German pronouns describe a set of German words with specific functions. As with other pronouns, they are frequently employed the subject or object of a clause, acting as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases, but are also used in relative clauses to relate the main clause to a subordinate one.
Classification and usage
Germanic pronouns are divided into six groups;
- Personal pronouns, which adverts an entity, such as the speaker or third parties;
- Possessive pronouns, which describe ownership of objects, institutions, etc.;
- Interrogative pronouns, which are used in questions, such as who?;
- Reflexive pronouns, in which the subject is also one of the objects;
- Relative pronouns, which connect clauses;
- Indefinite pronouns, which denote entities of quantities.
In German, a pronoun may have a certain position in the sentence under special circumstances. First and second person pronouns usually do not, and they can be used anywhere in the sentence—except in certain poetical or informal contexts.
- "Das im Schrank" (the thing in the cupboard)
- "Das auf dem Tisch" (the thing on the table)
There are also genitive direct objects. Since the personal pronoun does not have a genitive form, the genitive of the possessive pronoun is applied in those cases. These forms are bracketed. The genitive object, other than accusative or dative objects, is somewhat outdated:
- OLD: "Ich erinnere mich ihrer" (MODERN: "Ich erinnere mich an sie.") (I remember her.)
- OLD: "Ich erinnere mich seiner" (MODERN: "Ich erinnere mich an ihn.")
- OLD: "Ich entsinne mich ihrer" (MODERN: "Ich erinnere mich an sie.")
In Modern German, "erinnern" rather takes the prepositional phrase with the preposition an. However, some verbs cannot be constructed otherwise, and thus genitive objects remain common language in some degree. This is true for "entsinnen" (which is archaic in itself), but also for sentences such as:
- OLD AND MODERN: "Laßt uns der Opfer des Marxismus, Faschismus, und Nationalsozialismus gedenken." (Let us commemorate the victims of Marxism, Fascism, and National Socialism.)
- OLD AND MODERN: "Ich klage Herrn Max Mustermann des Mordes an." (I accuse Mr. Thomas Atkins of murder.)
The two noun and pronoun emphasizers "selber" and "selbst" have slightly different meanings than if used with nominal phrases. They normally emphasize the pronoun, but if they are applied to a reflexive pronoun (in the objective case), they emphasize its reflexive meaning.
|Singular||Plural||Formal (singular and plural)|
|Case||First Person||Second Person||Third Person||First Person||Second Person||Third Person||Second Person|
|(English nominative)||I||you||he||she||null / it||we||you||they||you|
|Accusative (direct object)||mich||dich||ihn||sie||es||uns||euch||sie||Sie|
|Dative (indirect object)||mir||dir||ihm||ihr||ihm||uns||euch||ihnen||Ihnen|
The verbs following the formal form of "you"—"Sie"—are conjugated identically as in the first- or third-person plurals (i.e. with the infinitive of the verb). For example, "Sie sprechen Deutsch." This means either "You speak German" or "They speak German", and it is completely up to the context to determine which one it is.
- "Ich rufe den Hund"—"Ich rufe ihn" (I am calling the dog—I am calling it. Literally: I am calling him.)
Genitive personal pronouns (which are themselves rather the borrowed genitive forms from the possessive pronouns) never indicate possession, which is not only outdated but wrong. That is, my book translates to "mein Buch", or "das Buch von mir" (the latter would be quite identical to the book of me); and never "das Buch meiner". These pronouns may be used for the genitive object ("gedenke meiner": commemorate me), or the rare instances of genitivus objectivus. Archaically, the unflected possessive pronoun can be used instead, e.g. Vergißmeinnicht (instead of: "vergiß meiner nicht" or—vergessen takes the accusative as well—"vergiss mich nicht" in more modern form). Another place where they are used is after prepositions requiring the genitive case, e.g. "seitens meiner" ("on my part", more typically "meinerseits"). However, many of these prepositions can anyway, at least in more colloquial usage, be constructed with the dative, which however is no personal pronoun issue (e.g. "statt mir" instead of "statt meiner"). Ironically, the Bavarian dialect never uses wegen (because of), which in Standard German must take the genitive, otherwise than with a dative, with the very one exception of personal pronouns, where "wegen meiner" (as indicating "von mir aus", if you bother what I will think about it, it's all right) is not altogether unknown.
Possessive pronouns are formed by adding endings to the genitive case of the personal pronoun. The endings are identical to those of the indefinite article ein.
|Example: mein (my)|
Pronouns derived from articles
To replace a nominal by a pronoun that is derived from an article, the declined form corresponding to the gender, case, and number of the nominal phrase is used.
Although the pronoun form and the article form are the same in most cases, there are sometimes differences.
There are also reflexive pronouns for the dative case and the accusative case. In the first and second person, they are the same as the normal pronouns, but they only become visible in the third person singular and plural. The third person reflexive pronoun for both plural and singular is: "sich":
- "Er liebt sich". (He loves himself.)
- "Sie verstecken sich". (They hide themselves.)
Reflexive pronouns can be used not only for personal pronouns:
- "Sie hat sich ein Bild gekauft." (She bought herself a picture.)
- "Seiner ist schon kaputt." (His is already broken.)
A pronoun contains, or rather, has a relative clause, if there is ever a further meaning to express behind the pronoun, that is to say, some more clarification necessary. The relative pronouns are as follows:
Instead, welcher/e/es may be used, which is seen to be more formal, and only common in interdependent multi-relative clauses, or as a mnemonic to German pupils to learn to distinguish das from dass (it is the first of these if you can say dieses, jenes or welches instead). The relative pronoun is never omitted in German. On the other hand, in English, the phrase
The young woman I invited for coffee yesterday is my cousin's fiancée.
completely omits the use of a relative pronoun. (The use of the relative pronouns "who" or "that" is optional in sentences like these.) To state such a thing in German, one would say
Die junge Frau, die ich gestern zum Kaffee eingeladen habe, ist die Verlobte meines Cousins.
Note that the conjugated verb is placed at the end of German relative clauses. This was the preferable use in Latin sentences as well as in Old High German even for main clauses, and remains intact for subclauses, whereas in main clauses the verb takes the second place. (Exceptions: jokes begin with the verb: "Treffen sich zwei Freunde. Kommt einer nicht." which might be translated in a way such as this: Meeting two friends. Coming one fails to do. In family event lyrics, the old custom may be revived for the sake of forced rhyme, e.g. "Mein Onkel ist der beste Mann / und ich dies auch begründen kann." My uncle is right best a man / a thing that really prove I can.)
Likewise, an English participle such as
The man coming round the corner is a thief.
is best translated to a relative clause, e.g.
Der Mann, der gerade um die Ecke kommt, ist ein Dieb.
However, it might be translated literally which would result in what some call a very German sentence, e.g.
Der gerade um die Ecke kommende Mann ist ein Dieb.
(See relative clauses).
Demonstrative pronouns are used to refer to something already defined.
jene (that, the former)
diese (this, the latter)
erstere (the former)
- Use ersterer to refer to masculine nouns; erstere otherwise
letztere (the latter)
- Use letzterer to refer to masculine nouns; letztere otherwise
derjenige (the one)
- Declined like [def. art] + [jenig-] + weak adj. ending
- Used to identify a noun to be further identified in a relative clause.
derselbe (the same)
- Declined like [def. art] + [selb-] + weak adj. ending
- Used to indicate an identity stronger than der gleiche would.
|For a list of words relating to German pronouns, see the German pronouns category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|