The use of Sie and Du - an attempt to explain
Hello, as I realized there are a lot of problems with "Sie" and "Du" I thought I could try to explain it. I'm from Bavaria in Germany and so I speak for how it's done here but I'm pretty sure it's not so different in other parts of Germany:
I know it's tricky. I'm sorry. I guess basically you could always consider if you would use the first name where you're from (then you use du) or use Mr/Mrs last name (in this case use Sie).
If you meet someone new in Germany you can't say "Du" right away because that would be considered rude (some people especially older people will get really angry though they might be forgiving if you are from a foreign country).
"Du" is only used if the new person is a child, if you are friends with someone or if it is family. This shows your close relationship.
"Sie" is used in official settings, for colleagues (if you didn't make other arrangements) and for adult strangers or customers.
If you have the same rank and are both of younger age, for example you are both students it is very common to use "du" right away. It would be considered awkward if you used "Sie" then.
If someone is of higher age or rank than you and offers you to use "du" you can consider it an honor. (Actually this can be quite hard for Germans, I still feel strange when I say Du to a Professor even though he offered)
Never offer "du" to someone of higher rank or age yourself, they would politely decline or be offended or they might go with it but you would lose their respect.
You can offer du to people that are younger/same age and of lower/same rank, but not if they are for example your customers or you work for them. (I changed my insurance broker because I didn't think she should use du. I was her customer, even though I was younger. For me it felt like she didn't respect me as an adult).
If someone is younger but an adult or of lower rank you have to use Sie at the beginning but you can think about offering Du if you want to bring the relationship to a more friendly level. You shouldn't just use Du (only if it's a child). Again they could think you don't respect them because of their younger age or lower rank. You have to actively offer "Du" so they have a chance to decline.
You also have to consider that it can be frowned upon if you offer "du" to lower ranking people at your job, because some people believe that you shouldn't get to friendly with people you outrank to have a serious working relationship.
If you are not sure whether to use "du" or "Sie", it is safer to use "Sie". Or you try to avoid directly addressing them which is basically a walk on eggshells.
By the way it's not common to go back to "Sie". If then only if someone overstepped earlier and used "du" without the other being comfortable with it or if a colleage really lost your trust.
Sometimes the first name combined with "Sie" is used. This is usually bosses and their younger female assistants, like at a doctor's office. It shows that there's a difference in rank. In this case the assistants have to use the normal "Sie" combined with Herr/Frau last name. I don't like that version much I think it's a bit condescending.
I do think there's a change going on in Germany. There are many young people that are much more comfortable with the "Du" now and it's used more often at work but I think it's still important to know about the rules because you never know how conservative people you're talking to are.
Here's an example how it could go if someone offers the du:
Mike: "Lisa, das it meine Freundin Anne Meyer. Sie ist Kindergärtnerin" (the Sie here is she and not a case of Sie or Du)
Lisa: "Wie interessant. Da haben Sie sicher viel Spaß Frau Meyer"
Anne: "Ach bitte, Sie können gerne du/Anne zu mir sagen" (notice you can't say "du kannst du" zu mir sagen, you have to use Sie because the other person did the same"
Now Lisa has two options:
Option 1: "Gerne!" (Sometimes you repeat your own first name then and sometimes you shake hands while doing so and the other person will repeat their name it's like another introduction)
Option 2: "Danke aber ich würde gerne beim Sie bleiben." (Say that if you are really not comfortable with a more personal relationship with the other person and consider that they migth be offended by you declining to use du)
P.s. If you write a letter to someone you normally use du for you can capitalize the D of Du and Dich to show your special esteem. This is rather ancient but a lot of people still do it if it's a greeting card for a birthday or something similar.
Thanks, a great explanation. Perhaps I may add an observation from 'office life'. Some years ago I worked in a company that had offices in USA and in Germany. When I visited them I had to adapt to the way they addressed each other. In the USA when you were introduced to colleagues it was immediately on first name basis. In the German office it was more formal, you would use family names and SIe. So it would be 'Frau Schmitt' und 'Herr Mueller and you would say 'Sie' never 'Du. Even colleagues in the same office who had worked together for more than ten years addressed each other with 'SIe'. The manager would say to his secretary 'Frau Schmitt, koennten SIe bitte mal kommen'. My American colleagues found this sometimes hard to understand.
