Swedish: "ni" or "du"?

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by Masood, Sep 12, 2005.

  1. Masood

    Masood Senior Member

    Leicester, England
    British English
    I knew a chap from Linkoping, who told me that "do you speak English?" was translated as "talar du engelska?", but I have an 'ordbok' that says "talar ni engelska?"
    Is 'ni' formal (respectful, when speaking to strangers/elders) and 'du' informal (amongst friends)?

  2. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Not really, but you are right. :)

    "du" is very informal, you should use it amongst friends, but never address a teacher this way (tú en español).
    "ni" can be an informal plural address (vosotros/-as).
    "Ni" is the formal address which you shouldn't use amongst friends (usted/ustedes).

    Hope this helps.
  3. Masood

    Masood Senior Member

    Leicester, England
    British English
    Tak, whodunit.
  4. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Var så god, Massod. Ifall du mer frågor har, säg till. :)
  5. Napp New Member

    Spain, Spanish

    My Swedish teacher says that one uses "Var så god" only if one offers something, not as "Not at all/You're welcome,..." Better: "För all del/Ingen orsak/Tack själv/Det var så lite..."

    Säg till i fall du har fler frågor - It sounds better like this. :p

    But I'm neither Swedish nor English native speaker, so I'll be grateful for corrections.

    PS: I agree with explanations about NI/DU
  6. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Thank you very much for your help. Your English is really good. :thumbsup: Maybe I was misled by the German "bitte", which can be used for "thanks", "you're welcome" and "please". ;)
  7. Marcusen New Member

    Ni = you (plural)
    Du = you (singular)

    it's 2 words in swedish but only 1 in english ;)
  8. Marcusen New Member

    Ingen orsak = no problem
    Tack själv = thanks to you too
    det var så lite = that was nothing

    about "varsågod", I'm not using the word very often because I'm not polite hahah ^^ anyway.. if I thank my mother for the food (saying "tack för maten") she says "varsågod" .. In english I'm pretty sure it's something like "You're welcome"..
    By the way, it spells varsågod, not "var så god".

    I had no clue there is people learning swedish in other countries, so cool!!
  9. Elieri Member

    Just a small correction; The polite "ni" is almost never used in swedish. Ni is used as the plural "you", but when speaking to a single person (even if it happens to be your teacher, or the prime minister or whoever), you use "du". It's even possible to cause offense if you call someone "ni", it indicates there's a distance between the two of you, or that you consider the other person old and helpless. Difficult to explain, really. However, the use of "du" is accepted everywhere so it's safe to stick with it. In official letters, it is often written "Du" with a capital D to show some extra respect.
    Just thought I should clear things up a bit =)
  10. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    I don't know your age but I remember the time when it was absolutely unrespectful to say "du" to a person who was not your friend or relative. This started to change some time in the sixties and it went through quite quickly in Sweden. The same evolution happened in Finland (both in Finnish and in Swedish) a little later and a little slower, but today we use "du / sinä" and "ni / te" exactly the same way as you in Sweden.
  11. Schibetta New Member

    Greetings masood..

    you usually say: (ni) when you wanna be quite polite.
  12. Mulliman New Member

    Well, that can be a little misleading.
    Even when you are trying to be as polite as can be, "Ni" doesnt and shouldnt have to be used. In some instances, it could even be insulting.
    However, when addressing the Royal Family, "Ni" is the least formal expression allowed. Otherwise, always use "du". Even the Prime Minister is addressed that way :).
  13. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia

    Some Swedes told me that "ni" can be quite insulting, especially if you know the history of its usage.

    As far as I know the safest way is to use "du" to everybody.
    With "ni" you may be trying to be polite but you'd end up offending the person you address.

    The situation in Finland is a bit different.

    Hope this helps!

  14. María Madrid

    María Madrid Banned

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish Spain
    Ni considered insulting? :eek:. How can it possibly be insulting? I may be surprised if I were addressed with ni, especially when I was a teen or in my twenties, but certainly not offended. Please ask your Swedish friend to explain.

