I recently saw "Yes, it's working well." translated as "Ja, sie funktioniert gut.". Is this a correct translation?

As far as I know, "sie" means "she" or "them", but not "it". So it looks as if it's an incorrect translation. I would use "es" or "das" here. But maybe there is some nuance that I'm missing, and it actually is a correct sentence?

Google Translate translates "Yes, it's working well." as "Ja, es funktioniert gut.", but "Ja, sie funktioniert gut." is translated as "Yes, it works well."

So, is "sie" here a mistake or not?

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    It depends on the noun. What is meant with "it"? Is it possible, that this "it" is female in german?
    – IQV
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 9:41
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    The sentence is completely without any other context. It's in a language learning web page that I'm using to learn German. Since it's a new and experimental one, I have already ran into some things that are certainly bugs. I decided to ask for a second opinion on this sentence to not accidentally learn something wrong.
    – Liisi
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 9:45
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    Sie can be used for any specific noun of the female genus. Example : "Die Stadt ist nett. Sie heißt Berlin.". Here sie refers back to "die Stadt". Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 13:23
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    It's just the opposite: in German, you can use male/female words (er, sie) for some objects or animals, while in English language only "it" is used for that. So yes, you can use "it" in English while in German it can be "der" (der Hund), "die" (die Maur) or "das" (das Haus).
    – Dominique
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 13:50
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    Sometimes you even have to translate "she" with "er" and "he" with "sie", namely when these pronouns refer to the Moon and the Sun, respectively ... Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 8:17

3 Answers 3


Whether the sentence is correctly translated or not depends a bit on the context.

Please compare the following:

Die Maschine wurde repariert. Ja, sie funktioniert jetzt gut.
Der Motor wurde repariert. Ja, er funktioniert jetzt wieder gut.
Das Ding war kaputt. Ja, es funktioniert wieder gut.

Only if you don't know what your are refering to, you may keep it general:

Ja, es funktioniert gut.

  • 4
    It might be good to provide an explanation in the answer. As it is written, the reader has to infer it.
    – JBentley
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 22:42

Nouns in German are of 4 kinds, namely masculine, feminine, neuter and plural. The relevant articles used for them in the nominative case are der, die, das and again, this time plural, die respectively.

The pronoun Sie/sie, which means You/she/they, also refers to any feminine noun in German; it can refer to die Mutter, as well as to die Maschine; so, Sie/sie can also be translated into English as it to refer to a thing/noun which is considered feminine in German.

  • 7
    I'd not mix plural with genders as "kinds".
    – Robert
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 20:36
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    @Robert for pronoun usage those kinds are all that matters. Of course, the singular/plural distinction has other effects (like what verb to use), so for a complete understanding it is better to know the full picture. Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 11:29

Just to expound on what has already been said: the gender of a noun in German is determined differently than it is in English. In English, a female animal is a 'she,' a male animal is a 'he,' and inanimate objects are 'it.' Super duper easy.

In German, each noun has a gender assigned by Who Really Knows What. A spoon is a 'he' while a fork is a 'she.' Because That's Just The Way It Is.

When learning German (as well as many other languages, I'm told), you really have no choice other than to memorize the gender of the nouns you learn.

  • 1
    Welcome to Stack Exchange. Please be aware that SE is not like a typical forum. Answers should only be posted if they answer the question. Posts which don't answer the question but do provide useful ancillary information (such as yours) should be posted as comments (either on the question, or if appropriate, on another answer). By design, you'll be unable to do that until you earn some rep.
    – JBentley
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 22:46
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    Also, your analysis of English pronouns is over-simplified. It can be used for animate objects where you don't know the gender, and there are cases where gendered pronouns can apply to inanimate objects (ships being the obvious example that springs to mind).
    – JBentley
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 22:48
  • Isn't "it" used in English for animals even whey you know it it's male or female? As far as I know, a cow would be normally referred as "it" and not "she".
    – Pere
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 11:02
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    @Pere: No, animals are usually referred to as "he" or "she"; however, this is most strongly applied to pets so farm animals, etc are sometimes called 'it'. Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 11:12
  • @JackAidley It's not really about farm animals vs. pets, it's whether or not you know the gender. It just happens that people are more likely to know the gender of a pet and therefore use "he/she". But it's perfectly valid to refer to a pet (e.g. one you see in the park) as "it" when you don't know the gender.
    – JBentley
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 19:32

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