Now I don't know whether that's a difference in region or generation (I'm 27) or something else but I certainly have to disagree with ""Du" is only used if the new person is a child, if you are friends with someone or if it is family. This shows your close relationship."
I very often see foreigners doing exactly that and it is always so, so strange to be called "Sie". For me it is rather normal to say "du" to anyone roughly my age or younger. And with roughly I mean up to the age of about 40. And that's not just me. I give you an example. The (now I don't know the best English term) "research assistants" at my university (sometimes they are giving a lecture, or they are supervising a project or a thesis) do usually have a masters degree or something similar and they are about 35-45 years old. So they have a higher rank and they are older. Still, most of the students use "du" when talking to them. In fact, I even only know their first names ;)
But the university is a special place anyway ;)
Now don't get me wrong, I also use "Sie" with people that might be slightly older than I am. And yes it is tricky to know when you can use "du" and when you have to use "Sie".
A shop assistant in a clothing store at the age of about 35 - would probaly say "du".
A shop assistant at a jeweller - would probably say "Sie".
A random person on the street I am asking for the time (again age 35) - would probably use "du". Doctor's assistant - would probably use "Sie".
It is really complicated and if in doubt you should use "Sie". But don't use it for friends' friends or fellow students ;)
I'm 27, too. And I was studying at a university until recently. It's probably a regional thing then (Bavaria has its traditions). I would never address a random person on the street with "Du" and frankly I would be offended if someone asked me for the time using "Du". Maybe it also depends on what you are studying. Assistents at my university were adressed with Sie, their title and last name that's if it wasn't peer teaching. They wouldn't address us with Du either.
I'm not so sure that it's a regional thing, at least nothing exclusive to Bavaria. I've lived in Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg, and I would address neither shop assistants nor people on the streets as "du" (if they were about my age and addressed me as "du", I probably wouldn't be offended and do the same, but otherwise I would find it at least strange). I can also second using "Sie" (but I personally wouldn't use a title as an address) for university employees until they offer the "du" (unless they're fellow students or Ph.D. students who e.g. give exercise classes, then "du" would be the standard in my opinion).
Thank you CapiTanja for this great account, and to qfish and jjd1123 for your experiences too! This is something I really have trouble wrapping my head around, especially since in Australia we never use last names - from about 15 or 16 you refer to all your teachers by their first name, as an adult I can't think of a single situation where it would not be strange to refer to someone by their last name.
I was quite surprised, when spending a semester studying in Germany, that within the university other students tended to automatically use du. I really liked it, it gave me a sense of 'we're all friends here!'
I just got a job as a 'Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin' in Germany (in English speaking countries, if this is after you have finished your PhD, we would call it a postdoc), and during the application process I had to be very careful about always using Sie - I mainly speak German with my boyfriend, so I am very used to using du only. I really didn't want to offend anyone or seem too familiar! I also always used "Prof. Dr. ..." I thought of this as a 'dominant strategy' - you're unlikely to offend anyone by taking this route, and some people might really like it!
I have a rather unrelated question for you all - when you were at university, did you take any classes in English? Did you find this difficult? What, in your opinion, is the best way to make German students more comfortable taking courses in English at university?
Do you have the impression, that German students avoid taking lectures in English? I don't think so.
At least in the natural sciences and in engineering you have to be familiar with English, since most resources, all papers and even many advanced lectures are in English.
A sidenote: A "wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter" (research assistant) at the university is a general term for a researcher, who isn't a professor yet. So both PhD students and Post-Docs may be "wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter".
In addition to what SorrisoMW said I can confirm that, at least at my university in the natural sciences, (as far as I know) all master's and some Bachelor's lectures and exercise classes are in English (although lecturers or tutors might switch to German if there are only German speakers attending the lecture / exercise group). And as SorrisoMW implied, if you want to publish anything you have to do it in English, otherwise it might be regarded as largely irrelevant. So while I don't know which field you're in, I would suggest just offering lectures in English and responding to any questions that might arise from that (but I don't know if your university's administration requires you to hold lectures in one language or the other, since often the entire Bachelor's or Master's program (or Staatsexamen, ...) is offered in German or in English, so that the students have a "right" to a lecture in that language).
