honorifics in polish & "przechodzenie na ty"

hello :)

neither in the stickies nor in any recent threads did i find anything comprehensive on this subject, so i figured i would make a thread on this. i also found nothing in tips & notes (i didn't even get the option for tips & notes even though i skipped as far into the course as i had to).

before i start, i'm basing this off of 2 things: 1. life experience. i've lived in poland for my whole life, so i just know how this works in our society (or in warsaw at least). 2. i had to complete a savoir-vivre course (hope i spelled that right ) and it detailed the exact ways for "przechodzenie na ty" (transitioning to informal "you"). despite this, mistakes could happen, so i ask for anyone who finds any mistakes to please point them out. certain ages are estimates and only a guideline, it's just a basic frame so that you know roughly what you're dealing with. there will always be exceptions, but unless they're common i won't be including them.

one more thing: if you work as an employee at a shop or do something similar to that, refer to EVERYONE as pan/pani no matter the age (except friends, family and the likes). this is an exception to everything i will write below.

  1. talking to children (i would say up to about the age of 12 at least, but mostly up to 18) - you can pretty much always refer to kids as "ty". for example, if visiting a friend who has kids, unless they're 18+, refer to them as "ty" immediately.

  2. under 18(ish) speaking to under 18 - unless this is a professional context, pretty much assume "ty". at polish schools we just call each other "ty" from the get-go. at university, though i can't say for sure, i believe most students refer to each other as "ty" unless one is significantly older.

  3. anyone to anyone over 18 - if this is someone you're meeting for the first time, always say pan/pani unless it's a family member (on that later) or it's very informal (like meeting a friend's partner or something of the sort). if being introduced to a friend's older family member, go with pan/pani, but if it's a sibling or cousin, i would go with "ty". sometimes, you have to be the judge of a situation. refer to the other points in this thread if you aren't sure about a situation, since this point is very broad.

  4. family members - (since formatting seems to be awkward on duo, i will be capitalizing categories so that it's easier to navigate) GRANDPARENTS: some will prefer you use 3rd person, but not pan. so if you're asking if you can talk to grandma, you say "czy mogę porozmawiać z babcią", not "tobą". if you're confused on how to formulate your sentence in this way, imagine you're asking someone else this question. this works in probably every context. more examples: czy babcia idzie robić pranie? (is grandma going to do the laundry?), dam babci chusteczkę (i'll give grandma a tissue). this isn't all grandparents, so i would suggest asking a family member if they know what your grandparents might prefer. PARENTS - most of the time parents are fine with "ty" but it depends on their own preferences. fun fact: speaking to parents in 3rd person is only now being phased out. for example, i call my mother "ty", but she speaks to my grandparents in 3rd person. i recommend asking. COUSINS, SIBLINGS - always "ty". UNCLES, AUNTS - same as parents. to sum this part up, if there's a generation difference, i would just ask. there doesn't seem to be a pattern here. NOTE: in families with severe generational issues or discrepancies, refer either to age or ask your family, if possible. as for the age thing: in a family where, for example, a person's aunt is basically their age (this happens), one may (depending on the preferences on everyone in question) just say "ty". if, on the other hand, for example, one cousin is SIGNIFICANTLY older than the other (i mean by that that one could be the other's parent or somewhere around that line) then i'd go for 3rd person, but again it's best to ask about this because there's no real etiquette for this. also: in the second scenario, if you're wondering how to refer to the older person, i would recommend "ciocia/wujek" but it, again, depends.

  5. teachers and students - up till college, teachers always call students "ty". students must always call teachers either "pan/pani" or pan/pani profesor". it's most often (in my own experience) "pan/pani ". "pani/pan profesor" is used in liceum (not exactly high school but you can understand it to be high school, as it's also the last phase of mandatory schooling), but be conscious of how other students (possibly teachers if they don't refer by name) talk to or about certain teachers.

  6. college teachers - if the teacher only has a doctorate, go with "pan/pani doktor". if the teacher is a certified professor or works in that position, say "pan/pani profesor" . if they have only a master's, go with "pan/pani magistrze"

  7. co-workers - depends. this is more complicated and depends a lot on "przechodzenie na ty", so just look t here and i'll explain more in depth there.


NOTE: you don't HAVE to do this. you can just refer to each other per pan/pani for the entire time you know someone. don't think this is a necessity!

this is a very complicated relationship. there is no real 100% working guide for this, but here are things to consider: 1. age 2. status (like professor vs doctor) 3. gender (women should generally offer, if anyone is to offer)

again, there is no recipe for this. if you're MUCH younger, the older should probably offer.

if the age difference isn't significant, decide on status

if the status is the same, go with gender.

please be conscious though! this isn't sure-fire. assess the situation yourself and see this as a mere general guide.

with co-workers, this is complicated. it won't always be apparent who is older, so i would try indirectly trying to find out or just asking if that isn't inappropriate (you be the judge of this). be warned though, sometimes being "na ty" with a co-worker could be problematic, because this can be abused (like asking for certain work to be done as a "favor for a friend" or something). this is uncommon, but be aware of it.

i think that's it. thank you for reading and i hope this was helpful!! do zobaczenia :)

NOTE: if you aren't sure what to use, i think it's just better to say "pan/pani". it's better for things to be a little awkward than for someone to think you're being disrespectful!

p.s: sorry for all the "depends"! it's very hard to say things for sure.

