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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!


November 21, 2014



I understand the Monty Pythons were right about the "Knights who say "ni"". This is really a frightful encounter.


Yeah, I've been thinking about the same thing. Truly frightful!


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.[15] 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).


!!! That is VERY helpful, thanks!

Vos is some weird thing that Argentina and some other Latin American countries do occasionally, and my Spanish teacher says it usually takes the place of usted. I think.


Actually is used instead of tu, and only in Argentina. In Uruguay they use tu. And we change the verb too. Instead of " tú dices" we say " vos decís"


Thanks! So in Argentina it's vos for informal and usted for formal?


Vos has also showed up in some duolingo Spanish lessons here too, apparently.


Castellano just means Castilian, another word for Spanish. Please don't use it to refer to a specific variety. That just causes confusion.


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 :)


No, Catalan and Basque are completely separate languages. They aren’t at all like non-Queen’s English. They are like Welsh and Gaelic in the UK.


@OsoGegenHest Ah I see thanks. It was nearly 20 years ago (and now I feel old!). Do the pronunciations change regionally? I'm wondering if I've misremembered certain aspects of the discussion! :)


Very interesting! It's always nice getting an insight into how certain words are used. Jag ger dig en lingot


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...


Historically, Ni has never been used as a polite pronoun. It's not old fashioned, but a construction percieved to be by primarily young people. Swedish historical politeness used third person pronouns or, preferrably, the title of the person spoken to.


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


Finnish has the polite plural "te", which might have influenced the finlands svenska speakers?


It sounds like it is similar just a person's surname in English. Mainly used by managers when addressing their staff, or teachers to students.

"Go and get the sales figures would you, Jenkins"

Its more formal perhaps, but not more polite.


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


SAOL refers specifically to "tilltal till mera obekant person", nothing about the age of the people involved (although the ages of course tend to influence the level of respect shown).


Yep, You hear ni used for a single person more and more. Especially from service people like waiters and hotel personel. I think Zmrzlina is right that traditionally the practice was to refer to you in third person singular. Vill Fröken ha mjölk i kaffet?


Or "Vill doktorinnan ha mjölk i kaffet?" if her husband was a doctor :).


This sounds like something out of a Strindberg novel.


I know my parents used "ni" when speaking to older people such as their teachers in elementary school. It has been used as a polite pronoun in the past.


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.


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.

This sounds like some kind of upper-class thing. I don't think this has been used on either side of my family.


Yeah, probably. Otherwise you’d use the 3rd person as mentioned. You can hear in older interviews: ”Urmakaren har jobbat här i 20 år, vad tycker han om jobbet?”.


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.

http://www.textfixarna.se/tilltal-en-het-potatis/ https://www.studentlitteratur.se/o.o.i.s/1154?breakcache=1866557807 http://www.popularhistoria.se/artiklar/du-eller-ni/


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.


Somewhat like this, but with how people are using it now, it might be something like that in combination of sorts with "omae"


If "ni" isn't commonly used as a more polite form of "du", is it ever really used then? I'm curious because it must carry some weight if it's incorporated into the Duolingo curriculum.


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.


This definitely helps. Thank you!


Thank you!! It was very interesting and enriching what all of you have written (all of "du"?). I have had some troubles in understanding when to use NI and when to use DU


So it is really common to use tack, snälla, var så god, skulle jag kunna få etc (see Zmrzlina's wiki link) in spoken Swedish? And if you don't, it's considered rude? Also in Finland?


Ha ha! No, that is actually considered polite. "Ge mig osten!" or even worse "Hit med osten!" is very rude :). Should be: "Kan du vara snäll och ge mig osten?", "Skulle du kunna ge mig osten?" or simply "Ge mig osten, tack!"


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!


"Kan jag få en kopp kaffe?" is okey.


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


Yes, my point exactly. :)


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!


Thanks for this explanation! I'm a Dutch person learning Swedish, good luck on your Dutch!


Thanks, this is very useful! As a native French speaker, I was wondering if ''ni' works like ''vous'' in French, but I never really bothered to search haha.


So ni is plural while du is singular?


I'm not a native Swedish speaker, so to make sure I understand this: When it comes to grammar, both Ni and Du are grammatically correct words for "you"? Is there any time it's grammatically correct to use Ni instead of Du or vice versa, or does it not matter?


Du = singular you, comparable to the archaic thou.

Ni = plural you, comparable to y'all and you guys in certain American dialects, or to ye in archaic English.


Oh! That makes sense! So instead of saying "you guys" (what we use in my state), I would say "ni"?


Also, worth knowing guys, that the king and the queen of Sweden are not addressed as "Ni", rather "the king" and "the queen". There was a series of Finnish ads which portrayed the Swedish royal family in a comedic way and they got this "wrong".


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]


Tack sa mycket, min van! I was wondering what the difference between Du and Ni were, as switching those, along with En and Ett have caused me the most misses during my intro to Swedish. Very helpful!


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


If you wan't to adress someone politely to someone you don't know you can use their surname after something like "Herr" which could translate to "mr". So you could say "Herr Karlsson" instead of "Albert Karlsson" or "Ni".

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