German Personal Pronouns: Guide and Usage

An introduction to how personal pronouns work in German.

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German personal pronouns – or Personalpronomen – are extremely useful to refer to ourselves, other people, objects, feelings and even abstract concepts – in short, they replace the type of word we call a noun, and help us not to repeat ourselves.

For example, here: “This is Emma. She is eating an apple”, the personal pronoun “she” replaces the name “Emma” in the second sentence.

Mastering these little words will get you one step closer to understanding German sentences and expressing yourself with ease.

In this article, you will discover the many different meanings of the personal pronoun sie and learn the differences between all the German words for “you”.

Don’t worry, we will show you step-by-step!

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Introduction to German personal pronouns

Firstly, let’s take a look at all the personal pronouns and see how they are used.

The “first person”: ich and wir (I and we)

The pronoun you’ll use to talk about yourself from the very beginning is the personal pronoun “I” – or ich in German. In grammar terms, we call it the “first person singular”. When referring to ourselves and others at the same time, we use the personal pronoun “we” – or wir in German. This is known as “first person plural”.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Ich heiße Anna. (My name is Anna.)

  • Ich wohne in Dortmund. (I live in Dortmund.)

  • Wir kaufen einen Computer. (We buy a computer.)

  • Wir wohnen in Duisburg. (We live in Duisburg.)

The “second person”: du, ihr and Sie (you)

Translating the personal pronoun “you” can be a bit confusing for English speakers. That’s because we have three different personal pronouns that all mean “you” in German.

  1. First of all, we use the German personal pronoun du to talk to a single person that we know well, or to a child.

Example: Kommst du zur Geburtstagsparty? (Are you coming to the birthday party?).

  1. To talk to more than one person we know well, or to more than one child at a time, we use the pronoun ihr.

For example, a teacher could ask the class: Habt ihr eure Hausaufgaben gemacht? (Did you [all] do your homework?).

Or, you could ask your friend and his wife: Wohin fahrt ihr diesen Sommer? (Where are you [both] going this summer?).

  1. To talk to one or more people in a formal setting, we use Sie – did you notice the capital S?

For example, you could ask: Sind Sie Herr Müller? (Are you Mr. Müller?).

The “third person”: er, sie and es (he, she and it)

At first, it might seem that the three English pronouns he/she/it are the same as the German pronouns er/sie/es. However, there is a special quirk in German because, as you might remember, all things have a gender in the German language.

Therefore, the personal pronoun always has to match the gender of your noun. In English, we’d say: “The lamp is broken, it was old”. In German, however, die Lampe (the lamp) is feminine, so we say: Die Lampe ist kaputt, sie war alt.

This is a lot to digest, but the examples below will help:

  • Masculine: Der Baum ist alt. (The tree is old.)
    Er ist alt. (It is old. / “He is old.”)

  • Feminine: Die Kirche ist alt. (The church is old.)
    Sie ist alt. (It is old. / “She is old.”)

  • Neuter: Das Buch ist alt. (The book is old.) → Es ist alt. (It is old.)

Important to know: sie can also mean “they” (this is called the “third person plural” in grammatical terms).But luckily for you, it doesn’t matter if you are talking about masculine, feminine or neuter nouns or people in the plural: sie is always correct.

  • Die Häuser sind alt. (The houses are old.) → Sie sind alt. (They are old.)
  • Die Männer sind jung. (The men are young.) → Sie sind jung. (They are young.)

The double meaning “she” and “they” may be a bit confusing, but the verb forms that go with each one tell us exactly which one is meant. As you’ve likely noticed already, context really matters in German!

Here are some example sentences with different meanings for sie:

  • Sie ist traurig. (She is sad).
  • Sie sind traurig. (They are sad.)
  • Sie kommt aus Ungarn. (She is from Hungary.)
  • Sie kommen aus Ungarn. (They are from Hungary.)

Just remember that the verb forms come with their own challenges, as the formal “you” (Sie) requires the same form as “they” (sie)! In writing, you can spot the difference because we always capitalize the formal “you” form Sie: .