SorrisoMW is also right in pointing out the difference between a "wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter" and a "Post-Doktorand", even though I wouldn't refer to a postdoc or a PhD student as a "wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter" (but they technically are one).
Regarding formal correspondence, I think that a good strategy is to start out with the "normal" formality (i.e. "Sehr geehrte(r) ..." and "Mit freundlichen Grüßen" and all that) and from then on copy the formality of the other person. I personally think, however, that "Prof. Lastname" is formal enough, since you can normally only get a professor's title if you have a doctor's degree in the first place ("Prof. Dr. Full Name" is what you might read in a postal address or letter head, though).
"in Australia we never use last names - from about 15 or 16 you refer to all your teachers by their first name"... I would disagree to the "never" statement. While we rarely use last names in Australia there are times we do. Lots of schools - especially private schools - would not allow children/teenage students to call teachers or principals by their first name, and in some private school settings it is not unusual for friends even to call each other by their surnames, particulaly amongst boys - though in the case of friends it is not a heirachy thing its just a form of nickname.
It's true as a country we are mostly casual, however there are always some exceptions when in formal or conservative environments. In some professional settings it would be normal, for example, to hear "Doctor Smith is ready to see you" rather than "Peter is ready to see you"; court rooms and government roles are very heirachial and tied up with tradition so if you address or write to a politician you are meant to use their titles (The Honourable, etc), the queen is never called by her first name, and even ordinary people when introduced to give a speech or something are likely to be introduced with the "Mr/Mrs/Ms". If you worked in a role that involved dealing with people aged 80+ - such as a retirement home - you would probably on first introduction call them "Mr" or "Mrs" until they either invited you to call them by their first name or you knew them better. By the time we are of retirement age that practice will probably no longer exist, but as elderly people grew up in an era that believed as the Germans seem to that it is disrespectful to be too casual the practice lives on in certain circles.
But you are right that none of this is very important for someone learning to speak English for use in Australia as the majority of people here are going to go by first names and wouldn't be worried even if someone got it wrong. When it comes to learning German, I guess think like you're talking to your great-grand parent and how they liked people to defer to them by using their title?
If someone had their Dr./PhD I wouldn't say Frau Meyer, but Frau Dr. Meyer. That's what I meant by title. If you both have a Dr. it's a different thing. I didn't mean bachelor/ master/Prince/Lord or something.
Yes, I understood that, I was just saying that I personally wouldn't use the academic title. E.g. I would still say "Frau Meyer" (provided we weren't using "du"), regardless of whether she had a doctor's or even professor's degree. And at least in the groups I've had projects or a thesis in, the group member's mostly didn't used the respective titles to refer to each other or other scientists (they mostly used "du" within the groups, though, possibly with the exception of the head of the group). But I can easily imagine how that might be different depending on field, university, or just the individual group.
Yeah well in my field some people are very traditional and like their hierarchies. Some professors would even expect to be able to walk into the room first and walk out of it first which means you would stand as close to the wall as possible to let them pass.
That's quite a different experience then. But I think it's really interesting that there are so many different cultures within Germany :)
For me it's very similar, but with slightly more Sie. Maybe I am a couple of years older.
Just to add some more colour: I have had to do with the occasional German professor who feels very awkward about using Sie with his students. These professors want to use du, and they want to be addressed that way. I am not saying this is at all common, just that such people already exist.
I know another professor who has a strict rule about du and Sie in an academic environment: With his students, he switches from Sie to du in the very sentence in which he congratulates them after they have passed their PhD thesis defence.
Impressive guidance! Thank you!
I noted you said "Sometimes the first name combined with "Sie" is used. This is usually bosses and their younger female assistants, like at a doctor's office. It shows that there's a difference in rank. In this case the assistants have to use the normal "Sie" combined with Herr/Frau last name. I don't like that version much I think it's a bit condescending."
A long, long time ago I was in Munich, aged 19, in a social situation (not university) and I was addressed by my first name, but with Sie. Most of the people in the gathering were somewhat older than me but youngish adults. I don't think there was any condescension implied and most of the others were friends of the person I came with. Note that I'm male. I remember it because I was puzzled by it and had always assumed that Sie was used with last names only.
