Easy Learning German

Personal pronouns: subject - Easy Learning Grammar German

What is a subject pronoun?
A subject pronoun is a word such as I, he, she and they. It refers to the person or thing which performs the action expressed by the verb. Pronouns stand in for nouns when it is clear who is being talked about, for example: My brother isn’t here at the moment. He’ll be back in an hour.

1 Using subject pronouns

  • Here are the German subject pronouns or personal pronouns in the nominative case:
Subject Pronoun (Nominative Case)Meaning
ichI
duyou (familiar)
erhe/it
sieshe/it
esit/he/she
manone
wirwe
ihryou (plural)
siethey
Sieyou (polite)
 
Ich fahre nächste Woche nach Italien.I’m going to Italy next week.
Wir wohnen in Frankfurt.We live in Frankfurt.
  • For more information on the Nominative case, see The Cases.

2 du, ihr or Sie?

  • In English we have only one way of saying you. In German, there are three words: du, ihr and Sie. The word you use depends on:
  • whether you are talking to one person or more than one person
  • whether you are talking to a friend or family member, or someone else
  • Use the familiar du if talking to one person you know well, such as a friend, someone younger than you or a relative
Kommst du mit ins Kino?Are you coming to the cinema?
  • Use the formal or polite Sie if talking to one person you do not know so well, such as your teacher, your boss or a stranger.
Was haben Sie gesagt?What did you say?
TipIf you are in doubt as to which form of you to use, it is safest to use Sie and you will not offend anybody. However, once a colleague or acquaintance has suggested you call each other du, starting to use Sie again may be considered insulting.
  • Use the familiar ihr if talking to more than one person you know well or relatives.
Also, was wollt ihr heute Abend essen?So, what do you want to eat tonight?
  • Use Sie if talking to more than one person you do not know so well.
Wo fahren Sie hin?Where are you going to?
TipUse Sie in more formal situations for both the singular and plural you.
TipAll of the subject pronouns only have a capital letter when they begin a sentence, except for the polite form of you, Sie, which always has a capital letter.
Ich gebe dir das Buch zurück, wenn ich es zu Ende gelesen habe.I’ll give you the book back when I’ve finished reading it.
Du kannst mich morgen besuchen, wenn du Zeit hast.You can come and visit me tomorrow, if you have time.
Wir wären Ihnen sehr dankbar, wenn Sie uns telefonisch benachrichtigen würden.We’d be very grateful if you could phone and let us know.

3 Er/sie/es

  • In English we generally refer to things (such as table, book, car) only as it. In German, er (meaning he), sie (meaning she) and es (meaning it) are used to talk about a thing, as well as about a person or an animal. You use er for masculine nouns, sie for feminine nouns and es for neuter nouns.
Der Tisch ist großEr ist groß
The table is largeIt is large
Die Jacke ist blauSie ist blau
The jacket is blueIt is blue
Das Kind stand aufEs stand auf
The child stood upHe/she stood up
  • Note that English speakers often make the mistake of calling all objects es.
  • The subject pronoun sie (meaning they) is used in the plural to talk about things, as well as people or animals. Use sie for masculine, feminine and neuter nouns.
‘Wo sind Michael und Sebastian?’ –‘Where are Michael and Sebastian?’ –
Sie sind im Garten.’‘They’re in the garden.’
‘Hast du die Karten gekauft?’ –‘Did you buy the tickets?’ –
‘Nein, sie waren ausverkauft.’‘No, they were sold out.’
‘Nimmst du die Hunde mit?’ –‘Are you taking the dogs with you?’ –
‘Nein, die Nachbarin passt auf sie auf.’‘No, the next-door neighbour is looking after them.’

4 Man

  • This is often used in German in the same way as we use you in English to mean people in general.
Wie schreibt man das?How do you spell that?
Man kann nie wissen.You never know.
  • Man can also mean they used in a vague way.
Man sagt, dass das Wetter immer schlecht ist.They say the weather is always bad.
TipMan is often used to avoid a passive construction in German.
Man hat das schon oft im Fernsehen gezeigt.It’s already been shown a lot on TV.
The form of the verb you use with man is the same as the er/sie/es form.
  • For more information on Verbs, see .
Key points
  • The German subject pronouns are: ich, du, er, sie, es, Sie and man in the singular, and wir, ihr, sie and Sie in the plural.
  • To say you in German, use du if you are talking to one person you know well or to someone younger than you; use ihr if you are talking to more than one person you know well and use Sie if you are talking to one or more people you do not know well.
  • Er/sie/es (masculine/feminine/neuter singular) and sie (masculine or feminine or neuter plural) are used to refer to things, as well as to people or animals.
  • Man can mean you, they or people in general. It is often used instead of a passive construction.

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