    As for older people, some of them still use "ni" and obviously they expect to be addressed likewise. But as Hakro said, the change from ni to du took place such a long time ago that most people have completely resigned themselves to be addressed with "du", whether they like it or not. You can explore Magdalena Ribbing's section in Dagens Nyheter's "Vett och Etikett" (www.dn.se) to read about the use of du/ni and how many people are not completely comfortable with "du".
  15. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    As far as I can remember, it has something to do with "ni" being used to address someone of a class lower than you. So being addressed with "ni" may give you the feeling that the other person is looking down upon you. But most of the generations born in the second half of the 20th century are not aware of this. (Elder) people who know how "ni" worked don't like to be addressed that way.
    Be careful not to equate "ni" with "usted". "Ni" is much more than just creating distance or making someone feel old. They have different histories.


  16. María Madrid

    María Madrid Banned

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish Spain
    I don't know your sources but I never heard of that in Sweden and in fact I remember how older people in the 80's (born early in the 20th century) were actually annoyed when they said ni and were replied with du. As for usted, it can also be used to create a distance so I can't see why there's such a big difference.
  17. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I was just trying to share what I knew.
    I'll just wait for the Swedes to comment here, many of whom are not aware anymore of this history of "ni".

    If you want to use "ni", nobody is barring you from doing it.

    As for me, I always used "du" when I was in Sweden, and nobody "ni'ed" me. This also applied to elderly people.
  18. María Madrid

    María Madrid Banned

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish Spain
    If they're not aware then that "history" has no relevance and therefore the use of "ni" won't imply the "insulting part" your Swedish friend told you.

    Thanks for letting me use it, in any case I don't. I just said I can't see how it can be considered insulting especially by the elderly (you said those who lived in the first part of the 20th century knew it was originally kind of degrading) as it's them who used the term (Hakro explained how rude it was considered not to say ni before the sixties). Of course, given the right context anything can be offensive.
  19. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    What Hakro said is totally right.

    Just because "ni" was degrading, doesn't mean that in other cases "du" was used.

    The lower graded people did not "du" nor "ni" the higher ranked ones. Instead, they used some kind of a title. It was a bit complicated. In any case, "ni" was used to address a person below you.

    A Swede in the end of his twenties told me that if he hypothetically were not to be "du'ed" (which like never happened), he'd prefer "min herre" to "ni" because he found the latter offending.

    I have the impression that it's better to stick to "du".
    But every Swede may have different experiences.
  20. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    Actually, the explanation that I've heard is that Ni isn't "autoctonous", and that previous to its importantion from continental Europe, titles were used (fru, fröken, herrn, doktorn etc), paired with the third person singular (hon/han).

    Personally I detest "Ni". I can barely bring myself to use it, and I have a difficult time adjusting to languages were it's used (such as Finnish or Spanish. For some reason I seem to manage it in French - perhaps because of my limited fluency). It's especially bothersome when in a shop or similar setting and the person serving me addresses me in the supposedly polite manner.

    Opinions vary, though, and I know people who like the distance for which the formal address allows.

    In Swedish, anyway, it is very rare in most quarters. Some very few expect to be addressed as Ni, another few folks use Ni, and most of us live in blissful oblivion of such manners. There are other - and better - ways of showing respect.
  21. Basaloe Member

    "Ni" is insulting in swedish!

    Its a new thing among youths that Ni is polite to say but elders often get offended by this. Ni has always been used as directing a person of a lower status. If you want to be polite you should, as said earlier, use the title of the person.
  22. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    It depends on the generation, of course. I was raised to use 'Ni' simply and easily, to show a certain type of respect, without any condescension in one or the other direction. You are obviously so much younger that you have learned a different way of addressing people.

    Still, I don't have anything against using 'du'. It's only lacking something.

