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This little word "ihr" is driving me mad!

As a pronoun, it is just the plural of "du", in a familiar situation — ihr seid, ihr habt, OK, I get that.

But I've also seen it uppercase (Ihr), and not only at the start of a sentence. These usages may be obsolete but I keep coming across them in (old) books.

It seems to be used uppercase when speaking to several people, to indicate a degree of respect, not enough to warrant using "Sie".  It seems even to be used when speaking to one person in that kind of situation.  For example:

1. "Ihr seid früh auf, Frauchen...  Was würdet Ihr sagen...", said to an old woman of the poorer class, a stranger to the speaker.  She replies to the first part of that with "Ja, junger Herr, und ihr auch", and she continues to use lowercase "ihr", whether speaking to this individual, or to him and his companion together, while their speech to her uses "Ihr" and "Euch".  Does that make any sense?  If anything, I'd have expected it to be the other way about.

2. "Ihr Deckleute macht mich noch verrückt. … Ihr geratet außer Rand und Band, weil ihr* nichts zu tun habt".  A later edition of the same book changed that last ihr (marked with *) to Ihr! The meaning is certainly plural, but whether they are the familiar "ihr" or the semi-polite "Ihr" I don't know.

3. "Ihr habt fünf Minuten Zeit, um euch von hier zu entfernen, Ihr Lausbuben.  Wenn ihr es nicht tut, so werden wie eure Trommeln und Pfeifen in Stücke schlagen und eure Schädel noch obendrein."  The uppercase "Ihr" before "Lausbuben" is puzzling.  It's not the start of a sentence, and the context is hardly one of respect.

More confusion arises because lowercase "ihr" can also mean "her" or "their" (ihr Wort), and uppercase "Ihr" can mean "belonging to someone addressed as "Sie", for example, "Sie haben Ihr Wort gegeben, Sie wissen doch, Ihr Ehrenwort".

4. "Ihre Erbauer" occurs in a conversation taking place in noisy conditions where only an occasional phrase can be heard, so there's little context.  "Your builders" don't seem to make much sense, but if it is intended to mean "you builders" shouldn't it be "Ihr Erbauer"?

5. "Betrachten Sie Ihr und mein Leben; Was ist mein Leben, was ist Ihr?"  This is clearly "Ihr Leben", but should "Ihr" be considered an example of what a grammar book of my acquaintence calls "adjektivische Possessivpronomen" or "substantivische Possessivpronomen" (canoonet calls them "attributiv, vor einem Nomen" and "nicht attributiv", if that's the same thing).  If they're adjektivisch, what would substantivisch look like — "Das Leben ist Ihr", perhaps?

Any clarification would be welcome, but I know there is not much context to help.

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  • 2 years later...

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It is true that the word ihr means many different things. What I find helpful is to buy a grammar book with exercises. Perhaps you already have one and are using it?

So when you get used to ihr meaning you in plural as in "Marie und Hans, ihr kommt morgen oder?" by having practiced this extensively, then it is less of a problem to get used to ihr also meaning something else, for example "to her", as in "Ich gebe ihr das Geld". 

So to distinguish the two ihr already mentioned you can see that the first one is used as a subject. Here ihr are the ones who are coming (Marie and Hans).  The second ihr again is used as an object. Whom am I giving the money? To her (ihr). So the context in the sentence gives away which ihr we are talking about. 

And as you mentioned there are even more ihr words. But extensive grammar practicing will get you there. What also helps is to not try to arrive to a "this word always means this". Rather look at every situation separately and you will see what ihr means in that context. 


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