Welcome to another week of Dear Duolingo, an advice column just for language learners. Catch up on past installments here.

Hallo, dear learners! I'm Dr. Kristina Schoen, and I'm back this week with another Dear Duolingo post all about German! We've heard lots of fantastic questions from our German learners over the last few months—since I first wrote about grammatical gender in German—which means you'll be hearing a lot more from me! First up is one of the most common questions I used to hear from my German students. Let's take a look!

Our question this week:

Dear Duolingo,

I’m learning German, but I still haven’t figured out the cues for whether I should use ihr/ihre/ihren (her) or dein/deine/deinen (your) in a sentence. (And actually, there are a lot of words like them!) Is there a specific time when I should use one over the other, or are they interchangeable?

Danke schön,

Other learners have written to us with the very same question—German has a lot of these words with many forms, depending on what the word is doing in a sentence. So you're not alone in wondering what the rules are, Cue-less! Thankfully, there are rules about which version to use and even some helpful patterns to look for.

The first thing to know is that German nouns all have grammatical gender, and words related to the noun will have to match the gender of the noun—so we'll say dein Hund for "your dog" (because Hund is masculine), but deine Katze for "your cat" (because Katze is feminine). You can review all the German grammatical gender patterns in my first Dear Duolingo post!

The second thing to know is that German nouns have different noun cases, and words related to the noun will change forms depending on the noun's job in the sentence (its case). You'll also hear "noun cases" called "declensions." German has four noun cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive.

So, in dein Hund (your dog), dein tells us that Hund is masculine and nominative—and dein will change if Hund is accusative (or dative, or genitive). Still with me? 😅

I'll get to what all these cases mean in the next section, but first, rest assured that there are some basic tips for learning German declensions! Commit this list to memory:

  • Nominative: Memorize these forms—they'll serve you well for remembering the noun's gender and to learn the other declension patterns!
  • Accusative: Only masculine nouns will change in the accusative.
  • Dative: Typically the dative ending is -em for masculine and neuter nouns and -er for feminine.
  • Genitive: Typically the genitive ending is -es for masculine and neuter nouns and -er for feminine and plural nouns

If you're an early learner just starting out in German, that might be all you need for now! In Duolingo's German course, we introduce learners to these cases slowly and strategically—first you get lots of practice with grammatical gender and the nominative case, then we introduce the accusative case for masculine and feminine nouns, then for neuter, then the next case, etc. Save this page for later—in the meantime, you're dismissed. 😉

If you're further along in your German learning, read the rest of this post for more information about German noun cases and possessive pronouns—those words Cue-less mentioned, like ihr (her) and dein (your).

Use these links to jump directly to each section:

German noun cases

The key to German declensions is remembering the grammatical gender + case of the noun. We use noun cases a little bit in English, in our pronouns: We say "he" for the subject of a sentence ("He goes to the store"), "him" for the object of a sentence ("Did you see him at the store?"), and "his" to show possession ("His car is in the parking lot").

But in German, case matters for all nouns, although the nouns themselves aren't what change forms—instead, words that go with a noun will change depending on gender and case. That'll include articles (words like "the" and "a"), possessive pronouns (words like "my," "your," and "his"), and adjectives (words like "big" and "difficult") that go with the noun. (We'll save adjectives for another post.)

When you first start learning German on Duolingo, you'll see a lot of nouns of all three genders (masculine, neuter, feminine) in the nominative case. This is the case used for the subject of a sentence. Here are some examples—the article shows the noun's gender and that it's in the nominative case:

German Translation Case + gender
Der Junge heißt Karl. The boy is named Karl. Der = masculine + nominative
Das Museum ist sehr groß! The museum is very big! Das = neuter + nominative
Die Rechnung ist hier. The check is here. Die = feminine + nominative

The other German cases also have general rules about when they're used:

  • Accusative: for direct objects and after some prepositions (including für and ohne)
  • Dative: for indirect objects, after a few verbs (like helfen "to help"), and after some prepositions (including mit)
  • Genitive: to show possession and after some prepositions (including wegen and trotz, at least formally)

Between grammatical gender and these four cases, you can see how much information is packed into German sentences, in just small words like articles and possessive pronouns! Whenever you see an article or possessive pronoun in German, you'll know something about the noun's gender and what the noun is doing in the sentence.

Next let's look at the gender + case patterns in detail.

Examples of German cases

In German, you'll be changing articles and possessive pronouns to show the gender and case of a noun. You'll see some patterns repeat, especially for masculine and neuter nouns, but let's start with one grammatical gender at a time.

For masculine nouns, the articles der (the) and ein (a) are used in the nominative, and they have different forms in the other cases:

Case Examples Meaning

("The dog" and "a dog" are subjects.)
Der Hund ist klein.
Ein Hund spielt im Garten.
The dog is small.
A dog is playing in the garden.

("The dog" and "a dog" are direct objects.)
Ich sehe den Hund.
Ich sehe einen Hund da drüben.
I see the dog.
I see a dog over there.

("The dog" is an indirect object, and "a dog" is used with a verb that takes dative case.)
Ich gebe dem Hund ein Sandwich.
Meine Katze folgt einem Hund.
I'm giving a sandwich to the dog.
My cat is following a dog.

(The fur belongs to "the dog," and the teeth belong to "a dog.")
Das Fell des Hundes ist weich.
Die Zähne eines Hundes sind scharf.
The dog's fur is soft.
A dog's teeth are sharp.

For neuter nouns, the articles das (the) and ein (a) are the same in the nominative and accusative and change in the dative and genitive.

