German Nominative Pronouns

Instructor: Penelope Heinigk

Penelope holds a doctorate degree in German and a professional teaching license in the state of Colorado. She has taught middle school through university, online and live.

In this lesson, we will learn about the nominative case in German, which represents the subject of the sentence, and the pronouns that go with this case.

German Cases

When we delve into the nitty-gritty of German grammar, we start to run across some constructions that are quite different from the English language. One of these differences is the concept of case. There are four cases in German: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. While English does not have marked cases, you will still get the benefit of refreshing your English grammar as we compare the two languages.

Cases represent the parts of speech within a sentence. They are an important part of German grammar as they are responsible for the endings of adjectives, indefinite articles and when to use which personal pronouns. Will people understand you if you use the wrong case? Possibly, but it could also lead to some pretty big misunderstandings, so it is best to try to get it straight.

Nominative Case

Let's start at the beginning with the nominative case. The nominative case is used with the subject of the sentence. The subject is the the person or thing performing the action of the verb (the doer of the sentence).

For example:

Frau Schmidt fliegt nach Rom.

Mrs. Schmidt is flying to Rome.

Frau Schmidt is the subject, the one flying to Rome, and is therefore in the nominative case.

Der Hund schläft auf dem Sofa.

The dog is sleeping on the sofa.

The dog is the subject, the one sleeping on the sofa, and is therefore in the nominative case.

Ich habe viele Hausaufgaben.

I have a lot of homework.

Ich is the subject, the one who has a lot of homework, and is therefore in the nominative case.

Personal Pronouns in the Nominative Case

Technically, you could always use the noun as the subject of the sentence, but this tends to get rather repetitive. In both English and German, we frequently replace our nouns with personal pronouns.

Instead of saying, for example: Mary went shopping and then Mary went to her friend's house.

We would say: Mary went shopping and then she went to her friend's house.

German does the same thing. Here are all of the personal pronouns in German in the nominative case:

Personal Pronoun Pronunciation Meaning
ich ish I
du doo you (familiar, singular)
er air he
sie zee she
es es it
wir veer we
ihr ear you (familiar, plural)
sie zee they
Sie zee you (formal)

There is just one little but important thing you need to know when using personal pronouns in German: The pronoun must agree in gender and number with the word that it replaces. Sounds simple enough, right? Where it seems a little odd is when you are replacing objects or animals instead of people. Let's look at some examples to clarify (the subject/nominative is denoted with bold).

This first one is straight-up simple, replacing a person:

Der Mann geht ins Kino. The man is going to the movies.

Er geht ins Kino. He is going to the movies.

Der Mann is replaced by the masculine pronoun er.

Here is another easy one:

Die Frau kauft Lebensmittel. The woman buys groceries.

Sie kauft Lebensmittel. She buys groceries.

Die Frau is replaced by the feminine pronoun sie.

Here is one in the plural:

Dieter und ich spielen Fussball. Dieter and I are playing soccer.

Wir spielen Fussball. We are playing soccer.

Dieter und ich are replaced by the plural we, wir.

But what if the subject is not a man or woman (he or she)? Take a look at this one:

Der Hund bellt zu viel. The dog barks too much.

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