Using "Sie" together with the first name is also known as the Hamburger Sie. It is also often used in schools when teachers start siezing their pupils at the beginning of the Sekundarstufe II (used to start in grade 11, now in grade 10), which is especially in the beginning weird enough even without suddenly being addressed by your last name. But I agree that it's not condescending (at least to me), it's just a middle way between being very formal ("Sie" and last name) and completely informal ("du" and first name).
Edit: Your streak is very impressive. Have you thought about getting your name into the (unofficial) "one year+ hall of fame"?
You mean "Sie" together with the first name is known as the Hamburger Sie, right? And you are right I also know the use of it when teachers first start using Sie in 10th/11th grade. In this case I wouldn't think it's condescending, but I remember how weird this change in address felt. By the way some younger teachers were offering the "du" to us instead of changing to "Sie" and some others asked if we want to keep things as they were.
Yes, sorry, I edited it. I remember something similar from my school, where some students asked if the "du" could be kept because the "Sie" felt very strange and unfamiliar, but I think there was some policy that said that teachers officially had to start using "Sie".
Using "first name + Sie" is indeed a very difficult and very region-dependent topic. As jjd1123 already said, it is sometimes called the "Hamburger Sie". But it's usage isn't limited to Hamburg at all (and, as explained on the site below, not justified anymore). Another interesting case is the reversed one, where people use "last name + Du".
The "Atlas zur deutschen Alltagssprache" - (roughly) "atlas of german everyday speech" has done some surveys on the topic (unfortunately only in German, but there are nice maps on the site).
Relation between boss and employee: http://www.atlas-alltagssprache.de/r8-f6a-b-2/
Relation employee to employee: http://www.atlas-alltagssprache.de/r8-f6c-d-e-2/
The maps shown are for the variants "first name + Sie" (Vorname+Siezen) and "last name + Du" (Nachname+Duzen). The points on the map are divided into "common" (pink, "üblich") - "sometimes" (yellow, "ab und zu") - "uncommon" (blue, "unüblich").
At last, it is to be said, that those forms aren't needed in German. So you can omit them, when learning the language. You just shouldn't be too surprised, when encountering them while talking to Germans. ;-)
I once asked a german woman which regularly used the first name + sie combination when she was talking to her colleagues (all females) why she does not use the last name instead. I found it very confusing, but her explanation helped me a lot to understand that combination. Oh by the way i am a german too. The explanation was: "In jobs with the cliche of a sexy women, like nurse or stewardess for example, the combination gives the women much more privacy and security regarding stalkers. As it is much easier to find someone if you know his/her last name. On the other side the direkt use of "du" would be to informal and does not provide enough distance for a good working environment"
I want to add another rule for the usage of "Du" that might interest you. I'm from Austria (where we also speak German), and maybe you know, that we Austrians like hiking in the mountains (like the Alps). Now, the interesting thing is, that in the mountains there are other rules for "Du" and "Sie" as in the valleys (and cities..)! While in the valley foreigners could consider you rude if you say "Du" to them, in the mountains it's different. Here you would be considered a kind of "Greenhorn" if you say "Sie" to them! In the mountains everyone is "per Du", from young to old, from poor to rich, from uneducated to academics! The background is probably, that all people going to the mountains regard each others also als hikers and therefor as "colleagues", which is enough to be on a first-name basis. The only question is, where is the threshold, where do "the mountains" begin? The answer is, there is an "unwritten rule", that says everything above 1000m is a mountain and therefor you can say "Du". But don't take this limit not too serious, nobody investigates the height and nobody is punished for saying "Du" even in lower areas :-)
Btw: The typical greeting in the Alps is "Griaß di" (=dialect of "ich grüße dich") if you meet somebody. To say goodbye you can say "Pfiat di". This is also dialect and it comes from (="Gott behüte dich"). Both are "Du" forms for greetings.
Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! Danke! This is a great explanation, and it's incredibly helpful. I can't thank you enough!
The joke here is that we Brits get labelled with the stereotype of being obsessed with politeness :)
But the English "you" is already polite. You are so polite that completely eradicated the non-polite form "thou" from English!
I would like to add my 2 cents too :).
