Plural you "ni" is not a more polite pronoun. Instead, this is how we do it.
Heya. I'm very happy to see Swedish has been released into beta here on dulingo, and even merrier to see so many people being interested!
Personally, I am a Swedish native speaker learning Dutch and French, and eager to help you out in learning my sweet, sweet language. Thus I feel that I would like to elaborate just a tiny bit on the use of Ni as a polite pronoun, as I've seen some comments about it. Such practice is common in French, and some seem to think that's the case in Swedish as well.
My point is that "ni" isn't more polite than "du". Swedish never imported this custom despite heavy French influence for a time. It is as acceptable to say "du" in a conversation with your family or friends as it is even with your doctor, teacher, boss or even the prime minister. To express politeness, Swedish uses other ways in how we speak. Many of these ways are about speaking about the desired action as a question or thanking in advance, and so forth.
For further understanding of how to ask nicely in Swedish, I really recommend this WikiHow article treating the subject. http://www.wikihow.com/Say-Please-in-Swedish
Lycka till med svenskan, allihopa!
This is a bit long, but it seems to explain it all clearly. It is from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_language
"A very significant change in Swedish occurred in the late 1960s, with the so-called du-reformen, "the you-reform". Previously, the proper way to address people of the same or higher social status had been by title and surname. The use of herr ("Mr" or "Sir"), fru ("Mrs" or "Ma'am") or fröken ("Miss") was considered the only acceptable mode of initiating conversation with strangers of unknown occupation, academic title or military rank. The fact that the listener should preferably be referred to in the third person tended to further complicate spoken communication between members of society. In the early 20th century, an unsuccessful attempt was made to replace the insistence on titles with ni (the standard second person plural pronoun), analogous to the French Vous. (Cf. T-V distinction.) Ni (plural second person pronoun) wound up being used as a slightly less familiar form of du (singular second person pronoun) used to address people of lower social status. With the liberalization and radicalization of Swedish society in the 1950s and 1960s, these previously significant distinctions of class became less important, and du became the standard, even in formal and official contexts. Though the reform was not an act of any centralized political decrees, but rather a sweeping change in social attitudes, it was completed in just a few years from the late 1960s to early 1970s. The use of ni as a polite form of address is occasionally encountered today in both the written and spoken language, particularly among younger speakers."
Link to a good text about the history of this word: http://www.sydsvenskan.se/inpa-livet/inget-genomslag-for-niandet---forran-nu/ (in Swedish).
I would never ever use Ni to address a single person, but now I am starting to think that it is completely different in Finland.
I have also noticed that it has become more popular lately, mostly among young employees in stores, to use "Ni", and of course they aim to be polite. Personally, I don't like it at all.
Of course I don't mind using "Usted" in Spain for example, but to me it is just not the Swedish way. Here, you are supposed to address the king as "Kungen", but many people even forget about that and say "du".
How often do people have the opportunity to address the king? :)
Could you please make a more direct connection to Spanish and tu/usted/ustedes? I think that would help me understand the differences. (Though I realize that there's a difference between Swedish in Finland and Swedish in Sweden.)
tú - du
vosotros - ni
Usted - Ni (very seldom used)
Ustedes - Ni (very seldom used)
I have studied castellano, and maybe it is different in Latin America. I know there is a form "vos", but I don't know how it works. And maybe "Ustedes" is used also for informal addressing in some countries, or?
PS. I have never met the king myself, but some reporters have :).
This is super old and you probably know this already, and I know this thread is about Swedish. But, I just wanted to say that "vosotros" is not used at all in any country in Latin America. We always use "ustedes" for both formal and informal speech. What's even more, most people can't use "vosotros" properly if asked to over here, and can even end up using it to address a single person (maybe just like "ni", except it'd be wrong in Spanish).
I know this is old now but please can you clarify? When I was learning Spanish (taught by an English native who'd lived there for decades), he said that we were being taught Castilian and would highlight the differences between it, Catalan and Basque. My understanding was that Castilian was equivalent to Queen's English (i.e. proper, no slang etc.) and that the others were dialects. Not necessarily a different language, but enough differences to change pronunciation, or add variables in word use. Thanks :)
Here's another Swedish native speaker, who does use ni as a polite form and has always done so.
The fact that you can nowadays say du to the prime minister or your teacher (but, notably, not to the Swedish king if I have understood correctly) does not mean that saying ni isn't a polite form. There has been a lot of discussion on here about how ni could be understood as distancing and thereby even impolite, but in essence, it is a polite (edit: if old fashioned) form whether one chooses to use it or not. I think it is important for learners of Swedish to recognize this form.
Another edit: This is how Svenska Akademiens ordlista, the closest thing there is to an official list of Swedish words, puts it when you look up "du" (my translation):
du [...] plural form ni [...] ni with its inflections is also used in singular when speaking to a person one knows less well.
This version of SAOL seems to be from 2006, so we're not talking that old fashioned...
I’ll repeat what I said in another thread:
It is better to avoid using the (supposedly) polite singular ”ni” altogether, as it will make you sound either as a two hundred year old housewife or as a clueless twenty year old phone salesman.
I take it that SAOL is merely acknowledging that some people nowadays do use singular ”ni”, but do note that it doesn’t call the use ”polite”.
Personally, I hate being called ”ni”, and older people are even more likely to hate it, as they are more likely to remember that ”ni” actually was condescending, and only used to people below yourself in rank.
There is a funny quote by the Swedish 19th century poet Tegnér about how useless the singular ”ni” is, but unfortunately I can’t find it right now...
