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I don’t how this is possible, but check the following sentences out:

  1. Wo ist der Schlüssel? Er ist in meiner Tasche.

  2. Wo ist der Schlüssel? Es ist in meiner Tasche.

I just saw this in my book and I was confused, which of this two sentences is the right one. If the first is right, how can it be possible to call an object by he? Anyway I leave it to you guys you know more than me.

closed as off-topic by Crissov, Ludi, Hubert Schölnast, Gerhard, Eller Jul 18 '16 at 6:19

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  • Related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/27334/… – Carsten S Jul 16 '16 at 23:11
  • Possible duplicate of How can I better learn noun genders? – Crissov Jul 17 '16 at 0:20
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    I'm voting to close this, because it shows no prior effort. Furthermore, with this title the question is not going to pop up in any search and the only useful title I can imagine is "are there really grammatical genders in German?" – Ludi Jul 17 '16 at 7:45
  • Sie haben recht, mache ich das – user22634 Jul 17 '16 at 16:28
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    @PerlDuck This is actually the case in most efforts of descriptive grammar of natural languages: The set of rules often exceeds the complexity of the reality it describes. Or in other words: learning the rules (and all sub-rules and sub-sub-rules) is usually more time-consuming or brain-consuming than just learning the proper use of words in given situations. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 5 '18 at 16:45
10

The first sentence is correct, because "der Schlüssel" (the key) is grammatically masculine:

Wo ist der Schlüssel? Der Schlüssel ist in meiner Tasche.

And if you replace the second instance of "the key" with the correct pronoun, the sentence becomes

Wo ist der Schlüssel? Er ist in meiner Tasche.

6

Yes, there are grammatical genders in German.

In English only persons or things that are somehow personlike (like pets, android robots and sometimes even ships), can be masculine or feminine. Everything that is not personoid is always neuter in english.

This is not true in German. Things (to be more precise: words for things) can have any of the three genders. A knife (das Messer) is neuter, a fork (die Gabel) is feminine and a spoon (der Löffel) is masculine. But as said before: Not the things carry the gender, the word are the things that have a gender.

There are things, that have more than one name. You call this synonyms. For example, the word "car" can be translated as »das Auto« (neuter), »der Wagen« (masculine) or »die Karre« (feminine) ("Karre" is a shabby car). You can use all three words for the same thing.

Also pronouns have a grammatical gender. It always has to match with the word it refers to:

Das Auto meines Bruders ist rot. Es ist vier Jahre alt.
Der Wagen meines Bruders ist rot. Er ist vier Jahre alt.
Die Karre meines Bruders ist rot. Sie ist vier Jahre alt.

(Remember, that we talk in all three sentences about the very same car.)

Also mention, that the biological gender of a person does not always match with the grammatical gender of the word that is used for this person. Most famous example: The girl is »das Mädchen« in German, which is not feminine but neuter. Same for »das Weib« ("Weib" is an old and pejorative word for "woman").

Das Mädchen ist hübsch. Es hat lange Beine.
Dieses Weib ist schrecklich. Es macht alles kaputt.

But for this case (non-feminine grammatical Gender for biological female person) there is a relatively young exception (young compared to other rules). You can also use feminine pronouns:

Das Mädchen ist hübsch. Sie hat lange Beine.
Dieses Weib ist schrecklich. Sie macht alles kaputt.

The word »Schlüssel« is masculine. For this reason, in a dictionary you will either find "(m)" for "masculine", or the masculine article "der" ("der Schlüssel"). And since the key is masculine in German, you have to use a masculine pronoun when referring to »him«.

  • “Old and pejorative” may be misunderstood, I think you want to say that Weib is now used mostly pejoratively. – Carsten S Jul 17 '16 at 20:10
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    @CarstenS how could it be misunderstood? – Ludi Jul 18 '16 at 7:23
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    @Ludi it could be misunderstood to always have been pejorative. – Carsten S Jul 18 '16 at 7:23
  • In English "male" and "female" refer to biological sex only. When referring to grammatical gender you need to say "masculine" and "feminine". – fdb Mar 5 '18 at 13:58
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That's a problem, non-native-speakers often have. You shouldn't depend on the fact, that the key is an object. If you want to understand it, you must learn the nouns with the related articles.

Other examples:

  • "The ball" ("der Ball") is a "he" too, although it's an object.
  • "The door" ("die Tür") is a "she", although it's an object.

There isn't any system.

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