German pronouns

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Personal pronouns

Standard English personal pronouns:

Parts of speech:

Determinacy:

Gender issues:

Slang:

Other languages:

German pronouns describe a set of German words with specific functions. As with other pronouns, they are frequently employed as 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[edit]

Germanic pronouns are divided into six groups;

The German personal pronouns must always have the same gender, same number, and same case as their antecedents. These rules apply for other pronouns, also.

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 The genitive object, other than accusative or dative objects, is somewhat outdated: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 to 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.

Personal pronouns[edit]

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
Nominative (subject) ich du er sie es wir ihr sie Sie
Accusative (direct object) mich dich ihn sie es uns euch sie Sie
Dative (indirect object) mir dir ihm ihr ihm uns euch ihnen Ihnen
Genitive meiner deiner seiner ihrer seiner unser euer ihrer Ihrer

The verbs following the formal form of "you"—"Sie"—are conjugated identically as in the first- or third-person plurals. 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 dogI 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). 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[edit]

Possessive pronouns are formed by adding endings to the genitive case of the personal pronoun, eventually stripping it of its genitive ending. The endings are identical to those of the indefinite article ein.

Uninflected forms
sg. msc./ntr. sg. fem. pl. courtesy
1st person mein mein unser
2nd person dein dein euer Ihr
3rd person sein ihr ihr
Example: mein (my)
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plurals
Nominative mein meine mein meine
Accusative meinen meine mein meine
Dative meinem meiner meinem meinen
Genitive meines meiner meines meiner

Pronouns derived from articles[edit]

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.

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem den
Genitive des der des der

Reflexive pronouns[edit]

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.)

Relative clause[edit]

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:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem denen
Genitive dessen deren dessen deren

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[edit]

Demonstrative pronouns are used to refer to something already defined.

jener, e, es (that, the former)
dieser, e, es (this, the latter) (or "dies" as abbreviation for dieses)
ersterer, e, es (the former) letzterer, e, es (the latter)

all declined like adjectives (if "ersterer" or "letzterer" take the definite article, they are consequently weakly declined, "der erstere" etc.)

derjenige, diejenige, dasjenige (the one)

Declined like [def. art] + [jenig-] + weak adj. ending
Used to identify a noun to be further identified in a relative clause.

derselbe, dieselbe, dasselbe (the same)

Declined like [def. art] + [selb-] + weak adj. ending
Used to indicate an identity stronger than der gleiche ("the equal") would, however, the derselbe / der gleiche distinction is rather nuanced, not usually insisted upon and, if so, rather complicated for native speakers.

Interrogative pronouns[edit]

In German, there are the interrogative pronouns, or “question words.” In German they’re sometimes called “W-Wörter,” since they all start with W. Most of them have a direct English equivalent:

''Warum?'' Why?

''Was?'' What?

''Wer?'' Who?

''Wann?'' When?

''Wie?'' How?

The interrogative pronoun "where" is dependent on what is being described

''Wo?'' Where at?

''Woher?'' Where from?

''Wohin?'' Where to?

''Wo'' can be added to the front of many prepositions to make an interrogative term. An "r" is inserted between ''Wo'' when a preposition begins with a vowel e.g.

Wofür lebe ich? What am I living for?

Worüber sprichst du? What are you talking about?

''Welch'' (which) is declined by gender and case.[1]

References[edit]

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