German pronouns: a fun beginner’s guide

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Mastering German pronouns is just like learning to tie your shoelaces.

It’s a tricky (but necessary) skill you have to practise to death to perfect. Because as you might have already discovered, German grammar is rather complex.

Sorry, but there’s no way of sugarcoating it. But here’s the good news.

While it might feel like a struggle in the beginning, once mastered, these pronouns you once stumbled and tripped over will become a hazard-free walk in the park. They’ll become the very foundations that tie your German language skills together, and will help you get through the day without any embarrassing slip-ups.

So in the name of speaking German like a pro, let’s get you started.


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via GIPHY

What are they?

To put it simply, pronouns replace nouns in a sentence. 

Now, here’s why these German pronouns are particularly troublesome: grammatical case, number and gender all influence the spelling of pronouns.

That’s why there are so many. 

And to lay those important German grammar groundworks you’ll need to speak German like a local, all of the different spelling variations – sorry, not sorry – need to be memorised. For all 7 types of German pronouns.

We didn’t promise this would be easy. But we did promise to walk you through it  – so here goes.

There are 7 different types of German pronouns:

Now before we go any further, there are also a few concepts you’ll need to get your head around.

Back to (grammar) basics: everything you’ll need to master German pronouns

Join me for a quick trip down memory lane *nostalgic sigh* before we dive into the wild world that is German pronouns. 

The topics of the day are German cases, and direct and indirect objects – two of the factors that influence how you’ll spell a pronoun in a sentence. 

Double-check you know the ins and outs of their uses before you head to the German pronouns section.

German cases

We use the nominative for the subject of the sentence.

Ich gebe meiner Freundin einen Muffin.  


We use the accusative for the direct object of the sentence.

 Ich gebe meiner Freundin einen Muffin.


We use the dative for the indirect object of a sentence.

 Ich gebe meiner Freundin einen Muffin.


We use the genitive to show possession or association.

Die Freundin des Nachbarn isst Muffins.

Direct and indirect objects

A direct object is the person or thing that is directly affected by an action.

So in the sentence, “I’m brushing my teeth”, “teeth” is the direct object.


The indirect object gives a little more detail – it clarifies who or what else is (indirectly) is affected by that action.

So in the sentence, “I’m brushing my teeth”, “my” is the indirect object.

Now that we’ve got all that covered, let’s get down to business.

The complete guide to German pronouns

What do we want? German pronoun tables. When do we want them? Now! 

Let’s not beat around the bush – now’s the time to give you what you came here to see: German pronouns in all their glory, laid out nice and neatly in all their different variations, according to gender, number and case.

Personal pronouns

Think of personal pronouns as the most basic type of pronoun. Cast your mind to pronouns such as I, you and they.

We use them to refer to ourselves, other people or things. 

Their spelling changes depending on their case, which, as we mentioned earlier, is why there are so many of them!

If you already feel like you’re in a muddle, hang in there. Check out these examples to clear things up:

  • Nominative personal pronoun: Ich koche für Luka. (I am cooking for Luka.)
  • Accusative personal pronoun: Luka kocht für mich. (Luka’s cooking for me.)
  • Dative personal pronoun: Du gibst mir das Rezept. (You’re handing me the recipe.)
  • Genitive personal pronoun: Luka gibt meiner Katze Milch. (Luka’s giving milk to my cat.)

Still hanging in there? Good.

Now for the much-awaited table:

PersonNom.Acc.Dat.Gen.
I ichmichmirmeiner
you (sing.)dudichdirdeiner
heerihnihmseiner
shesiesieihrihrer
itesesihmseiner
wewirunsunsunser
you (pl.)ihreucheucheuer
theysiesieihnenihrer
you (formal)SieSieIhnenIhrer

Reflexive pronouns

On to the next type.

We use reflexive pronouns to express an action someone does to themselves.

For example, you (with luck!) are at a stage in life where you can shower yourself, or shave yourself

Now for a small silver lining: in German, we only use reflexive pronouns in either the accusative or the dative case – so there’s less of them to memorise. Hurray!

We use accusative case pronouns for the person the action is directed at (= direct object), and the dative case pronouns for the person affected by the result of that action (indirect object). 

Here’s an example:

  • Accusative reflexive pronoun: Du rasierst dich. (You’re shaving [yourself].)
  • Dative reflexive pronoun: Du rasierst dir den Kopf. (You’re shaving yourself the head.)

And the silver lining thickens: apart from the “ich” and “du” forms, the reflexive pronouns are the same in both cases.

PersonAcc.Dat.
I michmir
you (sing.)dichdir
hesichsich
shesichsich
itsichsich
weunsuns
you (pl.)eucheuch
theysichsich
you (formal)sichsich

Interrogative pronouns

What a scary name, when all interrogative pronouns are really just question words we use to ask about a person or thing. 

Which question word we use depends on the case of the person or thing we’re asking about. 

Look out for each case in the answers to the following questions:

Was?

We use “Was?” to ask about things in all cases.

For example:

– Was isst du? 
What are you eating?

Wer?

We use “Wer?” to ask about something in the nominative case.

For example:

– Wer hat angerufen?  
Mein Bruder
– Who called?
– My brother.

Wen?

We use “Wen?” to ask about something in the accusative case.

For example:

– Wen hast du angerufen?
Meinen Bruder. 
– Who did you call?
My brother.

Wem?

We use “Wem?” to ask about something in the dative case.

– Wem hast du dein Fahrrad gegeben?
Meinem Bruder. 
– To whom did you give your bike?
My brother.

Wessen?

We use “Wessen” to ask about something in the genitive case.

For example:

Wessen Fahrrad hast du?
Das meiner Schwester.
– Whose bike do you have?
My sister’s.

