If you want to learn about German pronouns, it's best to familiarise yourself with the four German cases and the use of articles in the language first. That's because pronouns are substitutes of nouns and therefore follow the same rules. Once you have understood and practiced the use of our articles, you will notice how similar the er/sie/es personal pronoun endings are to the endings of our articles. Take a look at the pronoun table and I'll explain below.
The table below shows the most important pronouns in the German language with their English translation. In the nominative row, you'll find all personal pronouns in German that we use to conjugate verbs. As the nominative case represents the subject in a sentence, they're also called the "subject pronouns". The next two rows list the direct and indirect pronouns for the accusative and dative objects. In brackets, you'll see the reflexive pronouns that are only relevant in the context of reflexive verbs, provided they differ from the direct and indirect pronouns, In order to emphasise the difference between the accusative and the dative case, I added "to/for" to the English translation, even though the dative sometimes doesn't translate as such (particularly when verbs always go with the dative case). The final row features the so-called possessive pronouns in German that indicate possession. They are also referred to a possessive articles because they decline like the indefinite articles "ein, eine, ein".
sie/Sie they/you (formal)
mich me (myself)
dich you (yourself)
ihn (sich) him (himself)
sie (sich) her (herself)
es (sich) it (itself)
uns us (ourselves)
euch you (yourselves)
mir to/for me
dir to/for you
ihm (sich) to him
ihr (sich) to/for her
ihm (sich) to/for it
uns to/for us
euch to/for you
ihnen/Ihnen to/for them/you
The endings of the pronouns "er", "sie", "es" in the singular and the third person plural "sie/Sie" are highlighted in red to show that they come from the definite articles "der", "die", "das", "die". In other words, "der" becomes "er", "den" becomes "ihn", "dem" turns into "ihm" etc. The only exception is the possessive pronoun of "er" and "es" so "sein". This will make it a lot easier for you to learn this table by heart.
The nominative, accusative and dative pronouns don't have endings, only the possessive pronouns do. The endings they take come from the endings of the indefinite articles because possessive pronouns are actually articles in their own right. Below you see the declination of the possessive pronoun "mein" as an example.
Let's now look at some examples.
Meine Schwester spielt Tennis
(My sister plays tennis)
In this sentence, the sister is the subject and since the nominative of the indefinite article in the feminine is "eine", an "e" needs to be added to the possessive pronoun "mein".
Ich gebe meiner Schwester ein Buch
(I give a book to my sister)
Here, the sister is the indirect object (dative) as she receives the book, so your reference is the indefinite article "einer". Hence, an "er" needs to be added to "mein".
However, in nominative masculine, nominative neutral and accusative neutral, the article is "ein" without an ending. Hence the possessive pronouns don't have an ending there either.
Mein Bruder spielt Tennis.
(My brother plays tennis)
Mein Auto war teuer.
(My car was expensive)
To avoid a common mistake in using "sein" and "ihr", read my blog entry on the difference between the two pronouns and bear in mind that their endings are tagain determined by the gender and the case of the noun that follows.
Sie gibt ihrem Bruder ein Buch.
(She gives a book to her brother)
As your subject is a female, your possessive article is "ihr". Since the brother is in the dative case, the ending "em" from the article "einem" needs to be added.
Er gibt seiner Schwester ein Buch
(He gives a book to his sister)
Here, your subject is a male, so your possessive article is "sein". Since the sister is again in the dative case, the ending "er" needs to be added because the article would be "einer".
You'll find a detailed discussion of possessive articles in German in my blog post.
Sounds complicated? Well, compared to English it certainly is.
Most students find the "du, Sie, ihr", difference between "mir" and "mich", "sein" und ihr", and "man" vs. "Mann" particularly confusing. Speaking of confusion, there are also so-called relative pronouns which we use in relative clauses. But you should learn them separately as they are relevant in terms of German word order rather than as pronouns per se.
Learn about other grammar topics in German on our blog. We have posts on adjective endings in German, the perfekt tense, the four cases in German, German gender rules, adjective endings in German, two-way prepositions, verbs with prepositions in German, the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs in German, and many more.
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