German Pronouns Overview

Learning German isn’t really complete without also learning the shortcuts, right?

And pronouns are the quintessential shortcuts!

Pronouns are short-n-sweet little words that replace nouns (and noun phrases) so we can talk more efficiently. 

Learning German pronouns will help you sound a LOT more authentic (<– it will be more attractive & fun for native German speakers to engage with you!). 

That sounds so great, but MAN … there are a lot of pronouns! Where does one start?

I can help you with that! Read through my guides on German pronouns (I recommend the particular order you’ll see below). 

In no time, you’ll understand when & how to use the various German pronouns, whether personal, possessive, reflexive, relative or … so much more!

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Written by Laura Bennett
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Personal Pronouns

The first stop on the pronouns party bus is personal pronouns.

That’s a dull, grammar-y phrase for all those essential words such as I, me, you, he, him, she, her, we us, they, and them.

Pretty important words to know, right?!

There are 3 types of German personal pronouns: nominative, accusative, and dative.

This guide gives you an overall on all 3 and then other guides dive more deeply in accusative & dative (because they’re trickier than the nominative pronouns).

Read the Personal Pronouns Guide here.

Accusative Pronouns

Accusative pronouns are a subset of personal pronouns. 

Accusative pronouns are words such as me, him, her, us, and them, which are ‘object’ pronouns.

These are pronouns that are used to replace a noun / noun phrase that is NOT the subject of the sentence (<– those subject pronouns would be nominative pronouns). 

However, in German it’s not quite that simple (of course) because the accusative pronouns are just one of two sets of object pronouns (The dative pronouns are the other!)

To speak German well, it’s crucial to know when to use accusative pronouns and when to use dative pronouns. 

There is no English equivalent to this accusative vs. dative pronouns business, so you will feel brilliant once you have this figured out!

Read the German Accusative Pronouns Guide here.

Dative Pronouns

Learning accusative pronouns is not enough! You must also tackle dative pronouns.

Dative pronouns are also forms of words such as me, him, her, us, and them.

So, dative pronouns are another set of object pronouns (with accusative pronouns being the other set). In English, we just have ‘object pronouns’, so splitting that into two groups is definitely a foreign concept.

Dative pronouns are used a TON in German and to say some very valuable stuff like talking about if you’re hot or dizzy, or if you’re buying that ice cream cone for yourself or someone else. 

Read the German Dative Pronouns Guide here.

Possessive Pronouns

One of the first words every little kid learns is MINE!, right? 

It’s important to be able to identify things as belonging to you or someone else!

Like all pronouns, possessive pronouns (e.g. mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs) have to be declined for the gender & case of the noun they’re replacing. 

But possessive pronouns are very similar to possessive determiners, so that’s a helpful start. 

Read the German Possessive Pronouns Guide here.

Reflexive Pronouns

The concept of reflexive pronouns is directly connected to that of reflexive verbs.

There are significant bodies of German verbs that require reflexive pronouns (i.e. myself, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves) and just about any verb may be optionally reflexive.

English doesn’t have many (and definitely not common) verbs that require reflexive pronouns, but — just like German — just about any verbs may be reflexive (and then need a reflexive pronoun).

However, the similarities stop there because — just to keep us on our toes — you need to choose between accusative and dative reflexive pronouns in German! 

Good news: most of the reflexive pronouns are the same as the regular accusative & dative pronouns you’ve already learned (whew!). So there’s not much new to learn.

The main thing is memorizing which verbs have to have reflexive pronouns. Let’s get started!

Read the German Reflexive Pronouns Guide here.

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are tricky, but oh-so-useful for creating more lush sentences!

Relative Pronouns are used at the start of a dependent clause to refer back to a noun, noun phrase, or entire independent clause. 

The most common relative pronouns in English are who and that. German uses more relative pronouns than English does AND in additional contexts than are applicable in English.

Most German relative pronouns are identical to the so-called ‘demonstrative pronouns’ (a.k.a. the various ways of saying ‘the’ in German; note: I refer to these as ‘determiners’, not pronouns).

Like all pronouns, relative pronouns take declensions based on gender & case. However, relative pronouns are in a class all their own because …

German relative pronouns match the gender of what’s being replaced, but the relative pronoun’s case is dependent on its function within its own dependent clause.

Read the German Articles Guide here.

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