Du, Sie und Ihr

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by superjake2004, Apr 27, 2009.

  1. superjake2004 New Member

    I'm a young teenage boy (14 years old) and I'm writing a letter of thanks to my German exchange family for having me, and I'm having some problems with what I should use: Du, Sie or Ihr.

    I assume I call their 15 year old son by "du", as he is a child at informal levels. And I'm fairly sure I should refer to the parents, as "Sie", even though I call them by their first names (correct me if I'm wrong).

    However, the main problems are these two:

    1. Do I use Sie or Ihr when talking to both the parents?
    2. Do I use Du or Sie for the 20-year-old daughter of the parents?
  2. severin83 Senior Member

    Vienna, Graz, Austria
    Austrian German
    Concerning the 20-year old daughter: don't address her by Sie, this will probably make her feel 'old' ;). I remember when people started to address me by the polite form this mostly kind of surprised me, making me think how old I may appear to them. It's a bit weird at that age. So I'm absolutely sure the girl is fine with "du"!
    And as for the parents, I'm almost certain they wouldn't object to being addressed by the familiar "du" (especially if you call them by their first names), although that's hard to measure up, since I don't know them. But anyway, if you should decide to choose for the polite form (your on the safe side here) the correct form is "Sie" for both singular and plural, so whether you talk to one or to both parents.

    I hope I didn't confuse you too much, good luck with your letter!
  3. superjake2004 New Member

    Okay thanks! That definitely helped me with the daughter, and knowing that it's "Sie" for singular and plural will help too.

    As with the parents, I'm still not sure - I'm fairly sure I should go informal, as they were more like friendly parents who looked after me rather than people who just happened to be parents of my exchange partner. It's just I know I might offend them if I call them "du" and it's wrong, but I also don't want to call them "Sie" and make them think that I do not want to be friendly with them on a personal level. Any advice?
  4. severin83 Senior Member

    Vienna, Graz, Austria
    Austrian German
    This is really a precarious thing, even I sometimes struggle with myself thinking whether I should go formal or informal. But according to your description of the parents I'm pretty sure that "du" or "ihr" would be perfectly fine to them.
    The "du" form is very common nowadays, I even use the familiar form with some of my professors at the university and with superiors at work, so I don't think this will be a problem.
  5. Wroclaw

    Wroclaw Senior Member

    upper midwest
    American English
    Use "ihr" when addressing both the parents in your letter, if you wish to be informal. I often excuse being informal and using "du/ihr" with adult Germans by saying that, as I am American (I see your native language is English, I don't know what country you are from), this is more comfortable for me, since we don't have an especially formal way of saying "you" in my home country. I'm guessing the parents would be very glad to hear from you in any case!
  6. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    So you have been with this family and want to thank them for staying there, right?
    I´d say it depends how long you stayed there. If it was a longer time they´ll be more offended by a "Sie" because the "Du" implies a close relation, you felt comfty there, etc.

    How did you address them in spoken language? Use the same.

    I suggest "Sie" if you just stayed a rather short time there, one or two weeks.
    Another rule you might apply is, use "Sie" if you would address someone with Sir or Ma´am in English.
  7. ablativ Senior Member


    I think that's a very good advice! You can't possibly switch from a (spoken) "Du / Ihr" to "Sie / Ihnen" in your letter and vice versa.
  8. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Dresden, Universum
    German, Germany
    Just a note: It was handled differently in the posts.

    The correct spelling is "Sie" and the related "Ihr" for the polite form, all written uppercase.

    For ""Du" and the related forms you can use lowercase or uppercase after the spelling reform. But I personally would stick to the traditional uppercase forms in a letter.
  9. severin83 Senior Member

    Vienna, Graz, Austria
    Austrian German
    To prevent misunderstandings or offended feelings you may want to state at the beginning of your letter, that you are unsure, whether to be formal or informal. I'm sure they will understand that.
  10. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    You can either just ask them how you should address them, as suggested by Severin, or you use Wroclaw's excellent advice:
    It is a good way of avoiding choosing either "du" or "Sie", native speakers too use it. In some regions you even can use this half-informal "ihr" to address a single person; in Austria we do so on occasion if we are not sure wether to use "du" or Sie" - but in your case I would advice against that (as I don't know your guest parents, naturally :)), only use "ihr" when addressing at least both parents.

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