A section of A guide to German
The pronouns corresponding to "you", "me" etc. inflect for case, like the English "I/me", "he/him", and distinguish between "he", "she" and "it", like English. These pronouns are:
1st person 2nd person 3rd person
Nominative ich du er/sie/es
Accusative mich dich ihn/sie/es
Dative mir dir ihm/ihr/ihm
(Genitive meiner deiner seiner/ihrer/seiner)
1st person 2nd person 3rd person
Nominative wir ihr sie
Accusative uns euch sie
Dative uns euch ihnen
When spelt with a capital S
, the plural sie
for "they" becomes the formal second person, Sie
, which acts identically to sie
The genitive form is not used to say "my", "your" etc - those are the possessive adjectives, which are also included in this section. The genitive form of the personal pronouns is not used very commonly.
In informal speech, "he" and "she/they" are often der and die. Es does not strictly correspond to "it", because it is mainly used for neuter nouns and constructions like "it is raining". When referring to a masculine or feminine object, er and sie are often used instead - "I can't play my guitar, it's broken" would be ich kann meine Gitarre nicht spielen, sie ist kaputt.
The reflexive forms (verbs done to oneself) are identical to the above except that the accusative and dative for the third person, singular and plural (and for formal Sie, is sich. Thus "I'm getting dressed" is ich ziehe mich an, "she's getting dressed" is sie zieht sich an, etc. Sich is spelt with a lower-case s even when it is the reflexive of formal Sie.
The informal second person, du/dich/dir, and its plural ihr/euch, is used with friends, family, children and animals; the formal second person, Sie/Ihnen is used with strangers (unless they are children) and superiors. That is at least the way it works in theory; in practice, young people are increasingly using the du/ihr forms with everyone of their own age, much more liberally than the older generation did when they were the younger generation. People can still be offended by what they see as improper use of the informal, so it's best to be on the safe side and use Sie when in doubt. There are verbs to describe the use of the formal and informal - siezen and duzen respectively.
The possessive adjectives ("my", "your", "our" etc) are as follows: mein, dein, sein/ihr/sein ("his"/"her"/"its"), unser, euer, ihr. These decline with the same endings for case and gender as the indefinite article: das ist ein Haus, "that is a house", becomes das ist mein Haus, "that is my house"; ich kenne einen Jungen, "I know a boy", becomes ich kenne ihren Jungen, "I know her boy". When given an ending, euer drops the second e, so "your (plural) house" is euer Haus, while "in your (plural) house" is in eurem Haus. Capitalise ihr to Ihr and you get the possessive adjective for the formal second person.
The possessive pronouns ("mine", "yours" etc) are identical to the possesive adjectives except for the masculine nominative and neuter nominative and accusative, which add -er and -es respectively. Thus "the computer is mine" is der Computer ist meiner; "the watch is yours" is die Uhr ist deine; "the house is hers" is das Haus ist ihres; "these seats are ours" is diese Sitze sind unsere. The -es may be trimmed to -s, as in das Haus ist ihrs. This form of declension is identical to that of the demonstrative pronouns.
German has a number of these, which decline according to a set pattern. They correspond to English pronouns such as "this", "that" and "such" (as in "such people").
For example, dieser, meaning "this", declines as follows:
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative dieser diese dieses diese
Accusative diesen diese dieses diese
Dative diesem dieser diesem diesen
Genitive dieses dieser dieses dieser
Note that this is similar to the declension of the definite article
Other demonstratives include solcher, "such", and derselbe, "the same". "The same man" could be derselbe Mann (demonstrative pronoun) or der gleiche Mann (adjective). There is another demonstrative, jener, which means "that" and is related to our "yonder", but like "yonder" it is not much used anymore. To say "that", as in "that one", you use der, but not as a definite article; rather it declines like the relative pronoun, below. To distinguish it from the definite article you emphasise it, saying DER Mann for "that man", DAS Haus for "that house" etc.
Relative pronouns are used in constructions like "the man who I saw yesterday" and "the cat whose tail is long". In English we use "who" for people, "which" for objects, or "that" for either. In German, the relative pronoun is similar but not identical to the definite article:
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem denen
Genitive dessen deren dessen deren
Thus "the man who I saw yesterday" is der Mann, den ich gestern gesehen habe
; "the cat whose tail is long" is die Katze, deren Schwanz lang ist
; "the mountains in which we live" is die Berge, in denen wir wohnen
. As you can see, the verb after the relative pronoun has gone to the end of the clause
- this is a strict grammatical rule, and is covered in A guide to German : Word order
. In English the relative pronoun
is often dropped in some situations, e.g. "the man I saw yesterday", or "the mountains we live in". In German it cannot be dropped in any situation; also, it should be preceded by a comma
, as in der Mann, den ich...
These are used for asking questions. "What?" in German is Was?, as in Was hast du gemacht?, "What have you done?" "Who", as an interrogative (rather than a relative pronoun) is Wer. This declines in the same way as der - wer kommt? ("who's coming?"); wen siehst du? ("who can you see?"); mit wem kommen sie? ("who are they coming with?"). The genitive, "whose", is wessen, which is unaffected by case or gender.
The interrogative adjective, "which", is welcher. This declines like the demonstrative pronouns - welches Land ist das? ("which country is that?"); welchen Computer benutzen Sie? ("which computer are you using?").
There are many other important pronouns. Some of these decline, some don't. Jeder, "every" or "each", declines like dieser. It can also be used a word meaning "everyone", along with aller and jedermand. "Everyone knows him" could be jeder kennt ihn or aller kennt ihn. Einer and keiner decline and mean "someone" and "no one", which alternatively can be expressed by jemand and niemand, which do not normally decline except in the genitive (jemandes/niemandes).
To say "you" as in "you never know", the traditional word is man, as in man weiß nie. This can only be nominative; in the other cases it is replaced by einer. These days people sometimes use du, like the English "you" - du weißt die. (Correct me if I'm wrong on this.) "Something" is etwas, while "nothing" is nichts (informally nix). Etwas can also mean "some" for an indefinite quantity, as in etwas Wasser, "some water". To say "something new" or "nothing important", you say etwas Neues or nichts Wichtiges, with the adjective capitalised.
"Many" is viele, which declines like an adjective; "some", for plurals (as in "some people") is einige or manche, which likewise decline. "All" is all, as in all mein Geld, "all my money", or alle Leute, "all the people". "Everything" is of course alles, which doesn't decline.
For this section I have referred heavily to P. G. Wilson's Teach Yourself German Grammar