This little three letter German word ‘ihr’ is causing many learners problems and I often get asked “which ‘ihr’ is it?”. Grammar books aren’t much help, because they mention ‘ihr’ on the appropriate pages but not together.
So, that’s what I have tried to do with this infographic.
Ihr can have 5 different meaning, 2 singular, 2 plural and 1 singular & plural.
- ihr = her
Ist das ihr Vater? Is that her father?
This one is tricky as out of context it could also mean ‘is that their father’. The possessive adjectives are
mein – my
dein – yours (singular, informal)
sein – his, its
ihr – her
unser – our
euer – your (plural, informal)
ihr – their
Ihr – your (singular & plural, formal)
The only way to find out would be by reading that sentence in context. Are they talking about a woman or a group of people? If they mention just one woman then it’s ‘her’.
- ihr = (to) her (dative case)
Ich helfe ihr. I’m helping her (I’m giving help to her).
Helfen is a verb that is followed by the dative. The dative pronouns are mir, dir, ihm, ihr, ihm, uns, euch, ihnen. This sentence therefore has to be ‘I’m helping her’ as ‘I’m helping them’ would be ‘ich helfe ihnen’.
- ihr = you (nominative, you informal plural, “you lot”)
Woher kommt ihr? Where are you (lot) from?
Personal pronouns in the nominative (the subject of the sentence) are ich (I), du (You singular informal), er(he), sie (she), es (it), wir (we), ihr (you plural informal), sie (they), Sie (you, formal). So, if ‘ihr’ is the subject of the sentence, it has to be ‘you’ and cannot be ‘she’.
- ihr = their
Ist das ihr Bruder? Is that their brother?
As in point 1, you cannot work it out without reading or hearing more. Is it her brother or theirs? You’ll know by reading more.
- Ihr = your ( mn formal you, singular & plural)
“Wie ist Ihr Name?” “What’s your name?” (note the capital ‘I’)
This is only used in direct speech. When you’re reading a German text, the give-away would be speech marks and the capital ‘I’, as it’s only used when speaking to somebody directly and using the formal you. When you are listening then it’s a little more difficult as you can’t see any speech marks or capital letters. Then you need to work out whether somebody is talking directly to you or someone else or about somebody else. Usually it’s fairly easy.
Now test yourself. What is the meaning of ‘ihr’ in the following sentences and why? (Answers below)
- Gehst du mit ihr?
- Wo ist Ihr Haus?
- Was macht ihr?
- Er kauft ihr ein Eis.
- Wie heißt ihr?
- Das ist ihr Handy.
Answers below the video ☺
In episode 32 of ‘Ask Angelika’ we also discussed the word ‘ihr’ by looking at sentences and working out which meaning the word had.
- Her – mit is followed by the dative, and the only dative pronoun ‘ihr’ is her.
- Your – formal (can be singular or plural). Although I didn’t add the speech marks, the capital ‘I’ is telling you that this is a direct speech to somebody the speaker doesn’t know.
- You(lot) – what are you doing, ‘you’ is the subject of the sentence and therefore has to be the plural informal you.
- Her – again it’s the dative case, so it has to be her.
- You (lot) – again, ihr is the subject of the sentence and has to be the plural you.
- Her or their – out of context you would have to guess and it most likely is ‘her’ as it’s just one mobile phone. But it could also be theirs, so to be absolutely sure, we would need to know more.
Over to you. Can you make a sentence with ‘ihr’ and then explain which one it is and why?