What would be the appropriate pronoun to use when addressing someone (say, one person who you’d normally address with du), but also including someone else who is not present at the moment?

A contrived example: There’s a party tonight. I'm talking to my friend Alice, and I want to ask her if she and our other mutual friend Bob are going to the party. Bob is not present in the conversation. How would I ask her this? Specifically, what pronoun do I use talk about her and Bob simultaneously, even though Bob isn’t there?

  • Choice 1 (2nd person singular, du form):

    Gehst du und Bob zur Party?

  • Choice 2: (3rd person singular, er/sie/es form)

    Geht du und Bob zur Party?

  • Choice 3: (2nd person plural, ihr form)

    Geht du und Bob zur Party?

  • Choice 4: (3rd person plural, sie form)

    Gehen du und Bob zur Party?

I feel like none of these fully make sense. Choices 1 and 2 seem wrong because the subject of the sentence is two people, even though you’re only talking to one of them. Choice 3 feels wrong because ihr implies I’m talking to more than one person, but only Alice is here. Choice 4 feels wrong because now I’m talking completely in the 3rd person while addressing one of the people in question.

There’s probably some non-standard way to handle this, but I’m not sure what would sound colloquially appropriate.

  • 1
    At least a very similar question. – guidot Mar 3 '20 at 10:13
  • Wait, are you asking about the proper pronoun (as the title says) or about the proper conjugation of gehen as the examples suggest? – Arsak Mar 5 '20 at 0:34

Gehen du und Bob zur Party?

Is the right answer here. If they were both standing right in front of you you say

Geht ihr zur Party?

But one of the people is not there, so you are talking about a 3rd, non-present party (the set/union of both Bob and Alice).

If you feel awkward with the first choice, you can circumvent this by introducing Bob as subject beforehand.

"Was ist mit Bob? Geht ihr beide zur Party?"
or "Weißt du, ob Bob auch kommt? Geht ihr beide zur Party?"

If it is clear from context who the 3rd party is, you can omit the 3rd party and directly use the 3rd person plural. Just yesterday, a friend of mine told me about an event, and I asked

Geht ihr zu der Veranstaltung?

From context it was clear that this wasn't the 3rd person majestic singular, but that with "ihr" both him and his girlfriend (which wasn't present at that time) were meant.

  • 1
    3rd person verb + subject including 2nd person sounds very awkward to me. Can you point to sources that say 3rd person plural may include the one you are talking to, and possibly give not-so-awkward sounding examples? – cbeleites unhappy with SX Mar 3 '20 at 12:36
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX It might sound awkward to you, but it is how native speakers speak. Source: I am a native speaker. I have already included examples how you can avoid that. – Polygnome Mar 3 '20 at 12:44
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    @Polygnome: I'm a native speaker as well, and as this may be relevant, a native speaker pretty much from the middle of Germany in terms of latitude and in terms of longitude, various places east of the Rhine. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Mar 3 '20 at 12:47
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX As a native speaker from Austria I "Gehen du und Bob zur Party" sounds OK to me, but I'd probably switch the subjects around, i.e. say "Gehen Bob und du zur Party". I think this sounds better to me because it moves the 3rd-person subject closer to the (3rd person) verb. Generally, I think this is one of the cases where there is no strictly grammatically correct way to write this sentence, because the combined subject "du und Bob" has no clearly defined person, hence there exists strictly speaking no correct verb from to use. – fgp Mar 3 '20 at 21:38
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    I'm a native German speaker as well and I second that it sounds awkward. – infinitezero Mar 3 '20 at 22:25

I don't really think this works in German as planned. Workarounds would be to mentioned Bob beforehand (A), clarify along the way (B) or rephrase it entirely (C).

(A) Was ist mit Bob? Geht ihr beide zur Party?
(B) Geht ihr, also du und Bob, zur Party?
(C) Gehst du mit Bob zur Party?

  • 3
    Version (C) means something slightly different, though. It means that Bob and you go to the party together, which implies more than you and him simply attending the same party (although it doesn't necessarily imply any romantic connection) – fgp Mar 3 '20 at 21:41

There is an article in the culture part of the magazine "Der Spiegel" about this topic:

If the article of "Der Spiegel" is correct, the official rule is:

"du" + "er" => 2nd person plural

According to this rule, the correct sentence is:

Geht du und Bob zur Party?

However, the article in "Der Spiegel" also states:

Sätze wie diese klingen ungewohnt, wenn nicht gar falsch. Sie sind aber korrekt.

