Pronouns - word order

There are word order rules to consider when you use a combination of nouns and pronouns in a sentence.

GermanEnglishWord order
Ich gebe dem Mann das Buch.I give the man the book.Two nouns in a sentence - dative before accusative
Ich gebe es dem Mann.I give it to the man.One noun, one pronoun in a sentence - pronoun goes first
Ich gebe ihm das Buch.I give the book to him./I give him the book.One pronoun, one noun in a sentence - pronoun goes first
Ich gebe es ihm.I give it to him.Two pronouns in a sentence - accusative before dative

What do these sentences mean?

  • Ich schreibe dir eine Mail.
  • Wir schenken ihm eine Reise nach Wien.
  • Sie geben sie ihnen.
  • Marienkäfer bringen euch Glück.
  • Ich schreibe dir eine Mail. - I write you an email.
  • Wir schenken ihm eine Reise nach Wien. - We are treating him to a trip to Vienna.
  • Sie geben sie ihnen. - They give them to them. (NB it could also mean ‘they give her to them’).
  • Marienkäfer bringen euch Glück. - Ladybirds bring you luck (plural, informal).

Did you know?

To wish someone luck, German speakers will say ich wünsche dir viel Glück or ich wünsche Ihnen viel Glück.

They might give a chocolate or marzipan ladybird - einem Marienkäfer schenken - to accompany the wish, as ladybirds are thought to bring luck in Germany.

The literal meaning of Marienkäfer is 'Mary's beetle'. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary sent the spotty insect as a gift to humans. Farmers in particular were fond of the little bugs as they would eat up any aphids that could ruin their harvest. As a result, many Germans consider it good luck when a ladybird lands on you.

The expression toi, toi, toi is used to wish someone luck before an exam or before a performance. The phrase is thought to be an abbreviation of the word Teufel (devil) and was originally used to ward off evil.

In the UK, people often cross their fingers to wish someone luck, but in the German-speaking countries, people press their thumbs into their fist. This practice is known as die Daumen drücken (literally: to press the thumbs). So, ich drücke dir die Daumen is another way of wishing someone luck.

Clenched fists with the thumbs pressing into the fists
German speakers will 'press their thumbs' rather than 'cross their fingers' to bring luck