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I'm currently learning German with Duolingo. In some of the lessons and daily practices, I have to listen to a recorded voice and type the German words that are spoken.

I seem to continually get confused between "Er" and "Ihr"

(i.e.: "Er trinkt Wasser" vs "Ihr trinkt Wasser")

Of course, it's made all the more difficult as you cannot detect which pronoun is being used by the conjugation of the verb! It's also made difficult by the differences in accent or dialect (at least to my ears - Duolingo uses both male and female voices interchangeably).

Is there any trick to understanding the subtlety of pronunciation between these two pronouns?

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It can't be "ihr" in your example, because then the correct sentence would be "Ihr esst einen Apfel". Generally you can find out which one is meant by looking at the verb. –  Landei Mar 9 '12 at 10:29
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@Landei - My bad. I chose the wrong verb to demonstrate as, of course, the verb "essen" is different between Er and Ihr. I've edited to use the verb trinken, as that is the same conjugation for both Er and Ihr. –  CraigTP Mar 9 '12 at 11:07
    

4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

"Er" is pronounced like the English word air and "Ihr" is pronounced like the English word ear. If the recorded voice does pronounce it wrong, I don't know how to help you. Do you also have these texts in a book, so you can follow the text while hearing?

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I had thought as much myself (air vs ear) however, the recorded voices (for which I don't have the exact text at the time as the exercise is to listen then type out the spoken words) seem to pronounce Er and Ihr very similarly, at least to my ears. And I fully appreciate you can't hear the same voices I can - at least not without signing up for Duolingo! :) –  CraigTP Mar 9 '12 at 11:13
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@Korinna: One should be a bit careful. Air and ear are indeed similar to er and ihr, but the vowels are much more open. So I wouldn't really say "pronounced like", but I'd say the difference between the two German words is similar to the difference between the two English words. –  Hendrik Vogt Mar 9 '12 at 12:00

My dialect usually stresses the i properly so you can distinguish it from an e. This is very much not true for at least one other dialect, where i and e even sound similar to me.

I had a guy from the outskirts of Berlin spell a name for me on Skype. I heard Bick while it was actually Beck. I then asked my colleague also from the outskirts of Berlin to spell out a word which I knew had an e and it sounded like i again. To her, it was definitely an e and she said the two one after the other trying to stress differences. It was still damn similar.

So trick one would be going to Bavaria with strongly stressed is.

Trick two is listening out for context. If ihr, it will usually be clear which group it is and probably who is part of it, while if er you will probably have said something about him before ;)

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Here are Duolingo's current pronunciations:

Er: https://d7mj4aqfscim2.cloudfront.net/tts/de/token/er (sounds more like "air")
Ihr: https://d7mj4aqfscim2.cloudfront.net/tts/de/token/ihr (sounds more like "ear")

Of course Duolingo may have improved the pronunciation since this question was created.

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Despite the formal difference ([eːɐ̯] vs. [iːɐ̯]), I'd also say, that there is more air pressure in the utterance of "ihr" than "er", at least in casual speaking. May be, you can hear for that difference.

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