Personal Pronoun Clarification — The many meanings of “sie”

Pronoun Word Cloud

Personal Pronoun Clarification — The many meanings of “sie”

I’ve gone on and on on about how German is a very precise language where one word generally has one meaning. At the same time you’ve probably been thinking that I’m full of it. German has words that are incredibly long, complicated and pretty much unpronounceable and has other words like “sie” that are used all over the place for things an English speaker thinks it shouldn’t be.

I must apologize here and say you’re right: When it come to personal pronouns, German is a little crazy, at least until you understand how they are used. Let’s take a look at the personal pronouns.

In order to talk about personal pronouns in German we must understand personal pronouns in English — Personal pronouns are pronouns used as substitutes for proper or common nouns (person, place or thing).

One of the first things to remember is that German like French, Russian and many other languages, but not like English has a formal personal pronoun for “you”. In German we use the word “Sie“. It is always capitalized when used for the polite form. the Verb is conjugated the same way it is for “we” which is usually just the infinitive. It is used to address people you don’t know and anyone you don’t have a good close relationship with or a merely professional relationship.

In English “you” is always used. English also uses “you” for addressing a group of people directly. This is so confusing that even some English speakers have come up with their own linguistic solutions such as “yous”, “you guys”, and “y’all”. German on the other hand has the pronoun “ihr” to solve this problem. Interestingly enough though, this is not used as much as other pronouns. If you are addressing a large group of people, whom you don’t know very well, you would revert to “Sie“.

In German there are four (4) cases in which personal pronouns may occur — nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive. As the genitive is not used very often, the possessive pronoun, which looks similar, but changes it’s ending to provide information about the word which precedes it is used. Let’s take a look:

Nominative: The pronoun does the verb.

Nominative Pronouns

Nominative Pronouns English — German


Ich arbeite bei Marathon Sprachen.

  • I work at Marathon Sprachen.

Du fährst morgen nach Lugano.

  • You’re going to Lugano tomorrow.

Wir haben unsere Hausaufgaben nicht gemacht.

– We haven’t done our homework.

In each example the pronoun is doing the verb.

Accusative: The pronoun is the object of the verb (the verb is done on to the the pronoun).

Accusative personal Pronouns

Accusative Pronouns English — German


Der Mann hat mich geschlagen.

  • The man hit me.

Hannes hat ihn angerufen.

  • Hannes called him.

Der Nachbar hat uns gesehen.

  • The neighbour saw us.

Dative: The pronoun is the indirect object of the verb. (In English there is usually a preposition to show this).

Dative Pronouns English — German


Der Lehrer gibt ihm das Buch.

  • The teacher gives him the book.

Das Buch gehört ihr.

  • The book belongs to her.

Roger hat es uns gesagt.

  • Roger told us about it.

Genitive: The pronoun indicates possession. This is a little tricky, as genitive personal pronouns are not often used in the simple form in German. More often we encounter genitive pronouns as stems of possessive pronouns, whereby the ending of the pronoun changes to give us information about the word it is possessing:

Genitive Pronouns English — German

More common (possessive pronoun):

Possessive Pronouns English — German


Mein Vater ist Anwalt.

  • My father is a lawyer.

Das Buch gehört meiner Schwester.

  • The book belongs to my sister.

Der Chauffeur hat ihren Hund umgefahren.

  • The driver ran over her dog.

So what do you need to keep in mind when dealing with personal pronouns in German sentences?

  • In standard sentences personal pronouns in the nominative case come right before or right after the verb.
    • Ich fahre morgen nach Luzern.
      • I’m driving to Lucerne tomorrow.
    • Morgen fahre ich nach Luzern.
      • Tomorrow I’m driving to Lucerne.
  • The personal preposition “sie” means more than one thing. See how the verb is conjugated to get a better understanding of what the meaning is.
    • Sie hat einen neuen Rechner gekauft.
      • She bought a new computer.
    • Sie haben einen neuen Rechner gekauft.
      • They bought a new computer.
  • Proper names can be replaced by personal pronouns. The personal pronoun depends on gender and number.
    • Der Wagen ist neu. Er ist voll ausgerüstet.
      • The car is new. It’s fully loaded.
    • Das Auto ist neu. Es ist voll ausgerüstet.
      • The car is new. It’s fully loaded.
    • Die Wohnung ist neu. Sie ist voll ausgestattet.
      • The flat is new. It’s fully equipped.
    • Die neuen Bücher sind angekommen. Sie sind sehr schwer.
      • The new books have arrived. They are very heavy.

**Note here that in English we translate personal pronouns when referring to objects with it and not the gendered personal pronouns he, she etc.

  • If in English you want to say to + personal pronoun, think Dative personal pronoun in German.
    • Seine Mutter gibt ihm das Buch.
      • His mother gives the book to him. / His mother gives him the book.

Viel Spaß!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: