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Pronouns ( plural pronouns or pronouns; German for word ) is the term used in grammar for a class of words which - as the literal sense of the term means - "take the place of a noun (noun; German name word)". Examples are he (a personal pronoun ), mein (a possessive pronoun ) or which (a question or relative pronoun ). However, a pronoun cannot always be exchanged for a noun in the same place in the sentence (e.g. only a relative pronoun can introduce a relative clause, not a noun). A pronoun, however, creates a reference to an individual, as it is also done alternatively with nouns / nouns (plus article). Accordingly, pronouns have the grammatical characteristics of nouns: gender (gender), number (number) and case (case).

Unlike normal nouns, pronouns are not content words . Rather, they only designate people or things using their grammatical characteristics. These then serve as a reference to the utterance context ( deictic , so the first and second person of the personal and possessive pronouns and in another way the demonstrative pronouns) or they refer to the linguistic context ( anaphoric , usually the third person of the personal and possessive pronouns, as well as reflexive and relative pronouns). They can also be placeholders for individuals who are newly introduced into the text (as with indefinite and question pronouns).

In traditional linguistics , pronouns are both expressions that stand alone without a noun (e.g. I , you , this in "but this one said") as well as those that come before a noun (e.g. to be in "His house", this in "this man").

In modern linguistics, on the other hand, pronouns are always understood as expressions that are used free-standing without a noun (e.g. I , you , this one in “but this one said”).


There are several subgroups, the most important are:

  • Personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, her, she), z. B. be able to point directly to individuals in the speech situation (you) or refer to individuals previously introduced in the text ([the dog] ... he ...). According to their meaning, personal pronouns are definite expressions .
  • Indefinite pronouns , which refer solely to the existence of an individual, without specifying further properties (e.g. someone sings ) (here, logically speaking, these are quantifiers ).

Depending on the grammatical tradition, up to ten sub-types of pronouns are distinguished, which also have very different grammatical properties. Pronouns can also mark questions ( question pronouns such as who ) or introduce relative clauses as relative pronouns . Some pronouns are used like a noun ( noun pronoun, noun pronoun; example: the car is mine ), others accompany a noun similar to an adjective ( adjective pronoun, adjectival pronoun; example: my car ).

In all their subspecies, pronouns do not count as content words, but they behave as grammatical elements insofar as they form a closed class, i.e. H. a class of expressions that cannot be expanded with new words at will. In traditional part-of-speech theory, “pronouns” are usually listed as a separate part of speech (i.e. next to nouns and others). In German, the pronoun (in the traditional perspective) can be defined as a subordinate part of speech (in contrast to the article), non-article-compatible (in contrast to the noun), non-comparable (in contrast to the adjective), declinable (in contrast to the verb) inflectable part of speech - or easier - as a non-comparable (in contrast to the adjective) according to case, number and gender (in contrast to the noun) inflected part of speech. However, the delimitation to articles is considered unclear - in some cases, words traditionally called pronouns are also classified directly as article word or determinative . The Duden grammar speaks of a superordinate class “article words and pronouns” in which both are similar in some respects, but must be differentiated for other purposes. In school grammars there is also the distinction between deputy and companion.

In modern linguistics , pronouns are sometimes not used as a separate part of speech, but are designated with the same category as the units that they can also replace, i.e. noun phrases or determinant phrases; A variant is the analysis of at least the personal pronouns (like he, she ) as intransitive articles, i.e. heads of category D.

History of part of speech

In Greek this part of speech is called antōnymía (ἀντωνυμία) and in Latin pronouns , ancient also provocabulum .

The background to the unclear demarcation between pronouns and article words for Duden (2005) is that in Latin substantive and adjective pronouns were seen uniformly and the German grammar theory, which was shaped by Latin grammar theory, passed on this view.

In the Romance languages, however, the use in front of a noun and the independent use have diverged. In French, therefore, in the former case, the term déterminant is used, in English of determiner , less often of determinative , in more recent "German" grammars under English and French influence among other things of "article word", "determiner" or "determinative" (see determinative (part of speech ) ).


Pronouns have different types in German and in other Indo-European languages :

In contrast to German and other European languages, a distinction is made in some languages ​​between inclusive and exclusive we , depending on whether the person addressed (the "you") is included or not.
In some languages ​​there are two sets of personal pronouns: stressed and unstressed ( clitic ), e.g. B. in Old Lithuanian (e.g. "pa mi duok", in German: "reich mir", the pronoun is between the prefix and the word stem ), in Hittite or in German dialects: z. B. Bavarian gib- ma -s   Moselfrk. gäf- ma -t "give it to me".

