Things that aren’t for the faint of heart:
And… German possessive pronouns.
Do you have what it takes to own this tricky part of speech?
Possession is nine-tenths of the law in the minds of some, but do you know what ownership looks like in German?
Really, it’s no different than in English.
And by that, we mean get ready for a whole lot of grammar—but also tons of illustrative examples.
If you can handle that, by the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll own those pesky German possessive pronouns!
Why Learn German Possessive Pronouns?
In German, possessive pronouns are part of the larger grammar system, which governs the language as a whole. Knowing what possessive pronouns are and how to properly use them is just one way to play by the rules—German rules, that is.
It’s critical to have the correct possessive pronoun for the object you’re describing since the pronoun will replace the entire object itself. For example, if you were to describe a masculine object but used the feminine possessive pronoun to replace it, you could create lots of confusion. This is especially true if there’s a feminine object in the sentence that you didn’t mean to refer to.
Let’s say I were to tell you, “There is a dog and a cat. The cat is mine.” In German, you would say, “Es gibt einen Hund und eine Katze. Die Katze ist meine.” If you then wanted to tell me something about the dog but you referred to the cat, things could get messy.
For instance, if you said, “Meine bellt lauter” (“Mine barks louder”), you’d technically be talking about the cat. And cats don’t typically bark. “Meine,” using the -e ending, would refer to die Katze (the cat). The proper possessive pronoun would be “meiner” since you’re referring to a masculine noun, that is, “mein Hund.” The correct pronoun uses the -er ending to denote replacing a masculine noun.
Circling back to grammar—and away from the drama—possessive pronouns can aid you in identifying cases and perfecting adjective endings. Knowing the correct adjective ending can be a pain to memorize, but with possessive pronouns, you’ll always have a hint.
And all of this gets you one step closer to being a better German speaker and becoming fluent.
How to Practice German Possessive Pronouns
If you’re looking to practice your newfound skill of owning possessive pronouns, we’ve got the resources for you.
- Quizlet. This site offers a series of exercises and quizzes on possessive pronouns. Whether you’ve got a few moments or a few hours to kill, see what you can accomplish with these practice exercises and quizzes.
- FluentU. If you’re looking for a variety of resources on the German language, from blog posts to interactive lessons, then FluentU is perfect for you. No matter what grammatical concept you’re struggling with or which vocabulary words you just can’t seem to memorize, FluentU will help by showing them in authentic contexts. FluentU takes real-world vidoes—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning experiences. Plus, you’ll get access to interactive captions, customized vocabulary lists, dynamic flashcards and fun quizzes!
- Nancy Thuleen’s worksheet. This worksheet explains the genitive case (which we’ll discuss later in this post), along with genitive prepositions, using different examples. Refer to this resource if you’re having trouble.
- Collins’ table. If you’re more of a visual person, check out this table resource. It’s a great way to have all the correct possessive pronoun endings you need in one place. There are plenty of example sentences as well.
To Each Their Own: Take Ownership of German Possessive Pronouns
Okay, now that we’ve figured out how useful possessive pronouns are, let’s talk about how to build the correct forms. Before we delve too deep, however, one thing should be made clear: possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives are not the same things.
While both grammatical terms show possession, they are in fact different parts of speech: one is a pronoun while the other is an adjective. And, just like their English counterparts, pronouns replace nouns while adjectives describe those nouns.
In German, the endings for both terms are similar, as you’ll see, but that doesn’t mean they can be used interchangeably. Remember this distinction as you further develop your grammatical skills.
Identifying the Correct German Possessive Pronoun Stem
The first step in constructing the correct possessive pronoun is choosing which pronoun stem you’ll build from. The following is a list of the pronoun stems you’ll use in the nominative case. We’ve also included the basic related pronouns in parentheses for reference.
mein (ich) — my/mine (I)
Mein is the stem you’d use if you were trying to translate the following sentence in the first person:
Ich habe einen kleinen Hund. Dieser Hund ist meiner. (I have a small dog. This dog is mine.)
