Welcome to Adventures in Language

The best place online to elevate your knowledge of linguistics and proficiency at language learning and teaching.

AIL-Badge-General

Read, Watch, Listen...

Language content in the format you prefer

Subscribe to receive emails

Possessive adjectives in German: what are they and how are they used?

Blog-Header-German-Gated-1-1

Mein Koffer!” [My suitcase!], I yelled as a stranger lifted it off the baggage carousel. He quickly returned it: a possessive adjective had saved the day. Possessive adjectives are words like “my” or “your” that express ownership. Both English and German have possessive adjectives, but in German they have many different forms. Keep reading to learn a short and uncomplicated way to always choose the correct form!

Mein Koffer!” [My suitcase!], I yelled as a stranger lifted it off the baggage carousel. He quickly returned it: a possessive adjective had saved the day. Possessive adjectives are words like “my” or “your” that express ownership. Both English and German have possessive adjectives, but in German they have many different forms. Keep reading to learn a short and uncomplicated way to always choose the correct form!

For review of grammar terms used in the article, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end of the post.

Possessive adjectives: the dictionary form

Possessive adjectives are small words that refer to nouns and express ownership. 

Example: 
Das ist mein Auto und das ist dein Fahrrad.
This is my car and this is your bike.

The first step to mastering possessive adjectives is learning their dictionary forms. Take a look: the table below shows the nine dictionary forms of German possessive adjectives:

Screen Shot 2021-09-18 at 4.34.18 PM

*By any other name…
There is a bit of confusion regarding the correct term for these possessive adjectives. Some textbooks and grammars call them “possessive determiners” or “possessive articles” instead. In older books, they are also sometimes called “possessive pronouns,” though possessive pronouns are really a slightly different part of speech.

Now, which dictionary form to choose? Think about who owns the object you want to talk about and choose the dictionary form accordingly: is it your uncle’s house? Sein [his] is the correct choice. Is this gift basket addressed to the two of us? Then let’s choose unser [our].

What to keep in mind

  • The forms for “his” and “its” are the same: sein

  • The forms for “her” and “their” are the same: ihr. The polite form of “your” is very similar but is always capitalized: Ihr.

  • German has three forms representing “your”: dein for one person, euer for more than one person, and Ihr for addressing someone formally. 

Example:
Ist das dein Hund, Martin?
Is that your dog, Martin?

Ist das euer Hund, Tim und Anna?
Is that your dog, Tim and Anna?

Ist das Ihr Hund, Herr Schneider?
Is that your dog, Mr. Schneider?

In this section, we’ve looked at the dictionary form of the possessive adjectives. While English always uses that dictionary form, in German, the dictionary forms receive different endings depending on the role of the noun in the sentence. In the next step, you will learn about these endings.

It’s all about the endings

Possessive adjectives are often presented in a table with 80 or so different words. I’ve always found it easier to teach them as dictionary forms combined with endings. That way, there aren’t 80 words to learn but just a few dictionary forms, endings, and a handy mnemonic on how to use them.

For possessive adjectives, there are six possible endings: no ending, -e, -n, -m, -r, and -s. (Yes, ”no ending” counts as an ending.) Combine the nine dictionary forms with one of these endings, and you will get every possible instance of a possessive adjective.

   IMPORTANT

Combining -r, -n, -m or -s with the dictionary form yields forms like meinn. To avoid words that can’t be pronounced, insert an -e- between the dictionary form and the ending. Whew! Meinen is definitely easier to say.

This is every possible form of mein:
mein_, meine, meinen, meinem, meiner, meines

⤷TIP: Usually, when you combine an ending with the dictionary form euer, you omit the -e- before the -r-, e.g., eure or euren, not euere or eueren, but you may still see the latter forms occasionally. You may also see the -e- that follows after the -r- omitted instead: e.g., euern.

 
But when to use what ending?

What do all those endings do? They provide information on both the role and the gender of the noun in the sentence. That’s a lot for one little ending, isn’t it? This is how it works: German has three different noun genders. A noun usually takes up one of these roles in a sentence: subject, direct object, indirect object, or genitive attribute. Usually, the noun stays the same, while the article or the possessive adjective show the gender and the role. So, a possessive adjective will have a different ending if it refers to a masculine noun used as a subject than if it refers to, say, a feminine noun used as an indirect object. If you need a quick reminder for the meaning of some of these grammar terms, head down to “Unpacking the grammar” at the end of the post!

There is a cool mnemonic to remember which ending to use for each role and noun gender:

RESE NESE MRMN SRSR  
You say: “Ree-see, nee-see, merman, sir sir!”

