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You have the right to say you to me” is a famous German hoax which you won’t recognize unless friend speak German. Hoax about du and also Sie room widespread beacuse the du or Sie question deserve to put you (and native German speakers, too) into a most awkward situations.

But the basics room easy, so let‘s talk around them first: Germans have several translations because that the English you: du (for one person) and also ihr (for number of persons), in addition to Sie for one (or several) persons in official situations.

You deserve to use du and ihr only when you room talking to

family memberschildrenfriends… and also in a couple of other cases (I’ll talk around these later).

In all various other situations, specifically when you room talking come strangers, girlfriend will have to use Sie. Using du would show up rude, for this reason for example you cannot simply walk into a shop and also say du come the shop assistant – she would certainly think you have no respect for her.

Du and also Sie – the grammar

The Sie is the exact same Sie as with sie singen (3rd human plural, come be grammatically exact), simply written through a capital letter (which no one will certainly hear as soon as you room speaking – obviously). You will also use the same verb endings just like sie singen (they sing).If friend speak a language prefer French or Russian (actually, most languages other than English) you will be familiar with this concept. The big difference come those languages is that we execute not use the 2nd person plural, yet the 3rd person many in German.

See the difference:

Beate, du brauchst etwas zu essen.

Beate und Christian, ihr braucht etwas zu essen.

Herr Meier, Sie brauchen etwas zu essen.

Frau Müller und Herr Maier, Sie brauchen etwas zu essen.

If you check out these sentence carefully, you realize something more: we use the du type with first names and the Sie type with Mr/Ms (Herr/Frau) + last names.

Seen from an additional perspective: once someone introduce themselves through their critical name, girlfriend will usage the Sie form. When they introduce themselves through their first name, you deserve to use the du form.

Pretty weird, pretty complicated, and also even Germans (me included) have actually trouble selecting the right type from time to time.

Du or Sie: the general rule

If in doubt, usage the Sie form. The same applies to a group of persons whereby you would use Sie if you met one person from the team alone – don’t use ihr, use Sie.

Beate und Christian, ihr braucht etwas zu essen.

Herr Maier, Frau Müller und Beate, Sie brauchen etwas zu essen.

Du or Sie: the not-so-general rule (a.k.a. The adversary in the details)

My father told me that once he was a university student (in the 1950s) the college student would use Sie among each others. For modern-day German student this sound pretty ridiculous. Germany has obviously come to be much less formal.

But is Sie going come disappear, prefer in the Scandinavian countries?

I doubt it. A few years ago I talked to a manager in an eastern German company. He described that du was regularly used between boss and also worker in east German (communist) companies, come express one idea the went something like “we are all a huge family” – i m sorry the workers, however, uncovered pretty phony (actually, it to be phony). So as soon as bosses began to to speak Sie after ~ 1990, many East German employees pertained to this together an expression the respect. ~ above the contrary, in West Germany the du kind is traditionally looked ~ above as simple going, youthful, modern, dynamic …

In this firm German – and additionally in declaring – picking among the develops can be a strategy choice. Perform you desire to be looked at together a young, dynamic, little company (→ du) or do you prefer your client to view you together a reputable, elegant, distinguished agency (→ Sie)? nothing mix things up: girlfriend don’t dress up in suit and also tie to accomplish a customer and also then usage du – it simply doesn’t match. In their advertising, Ikea claims du, yet Mercedes Benz says Sie.

Du in farming and fitness

It’s no just world who know each various other who usage du.

In numerous rural areas nearly everybody seems to use du, which does no necessarily typical they space (good) friends.People in sporting activities clubs, music clubs, or other unions frequently say du to all society members, without yes, really knowing all of them.

So choosing in between du and also Sie is not simply a question of age, that is additionally a concern of social context. Yet again: if you space in doubt, stick come Sie. However, when someone states du to you, feel totally free to usage du as well.

Going from Sie come du – or vice-versa

Let’s begin with the vice-versa (because it’s easier): as soon as you say du come someone, you carry out not change back to Sie (and if you satisfy Germans telling you miscellaneous else, you will know they room ill-mannered). Yes, there are these awkward situations when your boss tells friend on Friday evening after his 3rd beer that you must all use the du form, however on Monday morning he thinks this was a poor idea and also changes earlier to Sie. If you space the employee, girlfriend will need to bite the bullet and also use Sie again. Yet if you are the boss, execute me a favor and stick come what you have said on Friday (i.e. du).

A couple of people will readjust back come Sie in a conflict, mirroring that they desire to get some distance to the various other person. Exactly how childish!

The only exception: her German colleague’s daughter, that you last met in 1998 once she was 5 years old, and also who girlfriend now accomplish again. Ago then you would say du come her, and she would certainly say Sie (since she to be a child and also you a grown-up). However now you room both grown-up. Addressing a grown-up v du and letting them resolve you through Sie is impolite together well, for this reason don’t perform it. One of two people you pick to switch to Sie, or – the much better option, in my see – you market her to move to du.

Which brings united state to the second “direction” – going indigenous Sie to du.