August 26, 2018


This is a really well thought-out post. The only one I would disagree with is #3. In informal social situations I would rarely call someone that I just met "Pan/Pani." For example if an acquaintance introduces me to his new girlfriend. If I call her "Pani" she might get offended that I'm implying that she is visually significantly older than I am.... Other than that "przechodzenie na ty" can be perfectly translated into English with "transitioning to informal you."

August 27, 2018

good spot! i didn't think of that. i'll add that! thanks very much for your input :)

August 27, 2018

A nice post but let me add my few cents.

The frontier where you automatically change from informal to formal isn't 18 in my opinion and it's actually moving higher. Also it strongly depends on a social situation. If you're in your early twentieth and talk to someone of more or less similar age in a situation supporting informality (e.g. in a bar, on the same university) you use informal Ty rather than formal Pan/Pani. Of course you can use formal version but it will most probably sound a bit awkward and build a barrier that isn't necessary. Yet if properly used it is polite.

If you fall into some group that strongly supports socialising (like some learning group) you can usually also try skipping the formal version. Of course that's something that goes against strict savoir-vivre rules but is widely accepted. I've been on a range of courses and the participants usually used informal way either immediately or simply suggested that during introduction. Not - if the age difference is significant it is wise to wait for the older person in a pair to suggest changing to informal style of referencing and accept if they don't do that by keeping the formal way.

Specifically referring to students - even though it should be signified during the introduction by the older student, in general they usually immediately skip to an informal form (similarly t course participants). I know specific cases where the age difference was around 20 years and everyone used informal references.

  1. This is a bit more tricky. Usually it is possible to use two forms and they are equally fine. One is to directly call a person by the relation name and then go with you, the other is just using a reference through relation type. Currently both are accepted however in the past only the former was considered rude. Examples:

Babciu, czy mogę Ci pomóc? Czy mogę Babci pomóc?

You may also mix both, ending up with:

Babciu, czy mogę Babci pomóc?

The same goes with older family members (from a different generation) - parents, aunts/uncles etc. Yet if your family member is different generation but is of similar age then it's usually normal to use the "ty" form.

One more thing worth mentioning here is children talking to parents' friends. While using Pan/Pani is absolutely fine another popular way is to refer to them as ciociu/wujku (aunt/uncle) despite they are not family members. This is also widely accepted.

  1. To a college teacher - you always refer depending on their highest education level and position combined. You've missed those with (just) a masters degree to which you refer as "panie magistrze/pani magister".

A college teacher usually also uses the formal form "Pan/Pani", however this rule isn't 100% granted. Sometimes they use informal referencing.

  1. Co-workers - as a rule of thumb you're right but especially in large corporations where English language is vastly used there are usually rules requesting to refer to each other through informal "you" which automatically is transferred to the way people refer to each other. Once introduced to the rule use it - which means you use an informal reference "ty" to everyone in your company even if you see them for the first time (all corporations in which I worked had this rule). Again - it might be against strict savoir-vivre rules but it works this way.
August 30, 2018

interesting input! thank you! and thanks for the magister thing, i'll add that!

August 31, 2018

Thanks for that, bayers (and POLSKAdoBoJO). They are very useful insights. I'll come back and review these when I've learnt more of the basics on here.

August 27, 2018

thank you! best of luck with your studies :)

August 27, 2018

Dziekuje bardzo! I am moving to Poland in less than a month and I didn't know this. Talking to people I must have been very disrespectful XD

August 27, 2018

I believe most people will understand that you're still a learner and forgive you, however technically, you should address most people formally. And one of the biggest problems of this course is barely touching the topic of Formal You.

August 28, 2018

I'll make sure to do so. Sometimes I needed to ask elderly strangers for directions, I feel guilty now

August 28, 2018

The problem would be if your Polish was good enough for people to not necessarily notice you're not Polish, and then you'd use informal forms with strangers ;)

August 28, 2018

everyone tells me I have a really American accent and that I sound strange so I don't think that I need to worry

August 28, 2018

don't worry! you're still learning and most people probably understand that :) good luck with your studies and i hope you enjoy life in poland!

August 28, 2018

Really nice. I was most surprised by the third person reference. Mostly we have the same patterns in Germany, but our Pan*i is already a third person plural form. In some society layers the formal you is thought to disappear, in others however people tend to go with the formal you whenever the situation is just a little unsure. If someone tried to use a reference based on the parental grade, this would certainly be considered as either rude or ridiculous. My driving teacher nevertheless referred to me alternating between Pan and On. But he is a rare case.

Have a lingot. Tylko popraw poproszę savoir-vivre.

September 23, 2018
Learn Polish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.