⤷TIP: To remember mnemonics, I like to tell stories. For this one, I imagine the hapless sorcerer’s apprentice conjuring up a merman together with the bathwater, then seeking help from the master wizard. 🧙🐟

This mnemonic works for several grammatical forms in German (e.g., for the definite article), but in some cases — possessive adjectives are one of them —  it needs to be adapted a bit, since a few forms don’t have an ending. This is the adapted version:

_E_E NE_E MRMN SRSR

I think the sorcerer’s apprentice forgot part of the magic spell. 😳

Here is how the second version of the mnemonic works:

Screen Shot 2021-09-18 at 4.46.37 PM

Follow these step-by-step instructions to learn how to say: “I see his uncle.”

  1. “His uncle” is the direct object, so you need the second section of the mnemonic: NE_E

  2. “Uncle” is der Onkel in German, so you should pick the first ending in that section: N

  3. The dictionary form for “his” is sein.

  4. Add the ending to the dictionary form and insert an -e-: seinen

  5. Say it in German: Er sieht seinen Onkel.

Here are some more examples of possessive adjectives in different roles in the sentence:

Example: 
Mein Onkel besucht mich heute.sentence subject
My uncle is visiting me today.

Wir besuchen unseren Onkel.      direct object
We’re visiting our uncle.

Anna schenkt ihrem Onkel eine Tafel Schokolade.     indirect object
Anna gives her uncle a bar of chocolate.

Das Auto eures Onkels ist kaputt.   genitive attribute
Your uncle’s car is broken.

The end… and more

Let’s take a look at what we’ve covered in this article:

  • Think of possessive adjectives as combinations of a dictionary form and endings.

  • There are nine dictionary forms of possessive adjectives and six endings that combine with them.

  • The form of the possessive adjective depends on the noun, gender, and role of the associated noun.

  • To find the right ending, you can use a mnemonic (“Ree-see, nee-see, merman, sir sir!”).

Are you ready to use what you’ve learned? Click here to practice possessive adjectives!

Would you like to see an example for each and every form of a possessive adjective?
Click here to see tables with example sentences!

Check out these links to find out even more about possessive adjectives:

https://germanwithlaura.com/possessive-adjectives/
https://grammar.collinsdictionary.com/de/deutsch-grammatik-lernen/possessive-pronouns

Unpacking the grammar

  • What is noun gender? In German, nouns can be in one of three groups distinguished by the form of the article: masculine or der-nouns, feminine or die-nouns, and neuter or das-nouns

  • And what is a subject, a direct object, an indirect object, and a genitive attribute? These four terms refer to roles a noun can take on in a sentence:

    • The subject DOES the ACTION:

Der Mann sucht den Stift.
The man searches for the pencil.

    • The direct object is DIRECTLY AFFECTED by the action:

Ich sehe den Mann.
I see the man.

    • The indirect object RECEIVES something or BENEFITS from the action: 

Ich kaufe dem Mann einen Stift.
I’m buying a pencil for the man.

    • A genitive attribute allows us to name the OWNER of something:

Der Stift des Mannes ist rot.
The man’s pencil is red.

  • Articles (and sometimes nouns) have different forms to mark these roles. This marking is called “case.” We distinguish the nominative case for the subject, accusative case for the direct object, dative case for the indirect object, and genitive case for the genitive attribute.

    • Also, prepositions require their articles to be in either accusative, dative, or genitive case.

GERMAN-BADGE-CURRENT

Adventures in Language, from Mango Languages, is the best place online if you want to elevate your knowledge of linguistics and your proficiency at language learning and teaching. This wealth of knowledge is just a couple clicks away.

Want to practice? Try these activities.

Ulrike Carlson

Spanish Imperfect Tense: Giving descriptions of the past
What are negative words in Russian?
Mango Languages
Written by Mango Languages

Language is an Adventure

Related Posts
Can you learn a language without trying?
Can you learn a language without trying?
How can you say ‘and’ in Mandarin Chinese?
How can you say ‘and’ in Mandarin Chinese?
How to use the definite articles in German
How to use the definite articles in German
3 reasons why mastering pronunciation can be hard
3 reasons why mastering pronunciation can be hard
How are Russian possessives used?
How are Russian possessives used?
When do you put accent marks on infinitives, gerunds, and imperatives when they are combined with object pronouns?
When do you put accent marks on infinitives, gerunds, and imperatives when they are combined with object pronouns?

Comments

Subscribe

Subscribe to Email Updates