Alternative representations can be found in Zifonun, Benveniste and Sternefeld.

Pronouns as "proxy"

The function of pronouns is traditionally explained in such a way that they are words that represent certain other words ( Antesperg therefore called them instead of words and in school grammars they are also called substitute words ). The substitute was and is explained differently:

  1. Both noun and adjectival pronouns are substitutes for nouns . Adjective possessive pronouns, for example, can represent nouns that are in the genitive: Mona's pocket - her pocket .
  2. According to another explanation, pronouns are substitutes for nouns. Noun pronouns represent nouns and adjectival pronouns represent adjectives.
  3. In modern linguistics, the terms are nouns and noun equated and the term pronoun within the meaning of substantive pronouns limited. Pronouns are not regarded as substitutes for nouns but for noun phrases .

Large and lower case

In German, pronouns , with the exception of the polite form of pronouns, are written in lower case, in contrast to the substantiated adjectives that may follow them.

It is easy to confuse (indefinite) pronouns with number adjectives , which are usually also lowercase , but can also be capitalized if desired.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Pronouns  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Johann Christoph Gottsched : Complete and Newly Explained German Language Art, based on the patterns of the best writers of the previous and twentieth century, and noticeably improved in this fifth edition . Leipzig 1762, p. 277 (in the V main part of the pronouns (pronominibus) of the second part Die Wortforschung ).
  2. a b A. F. Bernhardi: Complete Greek grammar for schools and high schools . Berlin 1797, p. 77 u. 126.
  3. a b Deutschbuch Arbeitsheft 10 , Cornelsen, 2000, see the overview "Basic Grammatical Terms" ( ISBN 3-464-60316-4 ) .
  4. a b Ursula Lassert: Spelling training simple and clear - worksheets with self-control - 4th grade , 2012, p. 1 u. 5 ( ISBN 978-3-403-51016-1 ) . Quotes: “Nouns denote living beings, things, feelings and thoughts. They are capitalized. [...] Article = companion "&" Pronouns stand for nouns (the child - it , Mona's bag - her bag ...). "
  5. For example Walter Heuer, Max Flückiger, Peter Gallmann: Correct German. The language school for everyone. 24th edition. Zurich 1999, p. 203 [with further editions since]; Peter Gallmann, Horst Sitta : German grammar. Orientation for teachers. Zurich 1986, 3rd edition under the title Deutsche Grammatik ibid. 1996.
  6. a b Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen , Peter Gallmann , Peter Eisenberg a . a .: The grammar. 8th, revised edition. Mannheim 2009 (Duden Volume 4), p. 249ff.
  7. ^ Peter Eisenberg: Outline of the German grammar. Volume 2: The Sentence. 4th, updated and revised edition. Stuttgart / Weimar 2013, p. 148ff.
  8. ^ So Kessel / Reimann: Basic knowledge of German contemporary language (2005), ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 63.
  9. ^ P. Gallmann, T. Lindauer: Functional categories in noun phrases. In: Contributions to the history of German language and literature (PBB), 116 (1994), 1–27. Ms. Version see p. 7.
  10. Duden: The grammar. 7th edition. 2005, ISBN 3-411-04047-5 , Rn. 347.
  11. Duden: The grammar. 8th edition. 2009, p. 249f., Rn. 347.
  12. Determinativum . Quote: “Demonstrative pronouns with a special highlighting, selecting function, e.g. B. the one, the same; Sy determinative pronouns "
  13. Determinative . Quote: "special kind of demonstrative pronoun (e.g. that, the same)"
  14. ^ Gisela Zifonun, Ludger Hoffmann , Bruno Strecker: Grammar of the German language. Berlin / New York 1997.
  15. ^ Émile Benveniste : Problems of General Linguistics. (= LTW 1428 - Linguistics). List, Munich 1974.
  16. Wolfgang Sternefeld: Anaphoric Reference. Language and communication science manuals. 9.1 Syntax: An International Handbook of Contemporary Research. Edited by Joachim Jacobs. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1993, pp. 940-966.
  17. Pons (Peter Hoffmann, Volker Losch): Know how! Grammar training German. Whoever understands it learns more easily. School 5th grade , 2007, p. 8.
  18. ^ Christian Lehmann : Deixis . Quote: "[...] pronouns (pro nouns like me , proadjectives like this one ) [...]"
  19. on upper and lower case of substantiated adjectives see also: Adjective # Orthography
  20. Dr. Annika Lamer: Write correctly: big or small? Nouns, Pronouns & Co , August 20, 2018.