Duolingo sentence:

"Dieser Kochlöffel ist schmutzig, aber der hier ist sauber."

I also know you can use das as such: Das sind meine Bücher (A) / Das ist mein Arm (B).

It was already made very clear to me that i couldn't replace the der in the Duolingo sentence with a das (despite it very well being able to be used like this, like in (A),(B)) since the thing reffered to is already "known", so the appropriate gendered pronoun has to be used, but not also why, like technically speaking.

Things I do know:

  1. Pronouns replace nouns that are already known.
  2. The der in the duolingo sentence and the das in (A),(B) are demonstrative pronouns.
  3. Furthermore, the das in these two example sentences is an emphatic form of es (it itself cannot be stressed) - so probably different (C)? from the ordinary demonstrative das from the der/die/das group.
  4. es can be put in first position with werden/sein corresponding to the english it - "It's Sunday" - Es ist Mittag, also in the plural: "They're foreigners" - Es sind Ausländer (Although the emphatic das version (3) would corespond to that/those (as opposed to it/they in the examples here))

so I guess the reason is a combination of points 3. and 4. but that would imply that the property (4.) of this demonstrative das at (3.) is unique only to it, which means you can't do it with der/die??(D) (Der ist Polizist/Die ist eine Blume) - even though i think i saw them in first positions before - but typical of pronouns they can be used to reffer back to known nouns (see duolingo sentence) whereas this demonstrative das (C) can't be used to reffer back to stuff (unless we're talking about a neuter noun) but it can reffer to things that have yet to be revealed/aren't known despite the speaker knowing full well the gender of these nouns (sentences (A),(B)).

So maybe two pronoun-"das" can be differentiated then?: a regular one that would only point back to a defined noun (supposedly the same way the regular demonstrative der/die would) and this one (C) which is "es" in a different, stressed form (and has the special trait of being able to be in first position, but nothing much else)? But then there's still the problem of having seen der/die in first positions (D).

So yeah in case it's not clear the question is why can't this demonstrative das from sentences (A),(B) also point back to non-neuter nouns like it can before them being "revealed/known".

Thanks guys.

  • 1
    You can have forward references too: "Der, der das Bild gemalt hat, war geschickt". The First "der" points to the creator of the painting (i.e. the relative clause). Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 12:10

1 Answer 1


There are "usual" demonstrative pronouns, introducing demonstrative pronouns and correlates which look pretty the same when they appear in a sentence, but they behave different:

  • demonstrative pronouns in their common usage

    They refer to a specific noun in the context. This noun can exist before the pronoun, often in a preceding sentence, which is the most common place. It also can exist after the pronoun, and it even can exist just as an unspoken word in the mind of the speaker and the listeners. Grammatically is important, that the grammatical gender of a demonstrative pronoun must always match with the grammatical gender of the noun to which it refers, even if it is an unspoken word.

    Here are some examples:

    • noun before the pronoun
      This is the most common order.

      masculine: Ich brauche diesen Löffel nicht. Der ist außerdem schmutzig.
      feminine: Ich brauche diese Gabel nicht. Die ist außerdem schmutzig.
      neuter: Ich brauche dieses Messer nicht. Das ist außerdem schmutzig.

      I don't need this spoon/fork/knife. It's also dirty.

    • Noun after pronoun
      This is allowed, but rare.

      Der ist ja völlig verdeckt! Hier, diesen Löffel meine ich.
      Die ist ja völlig verdeckt! Hier, diesen Gabel meine ich.
      Das ist ja völlig verdeckt! Hier, diesen Messer meine ich.

      It's completely filthy. Here, I mean this spoon/fork/knife.

    • unspoken noun
      This occurs very frequently in spoken language, but is rare in written texts because it is difficult to put a word in context in a written text without writing it. In spoken language, it is much easier to put a word into context with gestures or other non-verbal techniques without saying it.

      The waiter brings a plate of soup, says »So, hier ist Ihre Suppe« and places a spoon next to the guest's plate. The guest takes the spoon, looks at it briefly, then holds it up to the waiter with a reproachful look and says: »Der ist ja total schmutzig!«

      The only spoken noun that exists in the context is the female noun die Suppe, but it's clear from the situation, that the guest and the waiter have a communication who's topic is the spoon. And although the masculine noun der Löffel never was said by anyone involved in the conversation, the demonstrative pronoun still refers to it and so the gender of the pronoun must be masculine, because it always must match with the nouns gender.

      Of course, this also works analogously with an unspoken fork (»Die ist schmutzig«) and an unspoken knife (»Das ist schmutzig«) that the guest waves in front of the waiter's nose.