Or in other words: Although these sentences are correct according to official grammar rules, nearly any native speaker would say that such sentences are incorrect.

A native speaker would nearly always avoid this situation by using the pronoun belonging to the person of the verb. In this case the verb is 2nd person plural, so you would use the pronoun "ihr".

The resulting sentence could be:

Du und Bob, geht ihr zur Party?

  • 3
    To me, a native speaker from Austria, "Geht du und Bob zur Party" sounds horribly wrong, and calling this grammatically correct seems ridiculous to me. In general, I'd say that grammar is always something that is extracted from the way native speaker use a language, and if a large majority of speakers disagree with a rule, it's this the rule that's wrong, not the speakers. In particular if the rule seems completely arbitrary - why would "du + er" imply 2nd person plural, you might just as well say it implies 3rd person. And that modified rule then agrees which how people actually speak – fgp Mar 3 '20 at 21:46
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    Sounds ... queer, but i can imagine it's correct. "Geht ihr zur Feier, du und Bob ?". Any German language professors here :-) ? "Romanes eunt domus" und so :-) – a_donda Mar 3 '20 at 23:49
  • Another argument in favour of "Geht du und Bob": dict.leo.org/forum/…. Seems like this is the correct answer. – a_donda Mar 4 '20 at 10:47
  • Oh rose, thou art sick! – user unknown Mar 4 '20 at 12:48
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    @userunknown: Sind Kommentare nicht dazu da, Klarheit zu schaffen ? An anderer Stelle monierst du nämlich Regelverstöße. Was möchtest du denn sagen mit dem Auspruch, für die die ihn nicht kennen, falls er denn ein geflügeltes Wort darstellt. – a_donda Mar 4 '20 at 13:08

This is one of the cases where grammar trumps feelings. If you’re talking to Alice and you want to know whether her and Bob are going to the party then the appropriate grammatical person if both Alice and Bob are mentioned explicitly is the 3rd person plural.

Gehen du und Bob zur Party?

Du of course draws a lot of people to want to use a second person singular. But that is only acceptable if there is only one person; however there is also Bob. The same is true for a verb form in third person singular: as there is Alice, singular is not acceptable.

The second person plural is permissable in such a construction if the group has already been established as a group beforehand or is obviously established as a group a priori. So if Alice is married to Charlie, I can ask Alice:

Geht ihr zur Party?

This sentence would implicitly include Charlie if no other context has been given. If you want to include Alice and Bob into the ihr, it requires some form of pre-existing context to make it clear that Alice and Bob are intended to be included in ihr. For example, Alice might have told you that Bob called her about the party and then your next question might be ‘Geht ihr zur Party?’ Alternatively, if Bob is already there and the three of you are talking you can use ihr while obviously addressing both of them – however, this is a different situation as you mention that Bob is not present in your conversation.

When a pronoun and a proper noun are put together to form a combined group, this will automatically make a case for a third person plural form unless a first person plural is acceptable. Funnily enough, that still works when Bob is not mentioned by name but by pronoun only:

Gehen er und du zur Party?

  • 1
    Some denglish here: ... whether she and Bob are going to the party ... Second person would work neatly in the first case: "Gehst Du mit Bob zur Party ?" oder "Gehst Du und (geht) Bob zur Party ?". The last case would - as an address - correctly be said as "Geht er und du (=ihr) zur Party ?". – a_donda Mar 3 '20 at 9:54
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    3rd person verb + subject including 2nd person sounds very awkward to me. Can you point to sources that say 3rd person plural may include the one you are talking to, and possibly give not-so-awkward sounding examples? (and I admit to not going with grammar trumps feeling [of a proficient native speaker] but rather with grammar rules may be established from observing what native speakers say or don't say (but then my profession is an experimental science where theories have to be reconsidered/changed if the experiment doesn't agree). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Mar 3 '20 at 12:36
  • @a_donda "Gehst Du mit Bob zur Party" is by far the best short solution. Neither 2nd plural nor 3rd plural sound good, and all other suggestions like "Du und Bob, geht ihr..." are complicated. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '20 at 18:18
  • @Peter "Geht ..." seems to be the grammatically correct version, regardless of its sounding. I'd avoid the situation and ask "Geht ihr ..." – a_donda Mar 5 '20 at 8:48

Ich bin Ausländer und spreche nicht gut Deutsch. Aber

Du und Bob, geht ihr zur Party?

schmeckt meinen Ohren gut.

  • Deinen Ohren kannst Du eher vertrauen als Deinen Tippfingern. :) – user unknown Mar 4 '20 at 12:35

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