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I have been told that when using he/she/it, it's usually simple to use der/die/das to work out how to refer to the thing.

For example:

  • "The pen is big" becomes "Der Stift ist groß" leading to "Er ist groß"
  • "The sun is hot" becomes "Die Sonne ist heiß" leading to "Sie ist heiß"
  • "The ice is cold" becomes "Das Eis ist kalt" leading to "Es ist kalt"

So doing this with animals would be ...

  • "The dog is black" becomes "Der Hund ist schwarz" leading to "Er ist schwarz"
  • "The cat is white" becomes "Die Katze ist weiß" leading to "Sie ist weiß"
  • "The horse is brown" becomes "Das Pferd ist braun" leading to "Es ist braun"

Without getting into too much biology, what would happen with a female dog, male cat or a horse of defined gender?

If the dog were known to be female and if that were important in the sentence, would I say "Sie is schwarz", or would I have to say "die Hündin ist schwarz"? Or have I got something else wrong?

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    Very similar question, if not duplicate.
    – guidot
    Jun 30 at 9:25

3 Answers 3

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Without getting into too much biology, what would happen with a female dog, male cat or a horse of defined gender?

There are usually different words for male and female animals, quite like you have "dog" for a dog of unknown gender and "bitch" for a female dog:

der Hund (der Rüde) / die Hündin

das Pferd, but: der Hengst (male, "stallion"), die Stute (female, "mare"), der Wallach (castrated male horse, "gelding")

das Rind, but: der Stier (male, "bull"), die Kuh (female, "cow"), der Ochse (castrated bull, "oxen")

das Schwein, but: der Eber (male), die Bache (female)

and so on.

If the dog were known to be female and if that were important in the sentence, would I say "Sie is schwarz", or would I have to say "die Hündin ist schwarz"? Or have I got something else wrong?

You got that right and both "sie" or "die Hündin" would be absolutely OK. You would use "sie" only if the context was already about "die Hündin". If you have talked about "der Hund" first, "sie" would be a bit uncommon (but still correct).

You might i.e. have this dialogue:

"Wem gehört dieser Hund?"
"Sie - es ist nämlich ein Weibchen - gehört mir."

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    Bache ist es nur beim Wildschwein, beim Hausschwein Sau (wenn ich mich recht erinnere). Jun 30 at 9:42
  • @phipsgabler: soweit ich weiß ist Bache für jede Art weibliches Schwein korrekt, aber jetzt, da Du es erwähnst, bin ich auch nicht hundertprozentig sicher. Lesen vielleicht irgendwelche Bauern hier mit, die uns aufklären könnten?
    – bakunin
    Jun 30 at 9:48
  • Great answer! But I want to add that some pet owners (like myself) use whatever is grammatically correct in the sentence. So I would say "Meine Katze ist noch jung. Er rennt viel herum." and when talking to my cat I also say "Du bist so eine süße Katze" even though he is male.
    – Sentry
    Jun 30 at 12:27
  • Was ist denn das unterschiedliche Wort für eine männliche Schlange? Bis auf vielleicht 100 populäre Tierarten sind die vielleicht Tierpflegern, Jägern und Tierärzten bekannt. Solange man das Geschlecht nicht betonen will benutzt man oft das allgemeine Wort (die Taube), auch wenn einem zufällig das biologische Geschlecht des Tiers bekannt ist. Das Geschlecht das man nutzt hat sich nach dem Wort zu richten, das man benutzt hat. "Er rennt viel herum" würde ich als belehrend deuten und als Hinweis, dass Dir das Geschlecht des Hundes so wichtig ist, dass Du Grammatikfehler in Kauf nimmst. Jun 30 at 22:45
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Nouns for animals very often have one grammatical gender for the default case (where we have no actual gender information), and different words with different grammatical genders for male / female.

For example: Das Pferd, der Hengst, die Stute. Die Katze, der Kater, die Katze. Der Hund, der Hund, die Hündin. Sometimes there are three words, sometimes two, and probably there are some with only one word. (Das Schwein, der Eber, die Sau, but only "das Meerschweinchen". A guinea pig is not a pig, neither in German nor in English funny enough. )

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  • Es hängt nicht von der Information ab, die man hat, sondern davon, ob man diese ausdrücken will. Man sagt auch oft "das Pferd", wenn man das biologische Geschlecht kennt, weil es einem darauf nicht ankommt. So wie man auch sagt "Ich muss zum Friseur", ohne damit etwas über dessen biologisches Geschlecht auszudrücken. Das Wort "Friseur" ist männlich, der Friseur vielleicht nicht. Jun 30 at 22:50
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For a non-pet animal (effectively those that are it in English), you use the pronoun that corresponds to the general species noun; you’ve already posted examples yourself.

When it comes to pets, pet owners differ in their style. For most pets, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and so on, their sex does not matter that much in an everyday context. Some pet owners usually refer to the pet as if it were a person, similar to English; they refer to their female dog as sie (her) or their tomcat as er (him). Most people and a lot of pet owners don’t do that and as the person without knowledge, you can safely use the species noun pronoun. Even most pet owners have no problem if you “misgender” the pet if it’s in line with the species. (It would be weird to say es for a dog in German; the dog is male or female, der Hund is masculine; there is no way to get to es.)

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