I am new to German and am confused about the genitive personal pronoun. When considering the following sentence (from the Bible):

  • Er gab ihn seiner Mutter.

which is translated into

  • He gave him to his mother.

From the context, we can tell that the Mutter is ihn's, not er's.

However, my question is: can we determine the reference of the genitive 3rd pronoun seiner from grammar purely?

Since seiner, er, and ihn can all be masculine he (or neuter it), is there a way to tell if seiner refers to er or ihn? A similar confusion also arises from the following sentence:

  • Er gab es seiner Mutter.
  • Can you give the context? I'm assuming ihn here refers to an object?
    – PMF
    Oct 17, 2022 at 6:05
  • @PMF The whole sentence is "Und der Tote setzte sich auf und fing an zu reden; und er gab ihn seiner Mutter.", thus ihn looks like to refer to der Tote, i.e.the dead man.
    – HanXu
    Oct 17, 2022 at 6:34
  • Ok, then the answer below is correct, only context can tell that seiner here refers to the (formerly) dead man's mother, not to the mother of Er (Jesus). It's obvious that the boy wasn't returned to Jesus' mother, but to the boy's mother.
    – PMF
    Oct 17, 2022 at 7:04
  • @PMF I see. Thank you!
    – HanXu
    Oct 17, 2022 at 7:10
  • 1
    The very same ambiguity exists in the English translation of this sentence: »And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.« (from King James Bible) Here »he« in the second sentence refers to Jesus and »him« to the son of the widow of Nain. (But in fact even this is ambiguous.) And from the grammar of the sentence alone you can't tell if the mother is Maria (the mother of Jesus) or the widow of Nain (the mother of the former dead young man). Oct 17, 2022 at 7:51

1 Answer 1


You can't tell that from grammar alone.

Seiner may refer to an arbitrary masculine or neuter noun. Only context tells which noun it is.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.