The correct possessive pronoun, therefore, is the one that corresponds to the owner of the noun being replaced but also shows the case, gender and number of the noun, too. “Meiner” shows that the noun, der Hund (the dog), is in the nominative case, masculine and singular via the -er ending to mein, which shows that the noun belongs to the subject “ich.”
We could say, “I have a small dog. This dog is my dog,” but the possessive pronoun “mine” replaces the entire “my dog” phrase. That’s why we can say, “This dog is mine” (“Dieser Hund ist meiner“). The pronoun meiner replaces the noun mein Hund altogether.
dein (du) — your/yours (you singular)
Similarly, if you were to say, “You have a small dog. This dog is yours,” the German equivalent would be, “Du hast einen kleinen Hund. Dieser Hund ist deiner.” Since “you” (du) owns the dog, you’d choose dein as the possessive pronoun stem. We wouldn’t change the ending of -er on the pronoun stem because the noun being replaced (der Hund) doesn’t change. Only the ownership changes, from “I” (ich) to “you” (du).
sein (er) — his (he)
Example: Er hat einen kleinen Hund. Dieser Hund ist seiner. (He has a small dog. This dog is his.)
ihr (sie) — her/hers (she)
Example: Sie hat einen kleinen Hund. Dieser Hund ist ihrer. (She has a small dog. This dog is hers.)
sein (es) — its (it)
You probably won’t use the es form a lot, but it’s easy enough to remember—it’s the same as er. That means you don’t have to memorize an extra pronoun.
unser (wir) — our/ours (we)
Example: Wir haben einen kleinen Hund. Dieser Hund ist unserer. (We have a small dog. This dog is ours.)
euer (ihr) — your/yours (you plural)
Example: Ihr habt einen kleinen Hund. Dieser Hund ist eurer. (You (all) have a small dog. This dog is yours.)
ihr (sie) — their/theirs (they)
Example: Sie haben einen kleinen Hund. Dieser Hund ist ihrer. (They have a small dog. This dog is theirs.)
Ihr (Sie) — your/yours (you formal)
Example: Sie haben einen kleinen Hund. Dieser Hund ist Ihrer. (You have a small dog. This dog is yours.)
Determining Case, Gender and Number
After you’ve chosen the correct pronoun stem from the list above, it’s time to identify the noun’s corresponding case, gender and number.
In our example above, “I have a small dog. This dog is mine,” the object is the dog, or der Hund. (We used ein Hund because the object was “a dog” in the sentence, and the corresponding ein word for der is ein). The noun being replaced dictates what the possessive pronoun’s ending will become.
All of the example sentences above that describe “this dog” as belonging to someone are in the nominative case. Let’s take a look at the nominative endings for each gender:
- Masculine: Nouns such as der Hund (the dog) take an -er ending. (Dieser Hund ist meiner.)
- Feminine: Nouns such as die Katze (the cat) take an -e ending. (Dieser Katze ist meine.)
- Neuter: Nouns such as das Haus (the house) take an -es ending, which is sometimes shortened just to an -s ending. (Dieses Haus ist meines or Dieses Haus ist meins.)
If the noun being replaced is plural, simply add an -e ending to the pronoun stem. For example, “These stories are ours” would translate to “Diese Geschichten sind unsere.”
However, in the accusative case, there are a few changes. Let’s look at a new example sentence:
Es gibt einen Apfel aber ich esse meinen. (There is an apple but I eat mine.)
Notice that the meinen possessive pronoun replaces the phrase mein Apfel (my apple). Even though apple is masculine (der Apfel), we can’t use the nominative meiner (mine) in this case (literally!). Since the subject ich is eating the apple, it’s the direct object and, therefore, in the accusative case. The -er ending changes to -en to reflect this case change. In summary:
- Masculine: -en ending
- Feminine: -e ending
- Neuter: -(e)s ending
- Plural: -e ending
The accusative case can also be indicated by accusative prepositions. These types of prepositions are another sign letting you know which case—and corresponding endings—to choose.
Wir essen mit meinen Eltern aber ohne seine. (We eat with my parents but without his.)