Case Examples Meaning

("The bicycle" and "a bicycle" are subjects.)
Das Fahrrad ist neu.
Ein Fahrrad hat zwei Räder.
The bicycle is new.
A bicycle has 2 wheels.

("The bicycle" and "a bicycle" are direct objects.)
Ich mag das Fahrrad.
Ich habe zu Hause ein Fahrrad.
I like the bicycle.
I have a bicycle at home.

("The bicycle" and "a bicycle" are used with prepositions that takes dative case.)
Ich fahre mit dem Fahrrad zur Arbeit.
Ich stehe neben einem Fahrrad. Siehst du mich?
I ride the bicycle to work.
I'm standing next to a bicycle. Do you see me?

(The wheel belongs to "the bicycle," and the speed to "a bicycle".)
Das Rad des Fahrrads ist kaputt.
Die Geschwindigkeit eines Fahrrads kommt auf den Fahrer an.
The wheel of the bicycle is broken.
The speed of a bicycle depends on the rider.

For feminine nouns, the article die (the) and eine (a) are also the same in the nominative and accusative, but they change in the dative and genitive.

Case Examples Meaning

("The cat" and "a cat" are subjects.)
Die Katze ist ziemlich freundlich.
Eine Katze hat sieben Leben.
The cat is pretty friendly.
A cat has seven lives.

("The cat" and "a cat" are direct objects.)
Ich füttere die Katze.
Wir haben eine Katze zu Hause.
I'm feeding the cat.
We have a cat at home.

("The cat" comes after the preposition *mit,* and "a cat" is the indirect object.)
Der Hund spielt mit der Katze.
Max gibt einer Katze einen Fisch.
The dog is playing with the cat.
Max is giving a fish to a cat.

(The paw belongs to "the cat," and the tongue belongs to "a cat.")
Die Pfote der Katze ist so klein.
Die Zunge einer Katze ist kratzig.
The cat's paw is so small.
A cat's tongue is scratchy.

German possessive pronouns

Cue-less asked about possessive pronouns in German in particular. These are words that show ownership or that something belongs to someone, and the English equivalents are words like "my," "his," "our," "its," etc. In English, we use the same possessive pronouns no matter where they are in the sentence, or what the thing is that we're possessing: For example, we always use "my" for something that belongs to you, whether it's "my book," "my girlfriend," "my idea," "My piano class is really hard," or "You've never read my memoir?!"

Just like German articles, you'll need to know the noun's gender and case to use possessive pronouns—but you'll also need to know the gender of the person doing the possessing!

  • If the grammatical gender of the person who possesses something is feminine (Anna, die Schwester "the sister," etc), you'll use a form of ihr (her)
  • If the grammatical gender of the person who possesses something is masculine (Max, der Mitbewohner "the roommate," etc), you'll use a form of sein (his)
  • If the grammatical gender of the person who possesses something is neuter (das Kaninchen "the rabbit," das Mädchen "the girl," etc), you'll use a form of sein (its)
  • You won't need to worry about the person's gender if you're saying "my," "your," "our," or "their" (we don't do this in English, either!).

Here are all the possessive pronoun declensions for the 3 genders and 4 cases:

Words for "my" and "your" (informal + singular)

As in "my house" or "your responsibility"
Case With masculine nouns With neuter nouns With feminine nouns
Nominative mein (dein) mein (dein) meine (deine)
Accusative meinen (deinen) mein (dein) meine (deine)
Dative meinem (deinem) meinem (deinem) meiner (deiner)
Genitive meines (deines) meines (deines) meiner (deiner)

Words for "your" (formal + singular)

As in "your class" or "your family"
Case With masculine nouns With neuter nouns With feminine nouns
Nominative Ihr Ihr Ihre
Accusative Ihren Ihr Ihre
Dative Ihrem Ihrem Ihrer
Genitive Ihres Ihres Ihrer

Words for "his" and "its"

As in "his document" or "its roots"
Case With masculine nouns With neuter nouns With feminine nouns
Nominative sein sein seine
Accusative seinen sein seine
Dative seinem seinem seiner
Genitive seines seines seiner

Words for "her" and "their"

As in "her car" or "their success"
⭐️ Note that the forms for "her" and "their" are the same!
Case With masculine nouns With neuter nouns With feminine nouns
Nominative ihr ihr ihre
Accusative ihren ihr ihre
Dative ihrem ihrem ihrer
Genitive ihres ihres ihrer

I bet at this point you can guess what the forms for unser (our) and euer (y'all's) will look like! The pattern is the same, and you'll just swap unser (our) or euer (y'all's) for mein, dein, Ihr, sein, etc.

Words for "our" and "your" (plural)

As in "our work" or "your groceries"
Case With masculine nouns With neuter nouns With feminine nouns
Nominative unser (euer) unser (euer) unsere (eure)
Accusative unseren (euren) unser (euer) unsere (eure)
Dative unserem (eurem) unserem (eurem) unserer (eurer)
Genitive unseres (eures) unseres (eures) unserer (eurer)

The case for starting small when it comes to German cases!

Remember that if you're a beginner, stick with the general rules and tips I covered at the start of this post! And as you progress, treat these tables as a resource to come back to—there are actually a lot of patterns that you'll see repeated across possessive pronouns, so don't think you need to memorize dozens of distinct words. Start with nominative and accusative for the words you use the most, and remember to always study them in sentences and phrases. That'll help you learn the forms that are most useful to you!

For more answers to your language, learning, and German questions, get in touch with us by emailing dearduolingo@duolingo.com.