'ihr' or 'ihr'? The Difference between an Article and a Pronoun

Who would have thought that grammar could be helpful

21 mailboxes with numbers representing the confusion regarding the German pronouns and articles
The German Pronouns and Articles can be Quite Confusing. Joerg Fockenberg / EyeEm @getty-images

Often at times German learners are confused about „ihr“ (and friends). No wonder because entering „ihr“ into google translate provides us with the following list:

  • her
  • their
  • your (Sir/Ma’am)
  • to her
  • you-all

If I have five options to choose from in any other than my native language, I’d be confused too. Luckily I grew up with German. But you probably have not been so fortunate (from a language learning point of view of course) so let me bring some light into your darkness.

The problem is the missing awareness regarding the differences between an article and a pronoun.  If I segregate the above list of possible translations into these two categories things will get a bit clearer already:

    Article                     Pronoun
    her (car)                   to her (can’t put „car“ here
    their (car)                 you all (can’t put „car“ here)
    your (Sir/Ma’am)            

A few examples:

    Ihre Mutter kommt am Wochenende zu Besuch. 
    Her / Their / Your mother comes to visit this weekend. 
    > Notice that there’s no difference in „ihre“ whether you say „her“, „their“ or „your“.

    Ich gebe ihr einen Kuss.       
    I give her a kiss
    > There is no noun after „ihr“

    Ihr könnt hier nicht bleiben.        
    You (people) can’t stay here.
     > There is no noun after „ihr“

If you are able to distinguish an article from a pronoun, you improve your chances of making the right choice.

Do you know what the difference between these two is?

  • An article is never on it’s own. It is always (!) accompanied by a noun (words that can have     a „the“ in front of them like „the car“). Articles come in various forms: der, ein-, mein-, dies-, welch-, kein-
  • A pronoun stands pro-noun i.e. for a noun which means that it makes any noun redundant. 

    With „ihr“ this is a bit tricky but let me take another pronoun to illustrate this.

        „sein Auto“        vs        „ihn"
         his car                           him (car?)

    Testing your understanding

    Can you identify the pronouns and the articles in the following sentences?

        Sie fragte ihren Mann nach seiner Meinung.    Aber ihr Mann antwortete ihr nicht.
        She asked her husband for his opinion.           But her husband didn’t answer her.

        [Scroll down to the end of this article to find the answer.]

    Did you find all pronouns and articles? Good. Then let’s move on.

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    Now what’s with the endings? Articles as well as pronouns can have endings and those depend on the noun that they are accompanying or replacing. Two examples:

        Kennst du ihren Mann?
        Do you know her husband?

        Nein, ihren kenne ich nicht, aber deinen.
        No, hers I don’t know, but yours.

    You will have noticed that the article „ihren (Mann)“ as well as the pronoun „ihren“ do both have the same ending as they both refer to „Mann“. Grammatically speaking „Mann“ is masculine and stands in the accusative case.

    But looking at the English translation you will realize that there is a clear difference between those as a comparison of „her“ and „hers“ show.

    So far it even seems that it doesn’t matter at all whether we have an article in front of us or a pronoun. That calls for one more example:

        Magst du ihr Auto?
        Do you like her car?

        Nein, ihres mag ich nicht, aber deins.
        No, hers I don’t like, but yours.

    And now we finally have a difference. The following table should illustrate the differences in another form:

                         Article                 Pronoun

    masculine     ihr.x Mann            ihrer

    neuter           ihr.x Auto              ihres

    feminine       ihre Freundin         ihre

    plural            ihre Freundinnen   ihre

     

    Another interesting observation is that a pronoun always has an article ending while an article at times doesnt (ihr.x Mann). This is due to the fact that there are three cases in which there is no ending at the end of an article:

                           masc.        neuter        feminine        plural

    Nominative    ein             ein        

    Accusative                      ein

    Dative

    Genitive

    In these three cases the following articles do not get an ending: ein, mein (and all articles of the same family: dein, sein, ihr, unser, euer, ihr), kein

    In all other cases they always have an ending which corresponds with those of the pronouns.

    SUMMARY

    I hope you could follow this logical explanation a bit. To summarize this topic one could state that

    • articles and pronouns often pretty much look alike and can only be distinguished by their companion or a lack of it.
    • article- and pronoun endings only differ in three cases (see last table)
    • pronouns replace a noun and therefore are never found directly next to one (if you find an exception, please let me know)

    This video helps you a bit with the basic (personal) pronouns, "er", "es" and "sie" and next week I will take a look at the differences between „ihr“, „euch“ and „euer“. So stay tuned.

    If you like to practice this topic a bit I recommend this lovely webpage.

     

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    Lösung from above:

        Sie (=pronoun) fragte ihren Mann (=article) nach seiner Meinung (=article).  
        Aber ihr Mann (=article) antwortete ihr (=pronoun) nicht.