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Is the swedish "du" formal and informal "you"?

As a german native speaker I wonder if the swedish "du" is used for both the german "du" (informal you) and "Sie" (formal, polite you). Or does swedish also have an extra expression for the formal "you"?

Thank you

January 25, 2015



Swedish has a formal you, "ni", which corresponds to German "Sie". However, it never really became ubiquitous except from a period from say the late 19th century until the 1970s. The idea was to create a citizen-like egalitarian on the French model. Before that you only used "Ni" towards your elder relatives or a bit disdainfully to address people who didn't have a proper title. Du was used between peers and to address children, servants i.e. "downwards".

The idea with "ni" was not to have to address everyone with the proper title, a consequence of which for exemple was a younger relative of the writer Strindberg who never said a word to the famous relative because she didn't know the proper title to use.

Althought "ni" worked more or less like the French "vous" or German "Sie" from the late 19th century until the so called "du reform" in the mid sixties it kept a tinge of reservation and of slight offence to it, people often preferring to use titles like "herr", "fru", "fröken", "direktör" etc until they "put away the titles"(lägga/lade bort titlarna) and started using "du".

So when the "du reform" came in the 60s (it wasn't a legal reform really), nobody stood up for the citizen "ni".

The problem is, "du" is still perceived as somewhat intimate and familiar, so adressing a stranger you'll have to cloth the "du" in modalities and pleasanteries such on the same model as English "Excuse me, would you be so kind...", compare the effect with "Hey, you!" - a bit rude.

With means that Swedish many social and formal settings avoid using the pronoun, like it already did before to avoid having to know the proper title.

And lately, "ni" has began to creep back into restaurants and boutiques where shop assistants adress well-heeled clients with "ni", sometimes under the cover of a plausible plural "ni".

There is also a social or class dimension to this. In traditionally rural or working-calls districts or regions people will use "du" naturally in all interactions, whereas in a posh neighbourhood people might cringe if addressed with "du där!".

So, it is a minefield. But don't worry, as a foreigner Swedes will give you some leeway whether you err on the possible rude side with overuse of "du" or on the Continental overly formal and impersonal side with too much "ni".


There are conflicting ideas about this, please see this discussion: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/5591933


Thanks that was an interesting read. So you can use it to be polite but it often offends people looool.

I'll be using du then, it's just easier. I use du in German when I should use Sie just because it is easier to say and I don't talk to anyone with Sie ever. I wonder how many people I'll offend when I go to Germany haha.


I feel that formal adresses can be left to those times that you would adress people sir and m'am in English.

You don't have to act like a German just because you're speaking German. Duzen FTW.

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