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I was going to write the following sentence in an e-mail, but the "sie" sounds odd to me:

Diese Datei ist nicht im Excel-Format, sondern im XML-Format. Bitte schauen Sie sie an.

so I changed it to:

Diese Datei ist nicht im Excel-Format, sondern im XML-Format. Bitte schauen Sie die Datei an.

Is it just my native-English-ear, or does the first sentence sound odd to native German speakers as well?

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The first part of your example needs a dative: "eine Datei ist im (in dem) Excel-Format". –  Takkat Jan 3 '12 at 15:39
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The same goes for "in XML Format", which additionally needs a hyphen: "im XML-Format" (compare de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deppenleerzeichen). –  elena Jan 3 '12 at 16:11
    
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actually using "sie", "er" and "es" is usualy something that only native speakers master. The german language has very long sentences with a lot of long word. This way of shortening the content is "HIGH CLASS" German! –  blindfold Jan 4 '12 at 15:39
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I know some non-native speakers, which master this without problem. Do you know that French people have genders for objects too? –  user unknown Jan 6 '12 at 19:19

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

No, it's completely ok to use "sie" or "er" when referring to objects. You will find it in many other cases, too:

Soll ich Ihnen den Weg zeigen?

Nein, danke, ich kenne ihn schon.

To me, it sounds slightly better not to repeat the noun. An issue on its own is the duplication of "sie" in the first version, but this isn't a grammatical problem (IMHO). If you can't avoid duplicating the "sie" (e.g. by using an alternative construction of the sentence), I would advise to keep that duplication instead of repeating the noun.

Another point: some better alternatives regarding the verb "anschauen", which is colloquial. I would prefer "prüfen" or "überprüfen".

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+1 for "To me, it sounds slightly better not to repeat the noun." –  Lernkurve Jan 5 '12 at 22:36

No, it doesn't sound odd due to the pronoun at all.

It is mildly odd due to the seeming duplication of a word (like in the sentence: Fliegen Fliegen auch nachts? - non-literal translation: Does a fly fly at night?).

Practical advice in this case (condensed from @musiKk's and @bernd_k's comments and answers): "Bitte schauen Sie sich die Datei an."

This avoids the slightly ugly duplication as well as uses the reflexive form of schauen, which calls for examination of the file instead of just directing the user's gaze toward its general direction.

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I have to disagree (which highlights the subjectivity of this question). I think in this case it does sound slightly odd; especially compared to "schauen Sie sich die Datei an". However in the general case using such a pronoun for a thing is not odd to me ("Ich habe sie [die Datei] schon gesehen.") –  musiKk Jan 3 '12 at 15:31
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You are right, in this case it does sound slightly odd - just not due to the pronoun, in my opinion, but due to the duplication of the word "Sie/sie". Maybe I should edit to make this more clear? –  fzwo Jan 3 '12 at 16:02
    
Your suggested sentence is excellent practical advice in this case, though, and also my favorite version. bernd_k's answer provides insight as to why the reflexive use of schauen is preferable in this case. –  fzwo Jan 3 '12 at 16:09

Perhaps because I'm a native francophone, I don't find the use of masculine and feminine pronouns in the least strange .

The genders often differ between French and German (la table vs. der Tisch) but I never think of the French word when learning by heart the gender of a German noun: it would be a very silly thing to do and anyway there is no neutral in French.

That said, native francophones make quite a few mistakes: for example, even PhD holders generally believe that you should say un anagramme, whereas it is really une anagramme.
German friends have told me that their compatriots make mistakes too and that there are, moreover, regional differences: it seems that Bavarians sometimes change the gender of die Butter.

Let me remark that there are lists of nouns which have several genders (der Bonbon or das Bonbon).
Finally, it is interesting to note that some homonyms are distinguished only through their gender. For example Band

Ich habe alle bis auf den vierten (tome of a book)
Das rote steht dir gut (ribbon)
Die Beatles? Sie war die bekannteste in den sechziger Jahren (musical band)

Edit Come to think of it, there is one case in which the pronoun makes me wince:

Er war in das Mädchen sehr verliebt und küßte es ständig.

I can't say I find the usage of es here very romantic! (And I think that even some germanophones would let semantics trump syntax and say "...und küßte sie ständig". )

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I want to mention that "die Band" (like the Beatles) is pronounced differently than the other "Band" words. For "die Band" we use the (slightly adapted) English pronunciation: duden.de/rechtschreibung/Band_Musikergruppe –  John Smithers Jan 6 '12 at 18:27
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"Ich bestelle Rose 732!" "Die bei der Blumenauktion, den aus dem Weinladen, oder das aus dem Farbengeschäft?" –  user unknown Jan 6 '12 at 19:25
    
Lieber @user unknown, mein Wörterbuch gibt Rosé (Wein) und rosa (Farbe) an, aber man soll nicht zu pingelig sein und dein Beispiel ist recht amüsant: +1 –  Georges Elencwajg Jan 6 '12 at 22:53
    
Diese ^ Pfeilchen/Häuschen vor Kommentaren erlauben ein +1 zu vergeben. Allerdings hat man nichts davon, von daher bestehe ich nicht drauf :) Und Deinem Wörterbuch will ich auch nicht widersprechen. –  user unknown Jan 6 '12 at 23:23
    
Ach ja, @user unknown, Du hast Recht: die +1 ist jetzt verwirklicht! –  Georges Elencwajg Jan 6 '12 at 23:37

I would prefer

Bitte schauen Sie sie sich an.

The other form

Bitte schauen Sie sie an.

sounds odd to me.

In context with persons both forms are valid, but have a different meaning.

Examine someone vs. just look in someones direction.

Edit:

There was no example given using "er". Any case I think it should be corrected to "ihn".

The following examples sound OK:

Schauen Sie ihn (den Drucker) an.

Schauen Sie es (das Beispiel) an.

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This is true, but probably better as a comment, since it doesn't answer the actual question. –  fzwo Jan 3 '12 at 15:22
    
I said it sounds odd –  bernd_k Jan 3 '12 at 15:37
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Yes, but you didn't answer the question: Does using the pronouns "sie" and "er" when referring to objects sound odd? Both your odd and non-odd examples use the "sie" pronoun. –  fzwo Jan 3 '12 at 15:57

Just a workaround - not proper grammar!

In case you feel uncertain or uncomfortable with the appropriate gender of an object you could always go for a workaraound.

Use a non-gender or neuter expression for the action you want to point to:

"Schauen Sie sich das bitte einmal an." (derived from "sich etwas anschauen").

Another trick would be to use plural instead of singular:

die Datei f - die Dateien
das Programm n - die Programme
der Brief m - die Briefe

Then your sentence would sound like that:

Schauen Sie sich das bitte einmal an: die Dateien sind nicht im Excel-Format sondern im XML-Format.

Of course this is cheating but from a practical view it may sometimes turn out helpful.

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Das wiederholte 'sie' klingt in

Bitte schauen Sie sich sie an.

etwas seltsam, wenn man drauf achtet, aber man achtet im Alltagsgebrauch nicht drauf, und daher ist es ebenso ok wie in

Bitte schau sie Dir an.

In der geschriebenen Sprache stört es noch viel weniger.

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