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More on pronouns

How do German speakers avoid confusion between the pronouns 'her','your' and 'their'? "I want to burn her house down", "I want to burn your house down" and "I want to burn their house down", all seem to be covered by the translation "Ich will ihr Haus niederbrennen." The distinction could be important.

June 21, 2012



It's all about context. Similarly, it's puzzling to German speakers that Standard English doesn't differentiate between "du" and "ihr".


I want to burn her house down = Ich will ihr Haus niederbrennen

I want to burn their house down= Ich will ihr Haus niederbrennen ( same as above, so you have to rely on the context in order to translate it correctly)

I want to burn your house down= Ich will dein Haus niederbrennen or (Ich will Ihr Haus niederbrennen it's formal you so Ihr is written with capital I)


To st4rdust: Thank you for answering my query. You have confirmed my fears. I guess in spoken German, the third sentence would sound the same as the others even though, written as text, the capitalisation serves to distinguish it. Ned_Kelly


To christian: Thank you for your help. It is true: In English, we sometimes need the old "Thou" to distinguish between one and many people present. It sounds bad, but some people do compensate in spoken English by saying "yous" to mean all those present.


I actually did some research on "yous" for a linguistics class. :) It most likely came into existence when the English introduced the English language in Ireland. As Irish Gaelic differentiates between singular and plural you and the English, for whatever reason, had just stopped using "thou", the Irish didn't want to do without the distinction. So mimicking the regular plural they simply added an "s" to "you". After the Potato Famine, Irish emigrants then took "yous" to other parts of the English-speaking world, most notably Scotland, Australia, and the American East coast.


Thank you Christian. I found your findings most fascinating. I can certainly vouch for the fact that "yous" is alive and well in Australia. The interplay between context and written text is, I suspect, a barrier that computer translators will find very difficult to overcome. The human mind can cope with a degree of ambiguity, but computers as we know them fail, because they cannot discern meaning. Further to "yous", the Americans seem to use "you-all" to compensate for the same difficulty with English pronouns.

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