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Pronouns:Personalpronomen im Nominativ

Just like in English, personal pronouns in German are used to substitute nouns once they have already been mentioned, including people, animals, objects, or abstract ideas. There are nine basic personal pronouns in German. Well, sort of ...

er, sie, es

Die Mutter geht heute auf den Markt. The mother is going to the market today.
Sie geht heute auf den Markt. She is going to the market today.
Das Mädchen kommt mit. The little girl goes along.
Es kommt mit. It goes along. (Mädchen is a neutral noun in German
because of the 'chen' diminutive ending)
Der Wolf folgt ihnen. The wolf follows them.
Er folgt ihnen. He follows them.
The wolf follows them

Another sie

Die Mutter und Rotkäppchen kaufen eine Flasche Wein und frische Äpfel. The mother and Little Red Riding Hood buy a bottle of wine and some fresh apples.
Sie kaufen eine Flasche Wein und frische Äpfel. They buy a bottle of wine and some fresh apples.

sie is used for both she and they, and you will need to figure out from the context who is actually shopping at the market. In this example the sie refers to both Little Red Riding Hood and her mom.

ich, du

Rotkäppchen Mama, ich möchte Wein trinken! Mama, I want to drink some wine.
Rotkäppchens Mutter Wie bitte??? Du darfst erst Wein trinken, wenn du 16 Jahre alt bist! Yeah, right. You will be allowed to drink wine only when you are 18 years old!
Rotkäppchen Aber, Mama, das Gesetz betrifft Märchenfiguren doch nicht, oder? But mama, the law doesn't apply to fairy tale characters, does it?

wir, ihr

Rotkäppchen Mama, darf ich mit Gretel ins Kino? Wir wollen den neuen Disneyfilm sehen! Mama, can I go to the movies with Gretel? We want to see the new Disney film!
Rotkäppchens Mutter Ihr dürft erst dann gehen, wenn ihr eure Aufsätze geschrieben habt. You guys can go only when you have finished writing your essays.
Rotkäppchen Unsere Aufsätze haben wir aber schon gestern geschrieben. Wir mussten "Rotkäppchen" aus der Perspektive des Wolfes neuschreiben. But we already wrote our essays yesterday. We had to re-write "Little Red Riding Hood" from the perspective of the wolf!

When es is not es

One big difference between German and English is the use of the pronoun es. In English, "it" is used whenever nouns do not have a biological gender. Therefore, any object or abstract noun will be considered "it." (Where is the castle? It is ...)

In German, however, every noun has a grammatical gender (der, die, das). When you substitute a noun with a personal pronoun, you need to pay attention to the noun's grammatical gender, which sometimes produces results that may sound strange to you.

Großmutter Rotkäppchen, hast du den Wolf gesehen? Little Red Riding Hood, did you see the wolf?
Rotkäppchen Ja, er war wieder am Rande des Waldes. Solch ein Versager! Yes, it was at the edge of the forest again. What a loser!
Großmutter Und wo ist die Flasche Wein? And where is the bottle of wine?
Rotkäppchen Sie ist in meinem Korb. It is in my basket.
It is in my basket

Since wolf is a masculine noun, the masculine pronoun er substitutes it in the little girl's response. Next, the grandmother asks about the bottle of wine, feminine in German (die Flasche). Hence Little Red Riding Hood's response using sie. As a native speaker of English, you may want to choose the pronoun es (it) for any inanimate object (e.g., a bottle of wine), of course. Resist that urge, and don't worry: it takes a while to get used to German pronouns.

Terms of address: Du, Ihr and Sie

In German, there are three ways to address people you talk to:

Du is the informal equivalent of single "you." Du is reserved for friends, young people, children and pets.

Ihr is also informal, also means "you" but refers to more than one person. It is also used for friends, peers, people your own age, children and pets ... (think y'all)

Sie is the formal "you" and can be used when talking to one or more individuals. This is the appropriate expression to use when you meet other adults for the first time if you don't know them. Sie is a sign of respect, and is fairly common even among long-term acquaintances and work colleagues if they don't consider each other to be close friends.

Sie is the appropriate expression when you ask for help from sales persons, office clerks, your professors, strangers and people who are older than you.

Großmutter Rotkäppchen, kannst du bitte den Tisch decken? Little Red Riding Hood, can you please set the table?
Rotkäppchen Natürlich. Herr Jäger, wo möchten Sie sitzen? Of course. Mr. Hunter, where would you like to sit?
Jäger Gegenüber der Tür, wenn möglich. Across from the door, if possible.
Großmutter Rotkäppchen, du und deine Mutti, ihr sollt mich öfters besuchen! Little Red Riding Hood, you and your mom, you guys should visit me more often!
Rotkäppchen Aber Großmutter, unsere Geschichte würde langweilig werden! But grandmother, our story would become boring!
Großmutter Aha, da hast du Recht! Oh, yeah, you're right!

Nominative pronouns

This table reviews the different pronouns in the nominative case and what they mean.

singular plural
1st person ich (I) wir (we)
2nd person du (you) ihr (y'all)
3rd person masculine er (he)
3rd person feminine sie (she) sie (they)
3rd person neuter es (it)
formal Sie (you)

Übung: Auszüge aus dem Tagebuch des armen Wolfs (from the poor wolf's diary)

Please fill in the blanks with the correct personal pronoun.  Watch out for the verbs, as their endings can help you decide which pronoun is needed.  Also, look carefully at the nouns the pronouns refer to – there are often clues in preceding and following phrases!

1. bin völlig missverstanden.
2. Zum Beispiel, heute sehe Rotkäppchen im Wald.
3. Dieses Mädchen! hat wieder seinen schicken Rock und sein rotes Käppchen an.
4. Und der Wein! riecht himmlisch (smells heavenly)! Und das Brot noch besser!
5. Natürlich bin hungrig!
6. Ich sage Rotkäppchen: " musst Blumen sammeln, kleines Mädchen, für deine Großmutter."
7. Und Rotkäppchen, das freche (cheeky) Kind, antwortet:" ist allergisch gegen diese Blumen!"
8. Meine Psychologin hat kein Mitleid (sympathy): meint, ich soll Vegetarier werden, wie mein Bruder (become).
9. Ich sagte ihr (said to her):" verstehen mich gar nicht! Aber sie lachte nur, als ich weinte."
10. , mein Bruder und ich, böse Wölfe, Vegetarier?! Lächerlich (ridiculous).
11. Die modernen Kinder haben keine Angst vor uns. kennen alle Märchen und wissen, dass das Böse immer besiegt wird (evil is always is defeated). Pech!
12. Kinder, ich warne euch! sollt nicht alles glauben (believe), was lest!