  • demonstrative pronouns when used to introduce something


    Das sind meine Bücher.
    Das ist mein Arm.

    This is a special usage of demonstrative pronouns that has its own rules. It is an exception of what was said before.

    When you begin a sentence with »Das ist ...« or »Das sind ...«, and when you do so to introduce what's coming next to the audience, then there is nothing in the context before the introduction is spoken, so there is no noun who's gender the pronoun can take, and therefore the pronoun appears in the default gender, which is neuter.

    A young man who lives with his wife in his parents' large house has invited his boss to his home. When the boss enters the house, the man's wife is standing with him and the man introduces her to his boss:
    »Das ist meine Frau.«
    At that moment, his parents also appear and the young man says:
    »Das sind meine Eltern.«
    And then he says to his relatives:
    »Und das ist mein Chef.«

    Note, that this is different form the situation like in »Der ist ja völlig verdeckt! Hier, diesen Löffel meine ich.« These sentences, where the noun Löffel appears after the demonstrative pronoun der is not an introduction of the spoon to the audience. It is a variation of the word »Löffel« existing as unspoken word in the context, like in the example with the guest and the waiter. But then still the noun, to which the pronoun refers, appears as spoken word afterwards.

  • correlate pronouns (or just »correlates«)

    A correlate pronoun is very similar to a demonstrative pronoun, but it does not refer to a noun which always has a distinct grammatical gender, so that the demonstrative pronoun can match with it. Instead a correlate pronoun refers to a whole clause or a sentence. But neither a clause nor a sentence has a grammatical gender. So, the correlate pronoun has no gender to which it could match and so it appears always in a default gender, which is neuter.

The clause or sentence can again stand before the correlate, it can stand after it even exists only as unspoken phrase in the context.

Gestern hat uns der Professor die evaporative Kühlung erklärt, aber ich habe es nicht verstanden.
Gestern hat uns der Professor die evaporative Kühlung erklärt, aber ich habe das nicht verstanden.

Yesterday the professor explained evaporative cooling to us, but I didn't understand it.

Der Professor is masculine and die Kühlung is feminine. So, in the spoken context is a masculine and a feminine noun but no neuter noun. But the pronoun (es/das) is still neuter.

You can have pronouns, that refer to the existing nouns, this is absolutely correct:

  1. ... aber ich habe ihn nicht verstanden.
  2. ... aber ich habe sie nicht verstanden.

In #1 you say, that you were unable to understand the professor, and in #2 you say, you didn't understand how evaporative cooling works. Both are legitimate and absolutely correct sentences. But in German you can also express that you were unable to follow the explanation process. Then you don't refer to the masculine professor, and you don't refer to the feminine cooling, but to the act, that is described in the genderless clause »Gestern hat uns der Professor die evaporative Kühlung erklärt«. And in such cases you don't use a personal pronoun nor a demonstrative pronoun who both need a noun to adapt their gender to it. Instead you use a correlate pronoun that does not refer to any noun and therefore is always used in the pronouns default gender which is neuter.

Your examples:

Dieser Kochlöffel ist schmutzig, aber der hier ist sauber.

Here you are referring to a masculine cooking spook that exists in the unspoken context. (It is not the cooking spoon from the main clause, but another cooking spoon.) So, there is a masculine noun to which the demonstrative pronoun can refer, and therefore it inherits this nouns gender.

Das sind meine Bücher.
Das ist mein Arm.

I've talked about these sentences explicitly before.

Es ist Mittag.

This is something different. The word »es« is an expletive pronoun. It does not refer to anything and it does not add anything to the proposition of the sentence. (The proposition is the semantic meaning, i.e. something that can be true or false.) It is there just to occupy position 1 to allow the verb (ist) to stand on position 2.

Es sind Ausländer.

This is different from »Es ist Mittag«! The word »es« in »Es sind Ausländer« is a correlate, that refers to a situation in the context, that has no gender, and therefore the pronoun is neuter.

Der ist Polizist.
Die ist eine Blume.

These are demonstrative pronouns in their common usage, with the referred noun after the referring pronoun.

  • I think one aspect of this you're leaving out is when, in the case of noun before pronoun, would you use der/die/das instead of er/sie/es. So why not "Ich brauche diesen Löffel nicht. Er ist außerdem schmutzig." I would call "das" used to introduce something an impersonal demonstrative pronoun. It's not inflected as with other pronouns, so it can't really be lumped in with them as the same part of speech. This is a difficult area for English speakers since German makes distinctions that aren't really made in English, or if they are it's only by tone of voice.
    – RDBury
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 12:00

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