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Possessive Gender Benders: His and Her vs. Its

You are already familiar with adjectival possessive pronouns: instead of saying "the man's black hat" you may say "his black hat," etc. The main German singular possessive pronouns are ihr and sein, usually translated as "his" and "her."

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In German, der Mann is a grammatically masculine noun, but in any language, a man is naturally masculine too: he is the male of the species. The same rule applies to die Frau: grammatically feminine in German, but naturally female. Thus, the possessive pronoun for der Mann is sein (his) and the possessive pronoun for die Frau is ihr (her), and it follows that the grammatical genders and natural genders are matching in these cases: 

 

Michael Jackson hielt im Übermut sein Baby aus einem Hotelfenster.

Michael Jackson held his baby boisterously out of a hotel window.

Captions 24-25, Berlin - Hotel Adlon feiert 15 Jahre Neueröffnung

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Astrid North hat ihr neues Album in Eigenregie produziert.

Astrid North has self-produced her new album.

Caption 28, Astrid North - Solo-Debüt

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The possessive pronoun of any grammatically masculine German noun is also masculine, just as any feminine noun takes a feminine pronoun. However, English does not translate the gender-specific sein and ihr respectively to "his" and "her" when referring to non-animate objects and many animals, but uses the gender-neutral "its" instead: 

 

… anhand eines massiven Sterns, der sein Leben aushauchte.

… based on a massive star which exhaled its last breath.

Captions 23-24, Unser Universum - Sternengeburt - Das Leben nach dem stellaren Tod

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Die Nordsee. Sieben Länder teilen sich ihre Küsten.

The North Sea: Seven countries share its coastlines.

Caption 10, Abenteuer Nordsee - Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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As you see above, non-animate nouns follow their gender equivalents in German, but in English both are translated as "its" rather than "his" or "her." But how does German deal with pronouns of neuter nouns? 

 

Für jeden von uns bringt das neue Jahr seine ganz eigenen Herausforderungen mit sich.

For each one of us, the New Year brings its own very [unique] challenges with it.

Caption 2, Angela Merkel - Neujahrsansprache

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Im Wechsel der Gezeiten verändert das Watt ständig sein Gesicht.

With changing tides, the intertidal zone is continuously altering its appearance.

Caption 10, Abenteuer Nordsee - Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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As you see in the examples above, German does not have a unique possessive pronoun for neuter nouns, but instead reverts to the masculine pronoun sein. This can lead to the rather odd situation of a grammatically neuter pronoun such as das Mädchen—which is naturally feminine in that "the girl" is a female of the species—taking the masculine pronoun sein

 

Schnell nahm das Mädchen ein neues Streichholz in seine zitternden Hände.

The girl quickly took a new match in her trembling hands.

Caption 37, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Das kleine Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern

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As you see, seine was translated to "her"—not "his"—in this case, because only "her" is correct in English. Although it is formally correct to use sein for das Mädchen, it is very common to see feminine pronouns such as ihr used for grammatically neuter but naturally feminine figures. In fact, in the video quoted above, every single pronoun reference to das Mädchen actually used grammatically incorrect feminine pronouns! So while it is good to be conscious of this rule, it won't sound unnatural if the occasional Mädchen winds up as ihr in your German!

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Further Learning
Look on Yabla German for the possessive pronouns sein and ihr being used in a real-world context, and take a look at this previous Yabla lesson about possessive pronouns. 

Accusative phrases with wünschen

Frohes neues Jahr from our team here at Yabla German!

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Unfortunately, the newsletter is not in time to wish you guten Rutsch this year (see this lesson for more information on that), but we hope you had a lovely Sylvester.

 

Have you ever wondered how the adjectival endings on phrases such as these are formed? In the examples below, you can see the full versions of these expressions. In the first one, Ich is the subject, das Jahr is the direct object, and Ihnen und Ihren Familien is the indirect object. All adjectives pertaining to das Jahr have the appropriate accusative case ending for a neuter noun, as does the indefinite article ein.

 

Ich wünsche Ihnen und Ihren Familien ein frohesgesundes und gesegnetes neues Jahr zweitausendzwölf!

I wish you and your families a happyhealthy and blessed New Year two thousand twelve!

Captions 36-37, Angela Merkel - Neujahrsansprache - Part 2

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Similarly, in the following sentence, der Rutsch is the direct object, and all articles and adjectives (ein, gut) receive the accusative ending for a masculine noun.
  

Ich wünsch' euch auch einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr.

I also wish you all "a good slide" into the New Year.

Caption 100, Silvester - Vorsätze für das neue Jahr - Linkenheim

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Of course, this is not at all restricted to New Year’s expressions. All of the basic phrases that you already know also follow this rule, for example, Guten Tag and Schönen Tag noch (der Tag), Guten Abend (der Abend), Gute Reise (die Reise), and Gute Nacht (die Nacht). Understanding why these expressions include the adjective endings they do unlocks a very essential aspect of German grammar. 

 

Dann wünsch' ich dir noch einen schönen Tag.

Then I wish you a nice day.

Caption 45, Jenny interviewt - Sabine

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Einen schönen guten Abend aus Karlsruhe.

A pleasant good evening from Karlsruhe.

Caption 1, Architektur - der Stadt Karlsruhe

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Further Learning
We hope that you will take special note of these and other phrases when you see them on Yabla German in the future. If you want some practice with your direct and indirect objects, write some sentences about the presents you gave to various people this year, for example: Ich (subject) habe meiner Mutter (indirect object) einen Schal (direct object) geschenkt

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