Of course there are more and more environments where people are using "du". In my humble opinion this increase is caused by the fact that most of the cinema movies, tv-series and even books are translated from english to german. As the correct use of "du" und "sie" would require a translator who knows the relationship of the characters as good as or even better than the Author, and this would be really expensive, in most of the cases the use is not adequate to the former rules. In history, the use of "sie" was way more usual than the use of the first name basis in the english language. For example there was a time where it was totally normal that children had to adress their parents with "sie" (Otherwise they would not have paid their parents the honor they deserved). And this time was not so long ago as some might think. In that time "du" was reserved for a very very personal relationship or very strong friendship. If two men who aren't brothers adressed each other with "du" they were called "Dutzbrüder" ("du"-brothers). Which meant they are so close they could be brothers. In that time it was not unusual that even friends, who were knowing each other for more than 20 years were still adressing each other with "sie". I know a man (almost 90 by now) who was married over a year before he accepted a "du" basis with his wife.
There was a hirarchy who is allowed to offer "du". If somone has a higher rank, he is allowed to offer the "du". The other one wasn't allowed to ask - or better as there was no law regulating this matter - it would have been very impolite. The older people were allowed to offer "du" to the younger ones, and yes a year was of matter. And almost forgotten today women were allowed to offer the "du" to men, not otherwise.
Nowadays, there are some environments where you can use "du" even if you don't know the name of the other person. (Of course this can still be risky)
As you can see there is a very differnt use of "sie" and "du" through the generations, and social classes. In a nutshell the older the people are and the more sophisticated their social class, the more important is the hole "sie" and "du" thing.
If you ask yourself if you should use "sie" or "du" use "sie"! There are some people who will laugh at you and say "du" would absolutely suffice. On the other hand you can really insult someone if you use "du" without permission. I know some (admittedly older) people who would feel equally offended if you adress them with "du" as if you would have called them an ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤.
So maybe some will consider you a greenhorn to a special area or environment if you use "sie", but to be honest if you are not a native speaker in german you are probably a greenhorn in the area/environment where you have to use the german language (at least regarding the language) - so if someone would think less of you because you use "sie" the joke is on him/her. But if you use "du", you have a chance to make yourself an enemy.
That is why i am using "sie", everytime if i am not absolutely sure if "du" would be ok, and sometimes even then.
Ja, das ist eine tolle Erklärung. Es gibt noch 'was anderes, dass ich mich 'mal frage... was tu' ich, wenn ich zu jemaden, den jünger als mich ist, sprechen? Ich sage "Du", ja? Aber... soll er/sie dann zu mir "Du" oder "Sie" verwenden? Würde ich zu ihnen "Du", und sie zu mir "Sie" verwenden? Durcheinander! xD
If he/she is younger but an adult you use Sie but you can think about offering Du if you want to bring the relationship to a more friendly level. You shouldn't just use Du (only if it's a child), again they could think you don't respect them because of their younger age. You have to actively offer "Du" so they have a chance to decline. I will add that to the post above.
Falls er/sie jünger aber erwachsen ist benutzt man Sie aber kann darüber nachdenken, ob man das Du anbieten möchte, falls man eine weniger formelle Beziehung mit der Person haben möchte. Man sollte nich einfach du verwenden, nur bei Kindern. Jemand könnte sonst denken, dass man ihn aufgrund seines jungen Alters nicht respektiert. Man muss aktiv das Du anbieten, so dass er auch die Möglichkeit hat abzulehnen.
Ein Lingot für dich. xD Dann ist es erst "Sie", bis jemand "Du" möchte oder darf. Aber, Online geht es noch immer "Du"? Ich find' das immer seltsam... hat' denn jemand keinen Respekt für die andere Leute, die im Internet sind? xD
Ich glaube online sind die Regeln allgemein anders. Manche Menschen verwenden auch online Sie aber das kommt mir immer seltsam vor. Ich denke, dass durch die gewisse Anonyität und die Gleichheit online Du verwendet wird. Erstens weiß ja niemand welchen Beruf der andere hat und wie alt er ist und zweitens teilt man Interessen und Du ist einfach einfacher. Online werden ja auch viel schneller Freundschaften geschlossen. Dies sind aber natürlich nicht so ernst wie die im realen Leben.
Wonderful! Thank you very much!
