I'm reading "Der Hobbit" and in their first encounter Bilbo and Galdalf address each other as "Ihr". I learned that it's either "du" or "Sie". Is it common to use "Ihr", in literature for instance?

Du darfst auf Deutsch antworten. Ich kann es verstehen, aber noch nicht so gut schreiben.

  • By the way: A rather common word for this is Ihrzen in analogy to Siezen and Duzen.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 8, 2014 at 10:03
  • Thanks @Wrzlprmft. Does that also mean its use is more common than I would have thought?
    – stevenvh
    Jun 8, 2014 at 10:05
  • 2
    – Carsten S
    Jun 8, 2014 at 10:08
  • @stevenh: Rather common was meant in relation to the usage of the form itself. Anyway, I do not know how common you thought it to be. Nowadays, it is only used in some dialects and if you want your language to sound archaic.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 8, 2014 at 10:10
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    stevenvh, if you want to learn/improve modern German, better stick to more modern work! I liked the translations of Harry Potter, for instance. Most US/UK fantasy is horrible in German (which is why I switched to reading those in the original exclusively years ago).
    – Raphael
    Jun 8, 2014 at 17:15

2 Answers 2


It's called Höflichkeitsform, Honorificum or Honorativ(um). "Ihr" was replaced by "Sie" in the 19th and 20th century. It sounds more formal and historically authentic so it is often used in medieval or fantastic fiction.


  • And the "Ihr" usage was retained in Yiddish for second person formal. Jun 10, 2014 at 19:13

This is very close to the "pluralis majestatis" and is very common in this genre (medieval/fantasy).

And yes, it is also common for literature, especially older work.

It is a substitute for the polite salutation "Sie". It can easily be formed, as you simply express yourself as if you would talk to more than one person.

"Es gehört Ihnen." → "Es gehört Euch."

"Das glauben Sie wirklich?" → "Das glaubt Ihr wirklich?"

There is also a duden-article on this: Link

  • 1
    Thanks. But if it's close to pluralis majestatis shouldn't it be with a capital letter: "Es gehört Euch" and "Das glaubt Ihr wirklich"? That's how it is in the book anyway. ("Das glauben Sie" must be with a capital "S" in any case.)
    – stevenvh
    Jun 8, 2014 at 9:46
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    It's not really "pluralis majestatis", it's just an old polite form of addressing somebody. In English this form (second person plural, "you") has actually replaced the older form ("thou"). In German there was no replacement, but the polite form in use has shifted to the third person plural ("Sie"). And capitalizing the pronouns in German as a sign of respect can be found for all pronounces (except "ich", maybe, which OTOH is always capitalized in English).
    – dirkt
    Jun 8, 2014 at 10:41
  • It should be noted that Pluralis Majestatis is not used in modern days, and was only used among peers or "upwards" (afaik). Why Gandalf would use the form addressing Bilbo, I don't know (may be quirk of his, or maybe just shoddy translation).
    – Raphael
    Jun 8, 2014 at 11:18
  • sorry, I did not say it IS pluralis majestatis - it is, in my opinion, only related Jun 8, 2014 at 12:22
  • why is this "very close" and not exactly that: the pluralis majistatis. Isn't that exactly the way they were addressed, excluding the actual title of the nobility? But maybe that's a separate question Apr 19, 2022 at 12:07

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