Continuing our lessons about the dative case in German, today I will explain how to use the personal pronouns of the dative case in German. This lesson includes a quick review of the German personal pronouns in the nominative and accusative cases before moving on to the dative case pronouns.
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What is a Pronoun?
Pronouns are words that replace nouns. These words are generally shorter than the nouns they replace, which makes them easier to use and more conversational than simply repeating the noun over and over. In German you have to pay attention to the gender of the noun being replaced and the case in which the pronoun is used.
Different Kinds of Pronouns
There are a variety of different kinds of pronouns. Personal pronouns are the ones with which most people are most familiar. These are things like I, me, you, they and so on in English. There are also relative pronouns, which include words like which, that and those. Possessive pronouns are those that, as you would expect, show ownership. Reflexive pronouns show that the subject and object of the sentence are the same. These include words like myself, himself and themselves. Today’s lesson will focus on the personal pronouns of the dative case in German.
Dative Case Intro Skit
Herr Lehrer: Dative pronouns in German are super easy. Once you know how to use the dative case with indirect objects, using the personal pronouns in the dative case with indirect objects is a breeze.
Frustrated Student: Yeah, sure. I’ll be the judge of that.
Herr Antrim: For once, Herr Lehrer might actually be right. Last week I explained what indirect objects are, how to use them and introduced you to the dative case in German. Today’s lesson will expand upon that by showing you the personal pronouns that you need to use in the dative case. If you haven’t seen last week’s video, I strongly recommend you start there, as this video assumes you already know everything that was taught in that video.
Reminders About German Personal Pronouns
In case you don’t know, the pronouns you see in conjugation charts are called nominative personal pronouns or subject pronouns. That’s because they are used as the subject of the sentence. Just as the nominative case definite articles were used as the baseline for all of the definite articles in other cases, we will be using this list of pronouns to start out talk about the dative case pronouns.
How to Replace a Noun with a Personal Pronoun in German
When you use a pronoun as an indirect object, you need to use one of the dative pronouns. The one you choose depends on the noun that you are replacing. For example:
Ich kaufe meinem Vater einen Golfschläger.
I am buying my father a golf club.
Ich kaufe ihm einen Golfschläger.
I am buying him a golf club.
I used the masculine pronoun in the dative case “ihm” when I replaced the indirect object “meinem Vater”. If the noun being replaced is a feminine noun, we use “ihr”. If it is neuter, we use “ihm” and when it is plural, we use “ihnen”. For example:
Er gibt seiner Schwester eine Blume.
He gives his sister a flower.
Er gibt ihr eine Blume.
He gives her a flower.
Erzählen Sie dem Mädchen eine Geschichte?
Are you telling the girl a story?
Erzählen Sie ihm eine Geschichte?
Are you telling her a story?
Wir schenken unseren Kindern Kleidung.
We are giving our children clothing as a gift.
Wir schenken ihnen Kleidung.
We are giving them clothing as a gift.
Power Tip! Articles Show which Personal Pronoun to Use in German
The cool thing about these pronouns is that they always match the last letter of the article. Since dative articles have the same endings for definite and indefinite articles, you can always count on the dative article to tell you the correct pronoun for the situation. Notice that when I said “meineM Vater” I replaced it with “ihM”, “seineR Schwester” with “ihR”, “deM Mädchen” with “ihM” and “unsereN Kindern” with “ihneN” .
1st & 2nd Person Personal Pronouns in German
Obviously, you won’t always be able to use the third person pronouns for the indirect object. Occasionally you need to use second person (you) or first person (I or we) pronouns instead. In those instances, you need to remember which pronouns mean what. The dative “me” form is “mir”. The dative version of “du” (you singular) is “dir”. When “ihr” (you plural) is dative it becomes “euch”.
A: Gib mir den Dinosaurier!
Give me the dinosaur.
B: Ich gebe dir den Dinosaurier nicht. Der ist mein Dinosaurier.
I’m not giving you the dinosaur. That is my dinosaur.
C: Gib ihm den Dinosaurier!
Give him the dinosaur.
B: Nein. Er hat schon einen Dinosaurier.
No. He already has a dinosaur.
C: Dann nehme ich euch die Dinos weg.
Then I will take the dinos away from you both.
German Personal Pronouns Chart
Now that you know what the personal pronouns are in the dative case, you can make a chart like this one, if you are one of those students who likes charts. Follow the pronouns through these examples as I switch between nominative, accusative and dative.
Ich bin Herr Antrim. Du kannst mich Herr Antrim nennen, bis du mir einen besseren Spitznamen gibst.
I am Herr Antrim. You can call me Herr Antrim, until you give me a better nickname.