Update: according to this interesting article "ni" apparently lacks negative associations in Finland, which might explain our differences in opinion: http://www.sprakbruk.fi/index.php?mid=2=13=2864
Again though, that type of 'hailing' by a surname, would be out of date in the UK now. It would have specific contexts where it would be accepted/ expected e.g. private (paid) schools (and possibly in related middle- upper class spheres), military, and possibly in jest or as nicknames. Otherwise (at least for the general population), its use stopped between the 60s and late 80s (depending on the context).
In Finland it is considered very rude. My grandparents from Åbolands skärgård (Korpo and Nagu) disliked very much to be called ni. In the small town Nykarleby where I grew up, we all called each other "du". Ni was very seldom used and expressed dislike. The great Swedish author Hjalmar Söderberg wrote around 1910 an essay "Den misslyckade Ni-reformen", where he points out that the clever Denmark had a De-reform. De has never been used to mark a distance or something negative
In Southern Helsinki amongst the older Swedish speaking people "ni" is used and considered polite, much the same way as "te" is polite in Finnish. If and when people get offended it is because they either don't identify as being old or don't want to be reminded of being old. I am 44 years old and when getting the "te" treatment I sometimes despair, sometimes laugh it off.
I know this is an old thread but my mormor, who's 87, (left Sweden in 1958 for the UK) says ni was always used for politeness but not anymore. I have documents from the 80s, when my mormor applied for my mum's citizenship, which say 'Ert nedan angivna barn...' and even one from 1991 which says 'Ert datum' and 'Er beteckning' in the header of the letter. It seems no one can agree on whether it's a new or old thing, whether it's polite of impolite etc. I'm gonna stick to du haha
Often you used 3rd person as people have described and then ”ni” was used when you talked to someone of a lower class and wanted to distance yourself. If you had a maid, she would refer to you always with a title and you would perhaps say ”ni” to her. Therefore, many older people who were alive when this still was common find it rude when the younger generations use ”ni” to address them because to them it sounds like they’re being rude and distancing themselves rather than being polite.
From what I've gathered, from my grandparents, as well as the internet, is that basically, before the du-reform, calling anyone 'ni' was incredibly rude, because it was only ever used by someone who had a higher status than the person they were referring to. That's why old people hate to be "niade", because for them, that is basically this young person saying that they are better than them.
I know that it's become more and more common among younger people to use ni when addressing people, the way one would use 'vous' or 'Sie', because it is seen to have always been a polite way to address a person, but, it hasn't been. It was condescending and it still is for a lot of people. To be honest, I would never, ever recommend that a learner get in the habit of saying ni to singular people. I can't speak for how it is in Finlandssvenska of course, perhaps it is considered polite? but over here, it isn't a recommended course of action.
I agree with this. Some younger people like to use "ni", but I'd never recommend it to learners. Many people, especially older people, may be offended by it. Using "ni" to someone may also imply that you believe they are extremely old, which is not always popular, even with people who are in fact very old.
Also for learners, please notice that if I'm in a shop and I ask the assistant a question like this: "Har ni …?" Do you have… ? that does not mean I'm calling the assistant ni, I'm just asking him/her about what the store has got, not what he/she personally has got. So if you hear this, don't take it to believe it is the "polite" ni you're hearing.
We've tried to make singular "ni" acceptable everywhere in the course though, so if you like to use it and it isn't accepted, please report it using the "My answer should be accepted" button.
I wonder if that would be similar to Japanese "kisama", which was historically used when addressing noblemen of high status, but over time, as common people started using it sarcastically for people who think they're better than them, it devolved into an ironic sense and nowadays shows extreme hostility towards the addressee.
It's used when talking to/addressing a group of people, like the plural form of you, or even when referring to a group of people, but only speaking to one person, such as Ni har gjort det här bra, You've done this well or You all have done this well, it's not referring to 1 person, but a group of people who have done something, and done a good job of it.
Also, say your phone got some kind of error and you go into the store and you say 'you have to fix it', you're not necessarily referring to that one person, but to a kind of vague, you as in the company or the people who fix phones, and in that case, 'Ni måste laga den' would fit.
It's used yes, but it's not used as a polite singular person pronoun, in Sweden. I hope that helps.
I haven't been THAT rude, but... I may have used 'kan jag få en kopp kaffe', when ordering coffee in a cafe, but I'm sure I haven't ever used 'skulle jag kunna få' - it sounds so unnatural to my (rude) Finnish ears. Most likely I have just said 'en kopp kaffe'. Förlåt Sverige! Jag ska inte göra det igen!
I am working in swedish company for 2 years, and never heard anybody saying "ni". Only "du". In fact, there been a lot of fika-discussions about it, and all colleagues (native speakers) stated that "ni" is not used anymore, and replaced with "du" as a part of language reform in 1970x, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Du-reformen
Thank you for this Topic and for the "Say Please in Swedish" article ; I am a native French speaker and I've been taught over and over to be polite using "please" as a child. Having no "please" in Swedish was very disturbing for me. I was sometimes feeling rude asking things or trying to communicate with people without it. Your Blog is awesome! I feel so much better using these words and sentences! Culturally, being Swiss, I would rather be too polite than risking to be rude... ;) Tack!
I have recently started reading Harry Potter och de Vises Sten and I have notice that when addressing a fellow professor, ni/er is used.
p. 16: "Tänk att träffa på er här, professor McGonagall."
p. 17: "Hur visste ni att det var jag?" frågade hon. [hon = professor McGonagall]
Is it a Latin trait? Portuguese does it too, although (at least in Brazil) it's just so fancy and old-fashioned that no one uses it whatsoever. We just can't handle the politeness embedded in this pronoun (and related treatment pronouns) xD.
btw avoiding second-person conjugations by using the treatment pronouns você and vocês is a really useful trick to cross out a third of the verb inflections in daily talk