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?

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 4
    Actually, the sentence "Sie haben ihre Freunde und ihren Sohn eingeladen" is very clear. They invited their own son.
    – Em1
    Jun 24, 2013 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". :)
    – äüö
    Jun 24, 2013 at 15:22
  • 1
    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, 2013 at 16:15
  • @fluffy: you're right
    – äüö
    Jun 25, 2013 at 6:33
  • Sometimes, the question appears if deren turns to derem in case of Dativ, but it does not.
    – äüö
    Jun 25, 2013 at 6:35

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.
  • 4
    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, 2013 at 15:02
  • I think that pointing at them does not influence the word-choice at all.
    – Em1
    Jun 24, 2013 at 15:09
  • 3
    @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, 2013 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, 2013 at 10:40
  • To have Er ist deren Sohn. sound disrespectful you'd need to put emphasize on deren for pronunciation.
    – zsawyer
    Jun 27, 2013 at 17:10

Genitive: dessen (m) - deren (f) - dessen (n) - deren (pl)

Dative: dem (m) - der (f) - dem (n) - denen (pl)

  • 1
    I am sorry but I fail to see how this is relevant.
    – fluffy
    Oct 2, 2014 at 11:47

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