Lesson 5: Pronouns
In this lesson you will learn about pronouns. Pronouns are words which replace a noun or a noun phrase, and there are several different types of pronouns - today, we will focus on personal pronouns (I, you, he/she/it, us, ...).
Personal Pronouns - Table
Like the name already tells, personal pronouns stand for persons. German has some more than english, but let's first take a look at them before explaining them in more detail:
Akkusativ (direct Object)
Dativ (indirect object)
2nd (sg., formal)
2nd (pl., formal)
The usage is pretty simple - when you need a personal pronoun, first find out which person you need, then in which case it is and just look it up in the table!
If you for example want to translate the sentences I give it to him, first look at the I - It is the subject, it is first person singular -> the table tells us it becomes ich. Same procedure with the him: We have third person, singular, male, and he is the one recceiving it, so it is the indirect object -> the table tells us that we need ihm.
It gets a bit more complicated with the it. Like you already learned, german genders everything. And we have to keep that gendering with the personal pronouns. So if we are for example talking about that I give him it (an apple), then the it becomes ihn - third person singular, male (because it is der Apfel), direct object. But if we are talking about that I give him a pizza, then we use sie, because pizza is female in german.
And it gets even more complicated if we have sentences with both, the direct and the indirect object (so for example our sentence I give it to him) - If we use pronouns in such constructions the word order we learned by now gets switched around! Looks scary, but actually english works mostly the same. Look at the following sentences, where blue always is the dative and purple always is the direct object:
Der Mann/Er gibt
The man/He gives the dog the bone.
Der Mann/Er gibt
The man/He gives him the bone.
Der Mann/Er gibt
The man/He gives it to the dog.
Der Mann/Er gibt
The man/He gives it to him.
So if you have to nouns or a dative pronoun and a direct object noun, the dative comes first. But if you have two pronouns, or a dative noun and a direct object pronoun, suddenly the direct object comes first!
But let's look at some more example sentences, just to get a better feeling of the pronouns - again, purple is the direct onject and blue is the dative:
Wir sehen ihn.
We see him.
Ich glaube dir.
I believe you (singular).
Sie sehen uns.
They/You (formal) see us.
Du hilfst ihnen.
You help them.
Sie isst den Apfel. Er ist lecker.
She eats the apple. It is tasty.
Ich höre euch.
I hear you (plural).
Formal vs. Informal Pronouns
When using the formal pronouns, note that the verbs also are conjugated like in the 3rd person plural:
Sie sehen den Hund.
You (formal)/They see the dog.
Sie essen den Apfel.
You (formal)/They eat the apple.
Also, other than other pronouns, the formal ones are always capitalized, not only at the beginning of a sentence!
But when do we use the formal pronouns instead of the normal ones?
In general, always when you are talking to someone who is "higher in the hierarchie" then you are. Your teacher and your boss are probably the best examples. You should always siezen ("to address someone formally") them - it is a sign of respect, and using the normal pronouns can be received as very disrespectful. Also if you are talking to someone older than you (or in general to someone adult), use the formal pronouns.
Often people then will offer you to use the informal pronouns instead ("das Du anbieten" - "to offer the you"), or just start to use the informal pronouns. If someone is older than you, it's the best to wait till they start using the informal pronouns, if the other person is as old as you or younger, you should be good to go with just starting to use "du" yourself after getting to know each other a bit, children (and sometimes also young adults) are generally talked to with informal pronouns.
With people who are very clearly a case for the formal Sie, it's often the best to ask if it ok to use du, even if they start using the informal pronouns. But of course there are exceptions. Where I worked for example, we had the clear rule that we don't use the informal pronouns at all. So every young student in the company was allowed to say du even if they met a high-level manager - but this was only possible because it was a common-known rule there which explicitely was told to everyone new. Don't do that without permission.
My mother once had a teacher who also told the students to use the informal du because he was very young, but in that case, the school prohibited it, because teacher should be respected by the students.
You see, it can be a bit complicated, but good news: No one will be angry if someone who is learning german uses the wrong pronoun :)
1. Fill in the correct pronoun forms
a) (he, us) Er sucht uns.
He searches for us.
b) (they, us) Sie zeigen uns das Haus.
They show us the house.
c) (they, it (neuter), us) Sie zeigen es uns.
They show it to us.
d) (I, you) Ich gebe you die Pizza.
I give you the pizza.
e) (I, you) Ich liebe dich.
I love you.
f) (you (pl.), us) Ihr seht us.
You (pl.) see us.
g) (we, you (pl.)) Wir sehen euch.
We see you (pl.).
h) (she, you) Sie macht dir einen Tee.
She makes you a tea.
2. Translate the sentences
a) Ich sehe dich.
I see you.
b) We buy it.
Wir kaufen es.
c) Er findest uns.
He finds us.
d) The dog gives it to her.
Der Hund gibt es ihr.
e) Er gibt sie ihm.
He gives it (feminine noun) to him.
f) He helps them.
Er hilft ihnen.
g) Wir danken dir!
We thank you!
g) You follow them.
Du folgst ihnen.
3. Translate the following small introduction. Afterwards, write an own!
Hallo! Ich heiße Tekre und bin einundzwanzig Jahre alt. Ich wohne in Den Haag. Ich bin Studentin und studiere Linguistik an der Universität Leiden. Ich lerne gerne Sprachen! Ich spreche Deutsch, English, Na'vi und ein bisschen Niederländisch. Ich liebe Tiere über alles, aber ich habe keine. Aber ich habe ein Plüschkrokodil :D
Hello! My name is Tekre and I am 21 years old. I live in Den Haag. I'm a student and study linguistics at the university of Leiden. I love learning languages! I speak German, English, Na'vi and a bit of Dutch. I really love animals, but I have none. But I have a plushy crocodile :D
Feel free to send me your own introductions on Discord (Tekre#3259) if you want them corrected!