If you don't mind -- this one aspect of "Sie" and "Du" has been murky to me for a while now: When you converse with someone on the Internet, I presume that just when addressing an acquaintance you say "Sie"? But if you're never going to see the person in real life, do you stick to "Sie" and do the usual "you can use 'du' with me" thingy? On the other hand, I've heard that younger people are often more informal. In that case, do you start out with "du", or perhaps get promoted to "du" more quickly?
Thanks again :)
Well, it depends on what you mean with "on the internet". If it's someone you know from your "real" life, then you use whatever you would use offline. The same applies for all kinds of "formal" contacts (doctors, company representatives, etc.), i.e. you would use "Sie".
If it's a stranger in a non-formal setting, e.g. on a forum or on duolingo, it's customary to just always use "du". In these cases, using "Sie" could even be seen as passive-aggressive (and can be used in this way, too). Only on some sites do people use "Sie" as a standard (which seems weird to me), and some (presumably older) people use "Sie" on news sites etc. as well (but that just seems out of place).
Concerning younger people: At least for students, but also in general when you meet someone whos approximately in the same age group in informal settings (clubs of all kinds, bars, sport/evening classes), you often use "du" right from the start. But if it's "formal" (mostly work or business related, but also strangers on the street etc.), you start with "Sie" and then go by the guidelines CapiTanja posted, regardless of age (Only for people who seem clearly younger than, let's say, 18 the standard is "du". There is some transitional period there, too, in which either might be okay and / or weird for them).
If it is an email it is mainly treated like a letter and you use Sie if it's not your friend you're writing to. If it is a forum or a chatroom with nicknames people usually use du you don't have to ask if you can use du there. If' you're never gonna see them but they are an important business partner or you want to buy something from them on ebay you use Sie of course. If it is a professional setting online for example if you are somewhere where people can ask questions to professionals/you send a question to an online shop you use Sie. On facebook you use what you would use in daily life if you wanted to address that person. If you are facebook friends with your boss/old neighbor you have to use Sie.
Yes younger people are more comfortable with du. I think it depends on the setting. If I (I'm in my twenties) met someone my age at a friend's garden party I would probably start out with du. If I met someone my age while they were doing their job, for example shop assistant I would use Sie.
I hope that's what you wanted to know.
Okay, I didn't see your answer since it wasn't there when I started writing mine. But at least bibliobibulous now has two similar answers.
I like how you explained the passive-aggressive thing, that's exactly what it feels like if someone starts using Sie on a forum.
Do you know their age? If you have the same ranking with them and you're talking on tumblr or something Du is really okay. I would only use Sie on the internet in formal emails, while talking to somebody I'd address with Sie in real life or on like a support chat (like when you talk to a man from vodafone)
My two cents on this matter are... do not over think it. And thus, please do not over explain it.
It is simple. 'Sie' can (and should) be used as the formal form of the second singular person pronoun. Period. The normal or "informal" (or common) form is 'du'. Each of us, depending on each one, choose to use the "polite" or the "informal" form. There shouldn't be rules. 'Sie" is a formal, polite, unpersonal form, while 'du' is an informal, personal, common form. Its use depends on how we consider the person we are talking (or writing) to. Its use is personal, and in a way, talks about ourselves in a way that no hard rule can.
So, in short, use it at your own discretion. There is no "correct" way. As a hard rule, the only advice I can give is to always use 'Sie'. Then "downgrading" it to 'du' if explicitly asked to. For me, it is easier to use the 'Sie' konjugation, so I tend to use it more often.
In a philology note, I learned German in München. And they do talk a little different from what strict German (Hauptdeutsch) is. One of the known dialectal variants is that they tend to use 'Sie' more. Another one, just to put an example, is the common use of the 'nicht' particle at the end of the sentence, as opposed to right after the verb (Yes Duolingo, I'm talking to you)
Firstly, thank you! I've gotten used to du and Sie, but it's amazing to have it in writing. Generally as a foreigner I know that most people are forgiving, so though I worry about saying Du, I'm normally okay. I asked a man about 40 years older then me if he needed help (We were on a train and he was struggling with his bag) and I said 'Brauchst du, uh uh... Brauchen Sie hilfe?' I was horrified at myself, but he found it rather funny as I was obviously not German. You start to grow a sensitivity for it, I'm doing an FSJ in Germany (Freiwilliges soziales jahr, translates to Voluntary social year) We work in schools, the first time I met the directors of my organisation for my skype interview, who are 30ish and I'm 19, I addressed them with Du and that was fine. I can't even describe why, it was just okay because of the position, organisation, community and the age. I only said du because I didn't know how to use formal address, but now I know it was also the right thing to do. eventually you'll just know
Thanks for this explanation. Duolingo really only teaches Sie and it's up to the rest of us to figure out Du. I think that's where a lot of confusion comes in.
