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You want to associate the possessive adjective to the possessor (noun). If you have a masculine noun, you use

sein/seine/sein

If the possessor is feminine, you use

ihr/ihre/ihr

What about a neuter possessor? I understand that if this neuter possessor is a masculine or feminine person, you use the corresponding adjective, but what about all of those nouns which do not refer to people, like for example "das Brot"?

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There are even people with neuter gender: "das Mädchen" which will confuse even us native Germans when we have to use the appropriate possessive pronoun. ;) –  Takkat Jun 22 '13 at 16:03
    
I know, and "das Kind" can be both a male and a female...! –  martina Jun 22 '13 at 16:11
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The possessor’s grammatical gender is neutral, the corresponding possessive pronoun is sein/seine/sein (which is identical to the pronoun for a possessor of male grammatical gender) – no matter what the possessor’s biological gender. However, sometimes the possessive pronoun corresponding to the possessor’s biological gender is used in a constructio ad sensum, especially if the biological gender is known, which is the case for the word Mädchen, for example.

Some examples:

Das Mädchen spielte mit seinem Auto. – The girl played with her car. (correct)
Das Mädchen spielte mit ihrem Auto. (constructio ad sensum)
Ich nahm das Brot und schnitt durch seine Kruste – I took the bread and cut through its crust.

Addendum: Fascinatingly, I have never seen a constructio ad sensum, if Person, which is of female grammatical gender, is used to refer to a clearly male person.

Die Polizei sucht eine unbekannte männliche Person, die ihre Haare grün gefärbt hatte. – The police is looking for an unknown male person, who dyed his hair green.

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Constructio ad sensum is not applicable here as grammatical genus and biological sex or gender are totally independant. –  Toscho Jun 22 '13 at 17:12
    
So, according to Wrzlprmft, it would be (it is feasible) "das Mädchen und ihr Pferd", according to Toscho it would be "das Mädchen und sein Pferd" instead. I'm confused. Do you have some reference for this? –  martina Jun 22 '13 at 17:18
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@martina From a grammatical point of view it's correct to go with the masculine gender. In colloquial speech, however, it's very common to neglect this rule if talking about female people, namely "Mädchen" or "Kind". I'd even highly recommend to do so as it is very awkward to refer to a girl as "him". –  Em1 Jun 22 '13 at 21:13
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@Em1: I would not say that any neuter forms are missing. They just happen to be identical with the masculine forms. So, I would not perceive that a girl is referred to as him, but as it (which is about the same concerning the awkwardness, hence the neglection of grammar and constructio ad sensum). –  Wrzlprmft Jun 22 '13 at 22:20
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Concerning the constructio ad sensum for male persons: Your example mixes male/female and possesive pronoun/relativ pronoun. Make a strictly possesive example in order to compare with "Mädchen": Eine männliche Person hatte einen Unfall. Sein Auto war kaputt. -- Eine männliche Person hatte einen Unfall. Ihr Auto war kaputt. –  Toscho Jun 23 '13 at 15:19
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Neuter nouns have the same possesive pronouns as masculin nouns. It has nothing to do with biological sexes or genders.

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