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Why is it seiner used in the following sentence?

Das Schicksal des jüdischen Mädchens, das 1933 mit seiner Familie aus Frankfurt....

I do not understand why seiner is used instead of ihrer.

  • @Rompey It's not genitive. – c.p. Oct 19 '17 at 22:01
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Which gender does Mädchen have in German? Which should be the possesive pronoun accordingly? (hover the mouse on the box if you cannot solve by yourself after that).

Because Mädchen is neutral (das Mädchen), the possessive pronoun is sein. Familie is femenine, thus seiner, since mit needs dative.

  • 2
    What does the age of the girl have to do with this? – Carsten S Oct 19 '17 at 22:17
  • Somehow I thought that the age could give more weight to the semantics than to the syntaxis. Mh, would my argument work with Mädel? – c.p. Oct 19 '17 at 23:47
  • I don’t think it would work with “Mädel” either. Also, this might be a regional (I’m in northern Germany) or outdated word, since I’ve never read or heard it used outside of old texts or very old movies. It is a common colloquialism to use “ihre” with “Mädchen”. If “Frau” were used instead, there would be no disambiguity. – Philipp Oct 20 '17 at 6:47
  • @Philipp Did you refer to "Mädel" when saying regional/outdated? Then, it's certainly regional, because "Mädel/Mädels" is well known to me. – Em1 Oct 20 '17 at 7:11
  • @Em1 Yes, I meant »Mädel«. Of course, I know the word, but I've never heard it in Hamburg. – Philipp Oct 20 '17 at 8:24
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As you seem to have understood, seiner refers to das jüdische Mädchen. Now she is undoubtably female, the pronoun however depends on the grammatical gender of the noun Mädchen, which is neuter (because it is originally a diminutive, but that is not important, you just have to know the grammatical gender of a word and cannot rely on it agreeing with a natural one). For the same reason, it is

[..], das 1933 [...].

For the forms of the personal pronoun, you can consult the table on Wiktionary.

In the same way, I can say (rather clumsily):

Ich bin eine Person, die versucht, dir mit ihrer Antwort zu helfen.

It does not matter whether I am a man or a woman, Person is a female noun.

  • To clarify: the connection between grammatical and natural gender is exactly zero. Mark Twain joked about this in his famous essay “The Awful German Language”. People, animals and some plants have a natural gender, and some few items are treated as if they had one (e. g. ships), but most things don’t. And the nouns describing these “things” (girl etc.) are just words like any other. The confusion arises because we use the word “gender”, which is not very accurate. Cf.: Scholten, Daniel: Denksport Deutsch, 2016. – Philipp Oct 20 '17 at 6:56
  • @Philipp, it is not zero. It is not a coincidence that Lehrerin is female. Also, the genders of Vater, Mutter, Bruder, Schwester are as expected. – Carsten S Oct 20 '17 at 13:45

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