In Japan its basically the same thing, but the higher ranking/older person has to offer and you can never ask. If you are/become the same rank it is normal to just start speaking on a level playing field but if they are considered "Senior's" of the workplace, then you still speak respectively (again unless they say). Then in Shops it gets even more polite when the shop assistants speak to you! Good luck Duolingo trying to explain Japanese polite terms!!
Would the use of Sie/Du be similar to a situation where you would address someone as Sir/Mr.
In a way. Most often calling someone by their last name and using "Sie" go hand in hand (there are some exceptions, mostly in the workplace or in school, which have been mentioned in some of the other comments). However, both the choice of pronouns and that of "titles" or other addresses are first of all an expression of the surrounding culture and not so much of the language itself (although they're partly intertwined, of course). So just like whether you would address someone as Sir / Mr. / Madam / Mrs. etc. can depend on which English-speaking area you are from (for example one Australian user (lucie.white) mentioned in her comment that last names are almost never used there), so it can obviously vary between areas in which different languages are spoken. All in all I think that CapiTanja's opening post and the comments in this thread should give you a good overview over the usage of "Sie" and "du". And if one day you should get into a situation where you really need this (e.g. living in an area where mostly German is spoken), then you'll probably quickly get the hang of it.
Yes, in German, the Sie/du divide is strongly related to the last name/first name one. The two are not quite identical, but closely enough that situations in which they are not tend to draw comment even from German native speakers.
Examples from the German Wikipedia article for the rare exceptions:
- Especially in Hamburg, the unusual combination first name + Sie is used as a compromise when people aren't fully comfortable with either of the normal modes of address.
- In some workplaces (most notably in supermarkets), colleagues sometimes use the combination last name + du.
- Teachers also used to address pupils by (bare) last name + du, i.e. without Herr/Fräulein in front of the last name. But this has almost completely fallen out of use.
These are all workarounds for cases of uncertainty whether to use first name + du or last name + Sie. Another workaround is avoidance. As a native speaker, I sometimes don't address someone at all because it would feel wrong either way.
Thanks a lot for explanation. Rules of use are exactly same as use of "plural you" instead of singular to address respect in Balkan languages. Just i'm now wondering: "du bist" / "sie sind" - is it then correct in this case to use: "sie bist" or you also stick to plural "sie sind" ?
Good question. This is a major difference between German and its close relative Dutch. In German, the verb forms of a polite mode of address are determined by the exterior form. This is also the case in English (as well as Italian, Spanish, French and probably many other languages):
- Your majesty has ... (not: have)
- Your honour is ... (not: are)
- Ihre Majestät hat ... (not: bist)
- Euer Ehren ist ... (not: sind)
- Junker Don Quijote, Ihr habt ... (not: bist)
- Herr Meier, Sie sind ... (not: bist)
An exception is that you can treat the rarely used extra 'polite' modes of address as plurals even if they are formally singulars. The following are correct variants of the forms above:
- Ihre Majestät haben ...
- Euer Ehren sind ...
In Dutch, however, you always use the second person singular form of the verb when addressing a single person, even when you do so with a personal pronoun that obviously originated as a third person construction:
- U bent ... (using the second person singular verb form with the formal pronoun U, even though it is derived from the 3rd person construction uwe edelheid = your gentility)
Right now I can't given an example of another language that handles this the same way as Dutch.
This sounds like the use of formal and informal versions of words in Spanish. For instance, you would use formal version i.e usted when talking to somebody you did not know or in a social occasion and use informal version i.e. tú when talking to somebody you know.
I believe in Spanish, there is a great difference in this respect between European Spanish and the varieties of Spanish spoken in the Americas. European Spanish is more progressive in the sense that Usted is severely declining in use.
The overall situation with German is probably closer to American Spanish, though I suspect some German-speaking regions in the south are almost as progressive as European Spanish.