Is that his or hers?
Are those ours or theirs?
All of these words we use to explain ownership can be tricky for us, even in English.
I mean, most of us have probably at least been confused about “who’s” and “whose” before, right?
Facing these words in German can be even more daunting, and you may find yourself wanting to ask a lot of questions about them.
After all, no one wants to mistakenly think something is theirs, only to find out it actually belongs to someone else.
Possessive adjectives are all over the place, and knowing how to use them properly can save you from social embarrassment!
So to prepare for your next German conversation, letter to your pen pal or tweet in German, check out this useful guide to nailing German possessive adjectives.
What Exactly Are German Possessive Adjectives?
You may have heard of possessive adjectives under a different name—possessive pronouns. We use these pronouns when we want to indicate possession in a German sentence, as shown in the example below.
Hast du meinen Hund gesehen?
(Have you seen my dog?)
The possessive adjective in the above sentence is meinen (my).
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His and Hers: 3 Steps to Nailing German Possessive Adjectives
When you’re considering which possessive adjective to use and how to use it, there are three factors to bear in mind.
1. Know Which Adjective You Need
There are eight possessive adjectives in German you should know:
mein — my/mine
dein — your/yours (singular, informal)
sein — his
ihr — her/hers
unser — our/ours
euer — your/yours (plural, informal)
ihr — their/theirs
Ihr — your/yours (singular and plural, formal)
Once you’re familiar with this list, you should have no trouble translating your English into the correct German word. Below are some examples of how you can use these words in sentences and wow others with your language skills.
Habt ihr eure Katze gefunden?
(Have you found your cat?)
Seiner Hund ist müde.
(His dog is tired.)
Kannst du mir bitte meine Tasche geben?
(Can you please give me my bag?)
Ihre Schwester ist gerade im Restaurant.
(Your sister is in the restaurant right now.)
Leider hat sie ihre Hausaufgaben vergessen.
(Unfortunately she forgot her homework.)
2. Get the Noun Gender Right
In German, nouns are classed as being either masculine, feminine or neuter. The noun’s gender dictates which word it takes for its definite article.
For example, Frau (woman) is a feminine noun, so it takes die (the) for its definite article.
A masculine word, such as Tag (day), needs der (the).
Finally, neuter words—including Baby (baby), Leben (life) and Silber (silver)—will take das (the).
The gender of nouns also affects possessive articles. Just like definite articles, possessive articles will change as follows.
Masculine Nouns: mein
Mein Hund ist da.
(There’s my dog.)
Feminine Nouns: meine
Meine Mutter heißt Anna.
(My mother is called Anna.)
Neuter Nouns: mein
Mein Lamm isst gerne Gras.
(My lamb likes to eat grass.)
It’s important to point out that all possessive adjectives follow this same pattern, making this one of the parts of German that’s super easy to learn—you’ll become a pro in no time! So if you wanted to say: “Her mother is called Anna” the ihr would follow the same pattern as mein and have an e added to it:
Ihre Mutter heißt Anna.
(Her mother is called Anna.)
3. Check Your Cases
There’s another factor that could require you to change the ending of your possessive adjective—the sentence case.
The Nominative Case
This is the easiest case to master, as the possessive adjectives will not change. However, you’ll have to learn how to spot the nominative case and its purpose.
Just think of the nominative case as the “naming” case—it’s used when we’re simply naming something. The subject of the sentence is always in the nominative case, as the sentence below shows.
Dein Computer ist kaputt.
(Your computer is broken.)
The nominative case also follows the verb sein (to be).
Das ist sein Cafe.
(That is his cafe.)
The Accusative Case
The object of the sentence—the thing that’s receiving the verb’s action—takes the accusative case. When a possessive adjective follows a masculine noun in this case, we need to add a new ending to it. It takes an extra -en, as shown below.
Kannst du meinen Computer reparieren?
(Can you fix my computer?)
Ich habe Ihren Bruder gesehen.
(I saw your brother.)
Meinen Sohn beißt der Hund.
(The dog bites my son.)
There are certain German prepositions that change the case of the noun that follows to accusative, including durch (through), entlang (along/alongside), für (for), gegen (against), ohne (without), um (at/around/for) and wider (against).
Das ist für meinen Vater.
(That is for my father.)
Ich gehe ohne meine Familie.
(I’m going without my family.)
There are some prepositions that take either the accusative or dative, depending on what exactly is going on in the sentence. If there’s movement in the sentence, and it can answer the question wohin? (where to?), then it takes the accusative.
These two-way prepositions are an (on), auf (up/on), hinter (behind), in (in), neben (near), über (over), unter (unter), vor (before) and zwischen (between).
Ich bin hinter mein Haus gefahren.
(I drove behind my house.)
Er ist vor seine Tante heruntergefallen.
(He fell down in front of his aunt.)
The Dative Case
The dative case is quite hard to learn, just because each of the possessive adjectives changes its ending. But don’t be scared! It’s a super useful case to know—once you’re able to use it, you’ll notice you’ll be able to say a whole lot more! It changes the indirect object of the sentence and affects possessive adjectives like this:
Masculine nouns add on an -em to their possessive adjectives.
Ich habe meinem Vater die Krawatte gekauft.
(I bought my father the tie.)
Neuter nouns also require the addition of an -em.
Er gibt seinem Baby eine Süßigkeit.
(He gives his baby a candy.)
Feminine nouns add an -er ending.
Kannst du deiner Freundin die Nachricht sagen?
(Can you tell your friend the message?)
As with the accusative case, there are some dative-specific prepositions: aus (from/out), außer (besides), bei (near/by/with/on), mit (with), nach (to/after), seit (since), von (from/of), zu (to) and gegenüber (opposite).
Ich mag die Lehrer bei meiner Schule.
(I like the teachers at my school.)
Ich fahre zu meinem Opa.
(I’m driving to my grandfather.)
Remember the two-way prepositions I mentioned earlier on? Well, we need to face up to them again! This time, however, remember that if they’re used in a sentence without any movement, they take the dative case.
Ich wohne neben ihrem Bruder.
(I live next to her brother.)
Ich schaue mich in meinem Spiegel an.
(I look at myself in my mirror.)
The Genitive Case
Now we’re up to our last case (phew!): the genitive. In this case, both masculine and neuter nouns take an -es ending on their possessive adjectives. When it comes to feminine, we just add -er. One extra detail to remember is that you also need to add an -(e)s ending on to the noun itself when it is masculine or neuter:
Der Hund deines Onkels schläft.
(Your uncle’s dog is sleeping.)
Die Fenster meines Hauses sind alle zu.
(My house’s windows are all closed.)
Die Tasche seiner Frau ist rot.
(His wife’s bag is red.)
There are also certain prepositions that will switch a case to the genitive. These are während (during), trotz (despite), statt/anstatt (instead of), wegen (because of), innerhalb (within/inside of), außerhalb (outside of), jenseits (beyond/across/over) and diesseits (here/now).
Während meiner Stunde bin ich eingeschlafen.
(I fell asleep during my lesson.)
So there we have it—German possessive adjectives!
Now you’ll never be confused about whose is whose again!
And One More Thing...
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After studying German and Philosophy at The University of Nottingham, Laura Harker relocated to Berlin in 2012. She now works as a freelance writer and is also assistant editor at Slow Travel Berlin.
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