Firstly: you cannot switch indigenous Sie come du without speak anything – it is rude. So once you feel for it, you need to invite the various other person to usage du.

Traditionally there have actually been pretty strictly rules about who deserve to offer the du to who (yes, us say das Du anbieten):

Older persons market it come younger persons.Bosses market it to your employees.

That means: if you space a 60 year old lady at a relatively high place in her company, civilization will always expect you to take it initiative (or lock will simply keep on saying Sie). Top top the various other hand, if you space a 20 year old university student, you will not offer the du to anyone.

Admittely, there are instances when it’s just not feasable to stick to this rules due to the fact that they room inconsistent v one another.

Example: you room a 30 year old manager that a team of 5 at her company. Traditionally everyone in the company uses du amongst colleagues. Now you are joined by a brand-new colleague that is 60 years old. You will be her boss also – need to you wait till she provides you the du? i don’t think so. My tip is to be a little diplomatic. Because that instance:

Wir sagen alle du ns Team – ist es in Ordnung für Sie, wenn wir das auch so machen?

I’m invite to usage du. Should I expropriate or refuse?

When someone uses the du come you, you perform not refuse the unless

you want to be super crude orusing du would be completely unacceptable, e.g. Violating company rules (say, you room the HR director, speak Sie to everyone, and also now in ~ the company party at 2am, after three bottles that wine, your 19 year old intern wants to speak du to you: price something choose Danke, aber es ist besser, wenn wir beim Sie bleiben.).

I have to say: there are some etiquette guides that uncover it usually acceptable come refuse a du offer as soon as you feel the the du is also intimate – not simply in the exception I have actually just mentioned. This dates ago to the times when an invitation to use du was around as intimate as an invitation to sleep together. Yet hey, this is the 21st century. Transforming from Sie come du is as usual as drinking a cup of coffee together.

Other weird things some Germans do (and you shouldn’t)

Hamburger Sie

A couple of Germans, especially bosses, tho think castle will loosened authority (or even respect) if they use du.(As an English speak this will more than likely make you frown, and you are totally right.)At the same time they desire to show up youthful / dynamic / personal … for this reason they cannot decide whether to usage Sie or du and also choose a mix of Sie and very first names (so-called “Hamburger Sie”). I freshly heard this even on television, during Tagesthemen (a major German news show):

Simone, erklären Sie uns bitte die situation in Syrien.

That’s so 19th century! In my view, it’s practically as ridiculous as shifting ago from du to Sie (I talked about this one before).

I’m no from Hamburg, therefore maybe civilization there have another opinion top top the Hamburger Sie. But for me, the Hamburger Sie is because that waverers. Mine grandmother would say: “Wer A sagt, muss auch rschloch sagen.” (“If you say A, you also have come say sshole.”). Either you speak Sie, or you market to use du. Nothing in between, please.

Münchner Du

Herr Maier, kommst du mal?

Obviously more common in the southern of Germany than in the North; for this reason the name. Walk without saying – simply as man (or even more) as the Hamburger Sie.

Mixing increase du and Sie

Look at the complying with job ad from a startup native Berlin:


They desire to appear as a cool agency managed by young people, however then they call their HR male “Herr …” – that doesn’t job! If you desire to be cool, then please present yourself with first names.

A couple of cases

Now for a couple of tricky ones. Over there is no actual “solution”, however I’ll give you mine opinion. Very first try to fix the cases yourself:

You room meeting your boss at the neighborhood chess club. Everyone there claims du to every other, yet up to currently you have actually only met your ceo at work, wherein you offered Sie.Your basketball teammate (you space using du) walks right into your agency one beautiful Tuesday morning. Transforms out he will certainly be providing a presentation come you and also your colleagues on instead of of her most crucial supplier. Of food you go not also know the he works for this providers (actually, friend hardly understand him at all).You have available to to speak du to a younger colleague, but she refused.

My argued solutions (no guarantee this will certainly make girlfriend friends):

Stick to the Sie. The unwritten du law of the chess club is weaker than the actual boss-employee relationship. However, if ns were the boss, ns would settle this situation by inviting you to say du from currently on (and would stick to it ago at work).Stick come the du. But maybe cite to her colleagues that you know each other from basketball.As I claimed before, I take into consideration this as rude behaviour in our days. Yet take into account that other human being may have actually a different opinion (especially once they room from Hamburg …). Simply accept that (“Natürlich, dafür habe ich Verständnis”) and also carry on as if nothing had actually happened.

And right here for a few useful phrases:

(jemanden) duzen, du duzt = speak du (to someone)

(jemanden) siezen, du siezt = to speak Sie (to someone)

Können wir du sagen? = can we say du? (offering someone to use du)

Natürlich. Ich bin Martin. (Do state your an initial name if she not sure the other person knows it.)

Tldr (=too long, don’t read): If in doubt, stick to Sie.

What are your experiences with du or Sie? any kind of funny or challenging situations come share, or any type of advice come give? post your think in the comment below.

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This post is bonus contents for the Jens and Jakob textbook, where you can learn German with a fascinating story rather of dull dialogues. To discover out more and download a complimentary preview click here.