13

I realise that German words have specific genders, but does that apply to pronouns as well? For example, if I wished to say:

I searched for my bag, but I didn't find it

Would I say:

Ich habe meine Tasche gesucht, aber ich habe es nicht gefunden.

Or:

Ich habe meine Tasche gesucht, aber ich habe sie nicht gefunden.

59

Yes, gender applies to pronouns as well. It is a grammatical feature, not a biological.

Correct:

Ich habe meine Tasche gesucht, aber ich habe sie nicht gefunden.

Grammatical gender in English exists only in pronouns (he, she, it), and they are bound to the biological sexus (with some exceptions, like ships which are female too).

But in German each noun has a grammatical gender that sometimes even differs from the biological sexus (if there is a sexus).

And note that the gender is a property of the word, not of the thing named by the word!


Some examples for unanimated objects:

  • masculine

    Das ist der Löffel, er liegt auf dem Tisch.
    That's the spoon, it's on the table.

  • feminine

    Das ist die Gabel, sie liegt auf dem Tisch.
    That's the fork, it's on the table.

  • neuter

    Das ist das Messer, es liegt auf dem Tisch.
    That's the knife, it's on the table.


Persons:

  • Sexus: male, Gender: masculine

    Der Mann isst einen Apfel. Er trägt einen Hut.
    The man eats an apple. He wears a hat.

  • Sexus: female, Gender: feminine

    Die Frau isst einen Apfel. Sie trägt einen Hut.
    The woman eats an apple. She wears a hat.

  • Sexus: unknown, Gender: neuter

    Das Kind isst einen Apfel. Es trägt einen Hut.
    The child eats an apple. He/she wears a hat.

    In German children are treated as asexual beings. If you want to name the sexus of a child, you use Junge/Bub (boy) or Mädchen (girl) (for Mädchen see next example)


But sexus and gender do not always match:

  • Sexus: female, Gender: neuter

    Das Mädchen isst einen Apfel. Es trägt einen Hut.
    The girl eats an apple. She wears a hat.

    The word Mädchen is a diminutive, which you can see from its postfix -chen. And in German all diminutives are always neuter. This is a very strong rule, and it is one of the rare rules that have absolutely no exception. This rule is stronger than the matching between sexus and gender that normally exists in German for persons.

  • Sexus: female, Gender: neuter

    Das Weib isst einen Apfel. Es trägt einen Hut.
    The woman eats an apple. She wears a hat.

    The word Weib is an old word. Today you use Frau instead. But you still find it in the adjective weiblich which mens female. (Weib is still in use, but has changed meaning today it has a meaning similar to vixen/shrew)

  • Sexus: male, Gender: feminine

    Die Tunte isst einen Apfel. Sie trägt eine Federboa.
    The drag queen eats an apple. He wears a feather boa.

German is a living language, which means, that its rules are changing over the time. What I told you about Mädchen, Weib, Tunte and some more nouns where sexus and gender do not match, is still correct. But in the last 50 years, German native speakers began to use pronouns that don't match with the grammatical gender, but with the biological sexus, and since a few decades this is even considered to be correct too.

So today you are also allowed to say this:

Das Mädchen isst einen Apfel. Sie trägt einen Hut.
Das Weib isst einen Apfel. Sie trägt einen Hut.
Die Tunte isst einen Apfel. Er trägt eine Federboa.

But note that the matching of the pronoun with the grammatical gender still is correct too, so in this case, you can choose.


Examples for the same thing (a car) that has different names with different genders:

  • masculine

    Der Wagen ist rostig. Er steht in der Garage.
    The car is rusty. It is in the garage.

  • feminine

    Die Karre ist rostig. Sie steht in der Garage.
    The car is rusty. It is in the garage.

  • neuter

    Das Auto ist rostig. Es steht in der Garage.
    The car is rusty. It is in the garage.

As you can see, the gender is a property of the word, not of the thing. It is the very same rusty old limousine we are talking about here, but since we use different nouns with different genders, we also must change the pronoun.

(Der Wagen is often used for a bigger car, like a limousine. Die Karre is often used for an old and shabby car. Das Auto is the general translation of the car.)

  • 6
    Unfortunately, one could only upvote once. – Janka Aug 1 '18 at 12:31
  • "Das ist der Löffel**. E**r liegt auf dem Tisch." Possibly a semicolon might be okay, but a comma seems wrong. – Roland Aug 2 '18 at 9:01
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    @Roland Comma between two main clauses is completely correct; it is merely a matter of style whether you prefer a full stop, a semicolon or a comma. – Florian Aug 2 '18 at 11:08
  • @Florian OK, I was wrong. But it would be nice if it was at least consistent in the answer. – Roland Aug 2 '18 at 12:57
7

Yes, the pronoun has to reflect the gender and there is no fallback to neuter. Look up in case of doubt, especially for countries and rivers.

There is one further special case. If a person is involved, the pronoun increasingly uses the sex instead of the grammatical gender in case of difference:

Das Mädchen ging in den Wald. Es hatte ein Kleid an.

While this is grammatically fine, the more intuitive:

Sie hatte ein Kleid an.

is no longer unconditionally considered as errror.

  • I thought city names were always neuter, so it would not be necessary to look up the gender for each city. This was mentioned as a rule with no apparent exceptions in the answers to What are the relative pronouns of cities? – sumelic Aug 1 '18 at 16:16
2

the correct sentence would be:

Ich habe meine Tasche gesucht, aber ich habe sie nicht gefunden.

Or:

Ich habe meine Tasche gesucht, habe sie aber nicht gefunden.

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