mich?

Do you like me?

It’s easy to find lists online of the most common accusative verbs in German. You can also look for set phrases, because many German preposition-verb combinations take a specific case. Thus, for “to think of somebody,” the preposition is always an and the phrase is an jemanden dachten.

Of course, knowing when to use the pronouns is one thing, but learning to actually produce them accurately under pressure is more difficult.

4. Dative German Pronouns

A Weekly Planner

The “dative” case marks the indirect object. In German, some verbs require a dative case pronoun even if you think it would logically be accusative, such as “to help.”

Können Sie mir helfen?

Can you help me?

That’s not mich like we learned before! Take a look at the next chart:

EnglishGerman
Memir
You (informal)dir
You (plural)euch
Usuns
Himihm
Herihr
Itihm
You (formal)Ihnen
Theyihnen

English no longer distinguishes between accusative and dative. Instead, you can think of dative as being something like “to me.” Whenever you want to say “to me” in English, translate it as mir in German.

These pronoun forms, if anything, are used more frequently than accusative forms in everyday German.  Of course that depends on what you’re talking about and what verbs you’re using, but take service German for instance.

Wir wünschen Ihnen einen schönen Tag.

We wish you a good day.

5. Genitive Case

Basic Questions

By the way, what happened to the genitive case?

To be honest, there are in fact genitive pronouns in German, but they’re very rarely used. Here’s a list of those pronouns:

  • meiner “of me”
  • deiner “of you “
  • Ihrer “of you”
  • seiner “of him, of it” 
  • ihrer “of her, of it” 
  • seiner “of it” 
  • unser “of us” 
  • euer “of you”
  • Ihrer “of you “
  • ihrer “of them” 
Person Washing Hands

So fall, all of our charts have been separated by case. That was to make it easier to handle. Crack open any German textbook, though, and you’ll see a nice big chart with every case all at once. 

Now that you’re comfortable with each case at a time, let’s open it up and show off the demonstrative pronouns in every German case.

MasculineFeminineNeutralPlural
Nominativedieserdiesediesesdiese
Accusativediesendiesediesesdiese
Dativediesemdieserdiesemdiesen
Genitivediesesdieserdiesesdieser

This looks surprisingly like the charts for ordinary German articles – so once you learn the case endings for those, you’re good to go here as well!

In written or formal German, the word jener is used to say “those,” while dieser is used for “these.” Jener has the same endings, so it’s not too hard to learn, but the truth is, people just say dieser for both “these” and “those.”

Kennen Sie diesen Mann?

Do you know this man?

Mit der Hilfe meiner Frau, habe ich diese Stelle bekommen.

With the help of my wife, I got this job.

One more important type of pronoun is a reflexive pronoun, used with a huge number of German verbs.  It’s the equivalent to English pronouns like “myself” or “ourselves.” Also, it’s mostly identical to the accusative and dative pronouns we saw earlier, but with one nice simplification.

The only change is that you have to say sich (in both accusative and dative) for the third person. Put another way, “himself,” “herself,” and “itself” all translate to sich in German.

Sie wäscht sich täglich.

She is washing herself everyday.

6. Conclusion 

Improve Listening

You might be thinking, “Do I really have to memorize those charts?”

Well, yes and no. Memorizing the charts and being able to write them by hand does have some real advantages. You’ll be able to compose and revise accurate texts, for one, since you’ll know all the rules by heart.

But developing a feel for the language is just as important.

And that comes with time. It’s a slow process that requires a whole lot of actual German content to be read, watched, and listened to.

Fortunately, you can achieve both goals quite easily right here on GermanPod101.com! We have excellent grammar resources as well as a real treasure trove of vocabulary lists – and that’s not even mentioning our flagship podcast series!

Relax with our German learning material and watch as it slowly becomes second nature to use the correct German pronoun every time.

In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments section with any questions you have about German pronouns. We’ll do our best to help!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in German