  • Woher kommen sie? (Where are they from?)
  • Woher kommen Sie? (Where are you from?)

And in spoken language, you will easily recognize whether somebody is talking to you (or another person) formally, or whether they are talking about people, by observing context, tone and body language.

Clearer now? Good, then let’s dive a little deeper into formal versus informal speech in German.

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Picking the right German personal pronouns for formal vs. informal speech

We use the informal “you”, du, to talk to our friends, family members, younger people, and people who have a similar status to our own. Depending on the company culture at your workplace, this might be your colleagues or, in a company with a flat hierarchy, even your boss! While modern society in Germany has grown a bit less formal, largely due to the familiarity with casual American culture, it’s still important to recognize and apply the differences between addressing people formally vs. informally.

To show our respect to strangers, older people, and superiors, we use the formal personal pronoun Sie.

  • Informal: Ich heiße Thomas. Und du? (I’m Thomas, and you?)
  • Formal: Ich heiße Thomas Müller. Und Sie? (I am Thomas Müller, and you?)

German personal pronouns and different cases

In all our examples up to now, the personal pronouns were the subject of a sentence or question. That’s why we’ve only looked at them in the “nominative case” so far. However, German pronouns can also be the objects of sentences and questions, and therefore appear in different cases.

Let’s check a few examples in the table below:

Pronoun German Nominative German Accusative German Dative
I / me ch komme aus Köln.
(I am from Cologne.)
Du rufst mich an.
(You’re calling me.)
Du hilfst mir.
(You’re helping me.)
you Kommst du aus Köln?
(Are you from Cologne?)
Ich rufe dich an.
(I’m calling you.)
Ich helfe dir.
(I’m helping you.)
he / him Er kommt aus Köln.
He is from Cologne.
Ich rufe ihn an.
I’m calling him.
Ich helfe ihm.
I’m helping him.
she / her Sie kommt aus Köln.
She’s from Cologne.
Sie kommt aus Köln.
She’s from Cologne.
Ich helfe ihr.
I’m helping her.
it Es ist kaputt.
It is broken.
Ich repariere es.
I’m repairing it.
Ich helfe ihm.
I’m helping it.
we / us Wir kommen aus Köln.
We are from Cologne.
Sie rufen uns an.
They’re calling us
Sie helfen uns.
They’re helping us.
informal you (plural) hr kommt aus Köln.
You (both/all) are from Cologne
Wir rufen euch an.
We’re calling you (both/all).
Wir helfen euch.
(We’re helping you (both/all).
they / them Sie kommen aus Köln.
They are from Cologne.
Wir rufen sie an.
We’re calling them.
Wir helfen ihnen.
We’re helping them.
formal you Kommen Sie aus Köln?
Are you from Cologne?
Ich rufe Sie morgen an.
I’m calling you tomorrow.
Ich helfe Ihnen gern.
I’m gladly helping you.

Did you notice how German has two different versions of “him”, “her” and “them”, but – luckily – only one version of “us”?

The trickiest forms to remember will probably be all the “yous” because English does not differentiate between number, formality level and case here. But if you keep looking at them during your German exercises and actively envision who’s talking to whom, and in what context, you’ll be able to master them.

Also, even if you sometimes confuse “dir” and “dich” or “Sie” and “Ihnen”, native speakers will still understand what you’re trying to say.

Once you know about the different cases, you can use the below chart as a concise overview and “cheat sheet” for your German writing:

Nominative case Accusative case Dative case
ich mich mir
du dich dir
er/sie/es ihn/sie/es ihm/ihr/ihm
wir uns uns
ihr euch euch
sie/Sie sie/Sie ihnen/Ihnen

German personal pronouns: Recap

We hope this guide has helped you understand the principles of German personal pronouns, how they compare to English, and how personal pronouns can also refer to things because all German nouns are gendered. Using our charts as “cheat sheets” can help you with writing in German, and with understanding German texts.

Practice makes perfect, and practicing is easier with the right resources. For example, check out our 29 common German phrases you’ll need on your travels.

Keep up the great work!

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