A tricky question on formal "you"

Hi! I am well familiar with the "Pan/Pani" vs "ty" forms, as well as "Państwo/Panowie/Panie" vs "wy". But there is one question which bothers me. If I address, say, one man with whom I'm per Pan + a group of children, what should I use? Wy? "Państwo" seems absurd, "wy" seems not polite enough, because there's this Pan among them. This is a real life situation, I'm using "Pan z dziećmi" so far while speaking to him. Is there a better way? Also, which verb form should I use in this case? "Pan z dziećmi jesteście" czy "Pan z dziećmi są"? The first one seems somehow more natural, isn't it?

August 19, 2018


That's a very good question and I guess one that Polish people may have real problems with as well ;) Frankly, I don't know what's the best way. In your situation, it seems relatively easy: "Pan z dziećmi" or "Pan i dzieci" sound natural. As for the verb form, I'd go with "są", "jesteście" is informal after all and "są" works with the formal "państwo są" etc.

The more problematic thing is for example when you're talking to your friend and their mom... now, it's only two people, to one you should talk informally, to the other one formally... and really, I don't know what to choose. Polish people sometimes just go an extra mile to avoid using any form of 'you' and addressing people in any way, when we don't know how to address them. Depending on the exact thing you want to say, you can totally rephrase your sentence, try making it impersonal, or perhaps change the subject to yourself instead of them... ("Czy mogę prosić o otwarcie okna?" vs "Czy możesz/może pani otworzyć okno?")

I'm very curious what others will say.

August 19, 2018

Thank you, Jellei! Oh yes, a friend and their mom is a very interesting situation. Can it be that there's no standard for this?! I'm looking forward to the answers :)

August 19, 2018

The more I think about it, the less sure I am about "są"... but then "jesteście" seems too informal... geez, this language :D

August 19, 2018

I can add some commentary to the Mother/Friend scenario from an American English perspective. Pani would be our equivalent to ma'am. So, what we would do here would likely be to treat a three way conversation including the friend and their mom as informal, but if we addressed her directly it would switch to formal (unless you were on informal terms with their mother). English doesn't use formal forms of you, but we do have formal pronouns such as Sir, Ma'am, Mister, Miss, Mrs. It's not the end of the world if you goof up and speak informally, your body language and tone likely show the respect due to the person.

August 19, 2018

It depends what you want to say. Generally, if you even want to talk to children, you must starts with a conversation with Pan(Supervisor) and after this you can talk to kids (wy). + Ignoring children is quite popular :P If you rly must speak with both grupe (for example a friend and their mom) you should address them separately. "Dzień dobry Pani, cześć Jarek"

August 19, 2018

And if I go on with the conversation? "Dzień dobry Pani, cześć Jarek, czy byliście wczoraj w ... ?" Doesn't sound good, does it?

August 19, 2018

Hmm..if you are Jarek's friend you simply ask him about it when him mum go away :D In Poland starting talking with parents your friends is...a bit weird it is also a bit rude. But of course, if the friend's mom starts talk to you can conduct a normal conversation with her, and maybe she will say "Nie musisz mówić mi na Pani" :)

August 19, 2018

It does sound fine in the family situations, school, friendly conversations. Pan/Pani + friend - verb 1st pl. If you would use "... czy byli Panstwo wczoraj w..", it basically exclude your friend from it. The clue may be the informal topic of these.

If you are addressing group of people (a teacher and pupils, strangers on the street) in semi-formal conversation, you may go for impersonal (like Jellei mentioned) OR use term: "wszyscy" (all): " Proszé wszystkich o uwagé / przejscie do sali". It is followed by 3rd pl form of verb (polite) but stresses the presence of audience without over-correctness.

Last option: formal situations and when you talk to newly met people (business, court, hospital, university, poling events) the best option is to use fully formal grammar. If amongst them are kids, your friends or co-workers you can address them separate, after general speech, i.e.: meeting in the school with children and parents about class trip to the zoo (parents are paying, kids should know about zoo's visit rules). It wort mention that at the universities polite form is often used between every group of people: from older teenagers (16 up), professors, students, to janitors alike. Just the character of the place.

WolfVonPosen gave good advice in both posts: start formal and quite likely you will be ask to change to more informal tone.

Similar Jonathan.Maybe explained the family scenario. My only note: polish form for Miss "Panna" is very old-fashioned and only used in matrimonial personal forms. Use "Pani" instead - in any discussion, e-mails, professional forms.

August 20, 2018

I'm not sure if it is formalised in any way but IMHO a safe version would be addressing everyone in a formal way. Addressing children as "Pan/Pani" is strange but fully accepted. On the other hand addressing by Pan/Pani to an adult is pretty much a must in such occasion. So simply use Państwo.

Another option that is often used sometimes is to separate and distinguish. Now what is interesting is that if there is a group of children with an adult who takes care of them (e.g. a teacher), it would be normal to address first children using "wy" and then distinguish the adult(s) by adding "i Panią/Pana/Panów/Panie/Państwo" (gosh), for example "Zapraszam was - i Panie - dalej". If that makes it awkward, the adult can be addressed together with children as "wy" (usually while continuation) - for example one can say "jesteście teraz w głównej sali zamku" without distinguishing adults.

It'll be the opposite when there is for example a parent (or parents) with children. Then the adult will go first when referenced. So the same sentences will be now "Zapraszam Państwa i dzieci dalej" (as already mention it can be also simply "Zapraszam Państwa dalej"). In these case the second sentence would be simply "Jesteście teraz Państwo w głównej sali zamku" or "Są teraz Państwo w głównej sali zamku"

This is simply because in the former case you need to address primarily children (but it's polite to distinguish adults) while in the latter your main audience are adults.

August 30, 2018
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