Du bist schön. Ich mag dich. Darf ich dir einen Kaffee kaufen?
You are beautiful. I like you. Can I buy you a coffee?
Er heißt Tim. Meine Großmutter hat ihn gebastelt. Sie hat ihm auch diese Kleidung gebastelt.
He is called Tim. My grandmother made him. She also made him these clothes.
Barbie hat heute Geburtstag. Ich habe sie heute vor drei Jahren gekauft. Heute schenke ich ihr ein neues Kleid.
Barbie has a birthday today. I bought her three years ago today. Today I am giving her a new dress.
Das ist mein Pferdchen. Ich führe es in den Pferdestall. Dann gebe ich ihm Heu. –
This is my little horse. I lead it into the horse stable. Then I give it hay.
Wir sind Dinosaurier. Ein Meteorit hat uns getötet. Menschen haben uns viele Museen gebaut.
We are dinosaurs. A meteorite killed us. People built us many museums.
Ihr möchtet Deutsch lernen. Ich kenne euch. Deshalb mache ich euch ein paar YouTube Videos.
You would like to learn German. I know you. Therefore I am making you a few YouTube videos.
Sie sitzen auf dem Sofa. Der Mann im Fernsehen unterhält sie. Ich koche ihnen Suppe zum Abendessen.
They are sitting on the sofa. The man on TV is entertaining them. I am cooking them soup for dinner.
If you really want to practice this topic, you can get a worksheet with answer key here. Don’t forget to also check out the other videos in this series about the dative case or my dative case master class.
Short on Time? Try this 3 Minuten Deutsch Lesson about Dative Pronouns
As with any list of pronouns, I like to give the chart so that you can have a frame of reference to understand what these pronouns mean and how they compare across the cases. The chart below is the last chart like this that you will need. It includes the pronouns for all three cases that use pronouns, nominative, accusative and dative. The genitive case does use demonstrative pronouns, but there aren’t really genitive personal pronouns in German. Some consider the possessive articles like “mein”, “dein”, etc. to be genitive pronouns, but I usually leave them off and teach them as if they were indefinite articles. At any rate, here is the chart.
As mentioned in the video, dative pronouns can be used pretty much any place where a dative noun would be used, but you want to use a pronoun instead. With that in mind, let’s review how to use the dative case in general while using these pronouns.
Was gibst du mir, wenn ich dir das Stroh zu Gold spinne?
What will you give me, if I spin you the straw to gold?
This example is a line from the Grimm Märchen “Rumpelstilzchen” and covers two of the dative pronouns. Conveniently, they are the first two on the chart. In this sentence, both are being used as indirect objects. In the first clause, the subject is “du”, as “you” are the one giving something. That is why “du” is in the nominative case and why “gibst” is conjugated in the way that it is. The thing being given is the question word “was” (what). That makes it the direct object and accusative. The one receiving the “was” in this sentence, is “mir” (me), which makes it the indirect object and dative.
The second half of the sentence has the subject of “ich” (I), which is nominative and explains why the verb “spinne” (spin) is conjugated as it is. The thing being spun is “das Stroh” (the straw), which makes that the direct object and accusative. The one for whom the straw is being spun is the indirect object and is dative. In this part of the sentence it is “dir” (you).
For more examples of how to use indirect objects and the weirdness that occurs with them when you use pronouns, you can check out my full blog post about that here.
Ich werde ihm helfen.
I will help him.
This example is simple and to the point. The subject is “ich” (I). The conjugated verb is “werden”, which is being used to form the future tense. The other verb is “helfen” (help), which is a dative verb. The one being helped would normally be a direct object, but because the direct object in this sentence is the object of a dative verb, the object is automatically dative. In this sentence the object is “ihm” (him).
For more examples of how to use dative verbs, you can check out my full blog post about that here.
Er bekommt nie Briefe von ihnen.
He never gets letters from them.
This example uses the dative preposition “von”. The rest of the sentence is irrelevant for the purposes of this blog. The only thing that matters is that the object after the preposition is dative, which in this case is “ihnen” (them). If you want to go through all of the steps we did before, it would be done as follows. “Er” is the subject and nominative, because “he” is the one receiving something. The things being received are the “letters”. That makes them the direct object and accusative.
Of course, I have more information about the dative prepositions in more detail on my blog post about the dative prepositions here.
Indirect Objects with the Dative Case
Prepositions Used with the Dative Case
Dative Prepositions and Their Common Verb Partners
Wechselpräpositionen and Their Common Verb Partners with the Dative Case
Special Dative Phrases
Accusative Case Master Class
Dative Case Master Class