Another cool thing: German interrogative pronouns are a great shortcut to finding out what the direct or the indirect object in a sentence is.

See how useful pronouns are?

via GIPHY

Indefinite pronouns

I promised you fun, so let’s have some! 

Indefinite pronouns are super useful when you don’t want to be as precise as you normally have to be in German. Words you’d thought you’d never hear uttered by a native speaker, eh?

But it’s true. When we use an indefinite pronoun, we don’t specify the subject or object of a sentence  – which is especially useful when you want to ask for a sneaky favour.

Here’s a list of the most common ones:

etwas / nichts

So I lied. Not every pronoun changes its spelling! “Etwas” (something) and “nichts” (nothing) never change.

For example:

Ich möchte etwas essen, aber ich habe nichts.
I want to eat something, but I don’t have anything.

jemand 

“Jemand” (someone) needs different endings in the accusative and the dative case. We don’t use it in the genitive. 

In the nominative:

Jemand hat mir geholfen.
Someone helped me.

In the accusative:

Ich muss jemanden finden, der mir hilft.
I have to find someone to help me.

In the dative:

Ich gehe mit jemandem ins Kino.
I’m going to the cinema with someone.

jeder

And we’re back to different spellings again.

Jeder (everyone/anyone) has a different ending depending on the case and gender of the noun it replaces. 

PMasc.Fem.Neut.
Nominativejederjedejedes
Accusativejedenjedejedes
Dativejedemjederjedem

man

Nope, this is not about men.

We use “man” (one / impersonal ‘you’) to generalise something or speak in general terms.

The accusative form of “man” is “einen”, the dative form “einem”, both independent from gender.

Check out these examples.

In the nominative:

Man macht den Kuchen mit Quark.
You make the cake with quark.

In the accusative:

Das Wetter macht einen fröhlich.
The weather makes you happy.

In the dative:

Schon der Trailer macht einem Angst.
The trailer alone made you scared.

Possessive pronouns

You’ve probably wondered why the German pronouns charts we’ve seen so far were so short and compact; don’t worry, there’s a huge one coming right your way.

The important thing to remember is that possessive pronouns replace something previously mentioned that belongs to someone.

For example:

Das ist meins!
That’s mine!

Now for the epic set of tables we promised you:

Nominative (singular pronouns):

ichduersie
es
masc./neut.meindeinseinihrsein
fem./pl.meinedeineseineihreseine

Nominative (plural pronouns):

wirihrsie / Sie
masc.unsereuerihr / Ihr
fem./pl.unsereeureihre / Ihre

Accusative (singular pronouns):

ichduersie
es
masc.meinendeinenseinenihrenseinen
neut.meindeinseinihrsein
fem./pl.meinedeineseineihreseine

Accusative (plural pronouns):

wirihrsie / Sie
masc.unsereneurenihren / Ihren
neut.unsereuerihr / Ihr
fem./pl.unsereeureihre / Ihre

Dative (singular pronouns):

ichduersie
es
masc. / neutr.meinemdeinemseinemihremseinem
femininemeinerdeinerseinerihrerseiner
pluralmeinendeinenseinenihrenseinen

Dative (plural pronouns):

wirihrsie / Sie
masc. / neutr.unseremeuremihrem / Ihrem
feminineunserereurerihrer / Ihrer
pluralunsereneurenihren / Ihren

Genitive (singular pronouns):

ichduersie
es
masc. /neut.meinesdeinesseinesihresseines
fem. / pluralmeinerdeinerseinerihrerseiner

Genitive plural:

wirihrsie / Sie
masc. / neut.unsereseuresihres / Ihres
fem. / pluralunserereurerihrer / Ihrer

Here’s a quick tip:

Don’t confuse possessive pronouns with possessive adjectives – they express who something belongs to without replacing the word. 

Relative pronouns

Nearly there, guys!

If you’re looking to take your German skills to the next level, you’re in luck: relative pronouns are a great way to add detail to your story and make you sound uber-fluent.

Relative pronouns introduce additional information in short sentences that we add after the person or thing it refers back to. 

They take the same gender and number as the thing they refer to, but their grammatical case is based on their function.

PMascul.Fem.Neut.Pl.
Nom.der /
welcher
die /
welche
das /
welche
die /
welche
Acc.den /
welchen
die /
welche
das /
welches
die /
welche
Dat.dem /
welchem
der /
welcher
dem /
welchem
denen /
welchen
Gen.dessenderendessenderen

Demonstrative pronouns

Let’s end this guide with a bang. 

Demonstrative pronouns. They’re like a secret weapon. 

Not only are they useful, but they also make you sound incredibly well-spoken (more in writing than in speech, but still!).

German demonstrative pronouns replace previously mentioned nouns and take their case, gender and number. 

We use them like “this” and “that”, or “these and those” in English. 

PMasc.Fem.Neut.Pl.
Nom.dieserdiesediesesdiese
Acc.diesendiesediesesdiese
Dat.diesemdieserdiesemdiesen
Gen.diesesdieserdiesesdieser

A few final words of advice

I know this is a lot to take in. A lot, a lot.

But before you get disheartened, just think: what if you never learned how to tie your shoelaces?

You’d be an adult sporting shoes fastened by velcros for the rest of your life – and that’s just not a good look.

So even if the thought of memorising every single pronoun variation feels like too much to bear, remember that all German pronoun variations sound similar – which means native speakers will still understand you, even if you mix a few of them up now and again.

The important thing is giving it a go. And who knows – in time, you might even end up –*shock-horror* – liking them!

Do you have any other burning questions about German pronouns? Comment and let us know!


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Anna is one of Busuu’s German Language Experts. She is from Potsdam in Germany where she studied German Linguistics and Sociology. She loves writing short stories and anything related to art and design. Her favourite food is cheese!

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