Now, let’s move on to the dative case.
The dative case incorporates an indirect object into the sentence, or it can be indicated by a dative verb and/or dative preposition.
For example, let’s say you’re expressing that his parents aren’t here, so you’re eating with yours (“yours” meaning “your parents”). In German, this would be:
Seine Eltern sind nicht hier, so wir essen mit meinen.
Translated to the nominative case, “my parents” would be “meine Eltern.” However, since the ending on “meine” changes with case to the dative “meinen,” the corresponding possessive pronoun must represent this case change. That’s why “meine Eltern” becomes “meinen” in the example above.
Dative possessive pronoun endings are as follows:
- Masculine: -em ending
- Feminine: -er ending
- Neuter: -em ending
- Plural: -en ending
Remember, dative verbs and prepositions will trigger this ending change as well. Even if there isn’t an indirect object in the sentence to replace with a possessive pronoun, these dative parts of speech will still signal different endings on the respective possessive pronouns.
If you thought we were done with cases, too bad. There’s one more you’ll need to memorize, and that’s the genitive case. It’s all about showing possession.
In English, we use an apostrophe and “s” to denote possession. However, German doesn’t quite work that way. For example:
- der Hut meines Vaters — “the hat of my father” or “my father’s hat”
- die Pizza deiner Schwester — “the pizza of your sister” or “your sister’s pizza”
- der Eingang seines Hauses — “the entrance of his house” or “his house’s entrance”
- die Geschichte ihrer Märchen — “the story of their fairytales” or “their fairytale’s story”
As you can see, the endings are unique to the genitive case. Both masculine and neuter nouns take an -es ending when it comes to the possessive pronoun and an –(e)s ending for the possessor. The “e” is added to the end of nouns when necessary. Feminine and plural nouns simply add an -er to the possessive pronoun.
There are also genitive prepositions. Like accusative and dative prepositions, these parts of speech will make the objects they describe change to the genitive case. Some examples of genitive prepositions include während (during), trotz (despite), (an)statt (instead of), wegen (because of), innerhalb (inside), außerhalb (outside), jenseits (on the other side) and diesseits (on this side of).
Alternatively, some Germans have come to accept using the singular “s,” albeit without the apostrophe. That means you can say Annies Haus (Annie’s house) or Raphaels Hund (Raphael’s dog) and even Sams Auto (Sam’s car).
Identifying Adjective Endings Using German Possessive Pronouns
As we mentioned, knowing possessive pronouns will help you become better at choosing the correct adjective ending. Really, it’s as simple as paying attention to context clues. Let’s take an example sentence from above and add an adjective to spice things up. The original sentence was:
Es gibt einen Apfel aber ich esse meinen. (There is an apple but I eat mine.)
Maybe we want to be more specific about which apple we’re talking about when we say, “There is an apple.” Most apples are red, so let’s go with “rot” (red) as our adjective. Now, without having memorized what gender apple is, let’s gather some information from the sentence.
First, we know that Apfel is singular because of the article einen, meaning “one.” From this, we can also see that meinen has the same ending. If we know that the possessive pronoun -en ending occurs only in the masculine accusative and the plural dative, we can use deductive reasoning to determine that the -en ending on meinen tells us that Apfel is masculine and in the accusative case.
All we have to do now is add the masculine accusative ending to our adjective rot, and we’ve got roten. Putting it all together, we get:
Es gibt einen roten Apfel aber ich esse meinen. (There is a red apple but I eat mine.)
As you can see, it does take a bit of time to pick apart the sentence, but we didn’t have to consult any charts or dictionaries. Provided you can memorize the endings for each gender and case, possessive pronouns and adjective endings will come easier to you than ein Stück Kuchen (a piece of cake).
There you have it! Enough said about possessive pronouns. Take ownership of your learning and continue your path towards fluency with FluentU’s many resources, articles and videos.
Rebecca Henderson holds a degree in German and Creative Writing. She is the editor behind The Kreativ Space and hopes to shift your world perspective through her words, because looking out the same window every day hardly makes for an interesting life.
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