If you're learning German and enjoy homonyms, you'll love the German word ihr! Homonyms are spelled and pronounced identically but have different meanings.
In German, the word ihr could be anything from a possessive pronoun to a way of addressing a crowd of people. With four various meanings to choose from, how can you figure out what is being said?
Fortunately, deciphering the meaning of ihr isn't as challenging as it is initially intimidating. Usually, you can figure out what someone means through the context.
In this post, I'll explain all of the meanings of the word ihr and give you the clear guidelines you need to identify the correct definition.
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How To Pick The Right Declension Of German Ihr
Although ihr can have many different meanings in German, the declension is always the same! Below is a reference table you can use to find the right ending.
Note how the masculine and neuter forms have the same endings, except in the accusative case. The feminine and plural endings are also the same, except for the dative case. Recognizing these similarities can make the forms much easier and faster to remember.
1. Ihr As In “Your” (Possessive, Formal)
Let's start with the simplest form to identify, Ihr in the second-person possessive formal. You can recognize the meaning of this Ihr in written form immediately because it begins with a capital “I.” When you see Ihr with a capital “I,” it's a possessive pronoun, or “your” formal. In this case, Ihr can either be singular or plural, depending on the context.
Du and dein (you and your) are common ways to address someone informally. Friends, family, acquaintances, and people of the same age often use du. When you want to address someone formally, use Sie and Ihr (your and your). This form is appropriate to use with your boss, store employees, and anyone much older than you.
- Example: Ihr Paket ist angekommen. (Your package arrived.)
- Example: Ihr Kalender ist voll. (Your calendar is full.)
You'll need to assign the correct ending to Ihr according to the following noun's gender, case, and number.
- Example: Ich habe Ihre Dokumente. (I have your documents.)
- Example: Sie hat Ihre Aufmerksamkeit. (She has your attention.)
Here, the feminine nouns Dokumente and Aufmerksamkeit call for an -e ending for the possessive formal pronoun Ihr.
- Example: Geben Sie mir Ihren Schlüssel. (Give me your key.)
Remember to capitalize the “I,” or you'll change your sentence's meaning entirely!
Let's look at all the forms of “you” formal for a better overview of when to use Ihr.
|Sie (you formal)||Sie/Ihnen/Ihr|
Notice how Ihr is only for possessive pronouns. In the nominative, accusative, and dative cases, you use Sie or Ihnen.
2. Ihr As In “Their” (Possessive, Plural)
The second easiest form of ihr to identify is the third-person plural possessive pronoun meaning “their.” When you talk about a group of people in the possessive, use ihr with a lower-case “i.” This use of ihr is a plural form that allows you to speak about multiple individuals.
You can figure out if “your” or “their” is meant by the capitalization in written German. But, in spoken German, you'll have to rely on the context of the conversation. Let's look at some examples of ihr that mean “their.”
- Example: Ihr Hotel ist in der Nähe. (Their hotel is close.)
In the singular nominative case, we don't need an ending for ihr before a neuter noun. Note that this sentence could also mean “Your hotel is close.” The only way to differentiate is by understanding who is being spoken to.
- Example: Ich habe ihre Tickets. (I have their tickets.)
Here, tickets are plural and in the accusative case, so it has an -e ending.
- Example: Wir können ihren Rucksack nicht finden. (We can't find their backpack.)
Here, Rucksack is singular, masculine, and in the accusative case, giving it an -en ending.
Let's have a look at the other forms of “they.”
Again, note that the only instance when you use ihr is for the possessive pronoun form of the word “they.” The only difference between “they” and “you” formal is the first letter's capitalization.
3. Ihr As In “Her” (Dative Or Possessive)
Next, ihr can also mean “her” in the third-person possessive or dative singular. You can think of sie as “she” and ihr as “her.” But, it's important to remember that these forms are used differently in German than in English. When you use “her” as the indirect object in a sentence, you'll need the dative form of sie, which is ihr.
- Example: Ich gab ihr ein frühes Geburtstagsgeschenk. (I gave her an early birthday present.)
Here, ich is the nominative subject, Geburtstagsgeschenk is the accusative direct object, and ihr is the dative indirect object.
Also, use ihr if you want to indicate that something belongs to “her.” Remember to add the appropriate ending according to the case, gender, and the number of the proceeding noun.
- Example: Ihr Lied war inspirierend. (Her song was inspirational.)
- Example: Ich trage ihre Jacke. (I'm wearing her jacket.)
Additionally, certain prepositions always require a dative pronoun, such as mit (with), aus (from), bei (at), außer (except), nach (after), seit (since), von (from), and zu (to).
- Example: Wir arbeiten mit ihrem Mann. (We work with her husband.)
- Example: Er ging zu ihrer Wohnung. (He went to her appartment.)
- Example: Sie lebt bei ihren Großeltern. (She lives at her grandparents.)
When To Use Sie or Ihr To Mean She And Her
The table below can help you remember the different ways to say “she” and “her” in German.
Let's look at a few examples in each case for a better understanding of this third-person singular pronoun.
- Nominative: Sie kommt aus Berlin. (She comes from Berlin.)
- Accusative: Wir kennen sie gut. (We know her well.)
- Dative: Er hat ihr einen Stift gegeben. (He gave her a pen.)
- Possessive: Ihr Stift ist leer. (Her pen is empty.)
Take note of the accusative example and how it uses a different form of “her” than you might expect. As a native English speaker, you may feel more inclined to use ihr in the accusative, but this would be wrong. Remember that the word ihr only means “her” in the dative and possessive cases. In the nominative and accusative cases, use sie.
4. Ihr As In “You Guys” (Informal)
Finally, ihr can also be the informal second-person plural form that means “you guys.” Remember that there are different ways to say “you,” depending on the formality of the situation in German.
When you talk to a group of friends, children, family members, or people you're close to, ihr is one of the informal pronouns you use. If you don't know someone on a personal level, Sie is usually more appropriate.
Besides choosing between formal and informal, you also need to distinguish between plural and singular in German. Sie, the formal pronoun for “you,” is the same in the singular and plural forms. The informal singular form of “you” is du, and the plural form is ihr.
- Example: Habt ihr den neuen Film gesehen? (Did you guys see the new movie?)
- Example: Ihr habt das Beste verpasst. (You guys missed the best part.)
- Example Ihr seid zu spät. (You guys are late.)
In the examples above, ihr is the subject of the sentences and therefore takes the nominative case. But, in the accusative, dative, and possessive cases, ihr becomes euch.
|ihr (you guys)||ihr/euch|
- Nominative: Ihr seid nett. (You guys are nice.)
- Accusative: Er hat euch angerufen. (He called you guys.)
- Dative: Hat sie euch die Schlüssel gegeben? (Did she give you guys the keys?)
- Possessive: Die Bücher gehören euch. (The books belong to you guys.)
As you can see, ihr only means “you guys” in the nominative case when addressing a group of people informally. In every other case, use euch to say “you guys.”
Final Thoughts On German Ihr
Now, you know how to use ihr to say “you,” “their,” “her,” and “you guys” in German! Studying the cases, genders, and pronouns will help you master the meanings of ihr and determine who is speaking to whom.
Although the patterns might take some getting used to, you'll catch on quickly with the frequent practice of German listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills.
Knowing how to use ihr in all of its forms is a simple way to boost your fluency. As you become more familiar with the German language, remember to keep having fun, and your comprehension will continue to grow. You'll find that German grammar gets easier the more you enjoy it.