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If I want to say: “He is their son”, which is correct:

  1. Er ist ihr Sohn.

  2. Er ist deren Sohn.

What is the difference (if any) between ihr and deren in the meaning of their?

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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

deren or dessen are used to prevent misunderstanding concerning possessions in sentences with more than two persons or two groups of persons.

In your example it actually doesn't matter, but try to figure out who are the parents of the son in this sentence: Sie haben ihre Freunde und ihren Sohn eingeladen. The son could belong to family 1 or family 2. But using Sie haben ihre Freunde und deren Sohn eingeladen it's clear the son belongs to their friends.

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Actually, the sentence "Sie haben ihre Freunde und ihren Sohn eingeladen" is very clear. They invited their own son. –  Em1 Jun 24 '13 at 15:06
    
Maybe better: A speaks to B "Die Freunde und ihr Sohn kommen.". Which son will arrive? You can't hear if A says "Ihr" or "ihr". :) –  falkb Jun 24 '13 at 15:22
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So is this correct:*Meine Brüder können ihre Kollegen in deren Haus treffen.* I want to say that they are meeting in the colleagues' house. –  fluffy Jun 24 '13 at 16:15
    
@fluffy: you're right –  falkb Jun 25 '13 at 6:33
    
Sometimes, the question appears if deren turns to derem in case of Dativ, but it does not. –  falkb Jun 25 '13 at 6:35
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The difference is that deren here is a demonstrative (it can also be a relative pronoun), so this can be roughly compared to the difference between them and of those in English:

Er ist ihr Sohn. – He is their son.
Er ist deren Sohn. – He is the son of those.

Therefore the usage of deren is unusual. Right now, I can think of only three reasons to use it:

  • You are physically pointing at the parents (or something similar) while saying it.
  • You are expressing disrespect of the parents (in which case you would most probably emphasise deren).
  • The case explained in falkb’s answer.
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I strongly suspect the second item on your list (disrespect) only works in English - I can't think of a single example where this would work in German. Also, in the first instance (pointing) it would still be much more common to use "ihr", wouldn't it? –  Mac Jun 24 '13 at 15:02
    
I think that pointing at them does not influence the word-choice at all. –  Em1 Jun 24 '13 at 15:09
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@Mac: It certainly is not as intense as in English, but just try to say a few sentences about, e.g., your neighbours refering to them once with normal pronouns (sie, ihnen, ihre) and once with demonstrative pronouns (die, denen, deren). But maybe this depends on the dialect or region (compare, e.g., to using names with definite articles, especially the last example in Em1’s answer). –  Wrzlprmft Jun 24 '13 at 16:26
    
You're absolutely right about demonstrative pronouns in general, of course - but "deren" somehow still seems too formal/sophisticated for this usage. If I'm making a derogatory comment about my neighbours, I'll definitely rather say "Die Kinder von denen gehen mir aber mal richtig auf den Sack" instead of "Deren Kinder..." - but perhaps this is a regional thing, I don't know - what do the Northeners think? –  Mac Jun 25 '13 at 10:40
    
To have Er ist deren Sohn. sound disrespectful you'd need to put emphasize on deren for pronunciation. –  zsawyer Jun 27 '13 at 17:10
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