    I don't know any better way to show ordinary respect or politeness to a person with whom I'n not acquainted. Can you give me a hint?
  23. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    I find it hard to believe that this is true. At least in the fifties when I learned Swedish there was no such attitude.
  24. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    Well, there's no doubt that the Ni-form has been used (introduced) and teached. But Ni is not the evident choice for those who wish to keep to certain etiquette codes. Here's an example:

    As I've never got used to use titles, and Ni doesn't sit very well with me, I typically use du, simply. Though there are situations where this might be frowned upon - so I simply try to avoid addressing the person directly, putting phrases differently. These situations are extremely rare, though. Respect shows in the way of talking to someone, by taking an interest, listening, answering nicely. Politeness is not the same as respect, and etiquette can sometimes be the very opposite of respect. Excess politeness of this kind might in Swedish be taken as irony. If you address someone like "Herr Doktor", I think that person will either have a good laugh, or believe you're taking the piss ;).

    My Swedish cousins called their primary school teachers Fröken (I don't know what they'd call a male teacher, but perhaps they were rather rare anyway); I have always called all my teachers at all stages by their first name. There wasn't really any question at all about that.
  25. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I read that in Finland the situation is different.
    Even today "ni" is used relatively more often in Finland than in Sweden. Perhaps in Finland "ni" never has the connotation it has in Sweden?
  26. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    You're right for today, but when I was in Sweden several times in the end of fifties and in the beginning of sixties, before the "Du-boom", I never noticed any kind of "directing a person of a lower status" when "Ni" was used. I used it and the Swedes used it without any special attitude. That's why I disbelieved your statement "has always been used". A total change happened during the sixties.
  27. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    Where did I state "has always been used"?
    And what has always been used? "Du"?

    Read carefully before you make some accusation.
  28. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    Well remember, the Eighties was 20 years ago. Back then they'd also use the "De" address in Danish, even the younger persons at certain business schools.
    You don't hear that any more. And guess who is always the big role model to Denmark in such matters?
  29. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    I'm really sorry, I mixed you up with Basaloe's post #21 where the statement was. I should have said "I disbelieved the statement" instead of "your statement".

    Anyway, it was no accusation.
  30. María Madrid

    María Madrid Banned

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish Spain
    Yes, it was 20 years ago, that was the point, as it was mentioned that people from the first half of the 20th century found it offensive since they knew the original meanig. Those who were old in the 80's were born in the early years of the 20th century and they didn't seem to have a problem with ni, even if they used du and didn't mind to be addressed with du. I never said people use/used ni all the time nor did I ever encourage anyone to use ni, by the way. I'm perfectly aware it's kind of old fashioned.

    As for Danish... sorry, no idea. I haven't been there that much nor do I speak the language, I just understand a bit and answer in Swedish.
  31. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    You don't need to be able to speak Danish just to have a notion of the parallels in social development, do you? Even it in Germany it is well known the general public that Swedes tend to use "du", because in the dubbed versions of Swedish detective films - there has been a whole wave of them in the past years - persons that would definitely use the formal "Sie" in German address each other with "du".

    Talking about the first half of the 20th century I see a different problem with "ni" - for how long has "ni" been considered a real word? Not much longer than a century or so I should say, right? Originally the formal address was "I" - the second person, plural - just like it used to be in Danish and still is in English - the verb had an "-n" ending and as the language changed and (probably) sloppy pronounciation made the differences of the verb endings disappear this "n" got attached to the pronoun "i" and we suddenly had the word "ni".
  32. I'm a Swedish friend! First of all, does everybody know there was something called "du-reformen" in the sixties? If not google it!

    Well María, some people would actually find "ni" perplexing, if not insulting; in many cases it could indicate both sycophancy and an anachronistic use of language on behalf of the speaker. Outside Stockholm (and other larger cities I suppose) it would certainly not be taken lightly if you tried to address somebody as "ni". Many people would say that you were trying to be "special". And if you're not a native speaker, people would most likely think you've picked up an outdated textbook. "Du-reformen" was nothing new on the countryside as people had been using du for a long time.

    That being said, it's also true that there is a certain recoiling tendency nowadays for young people (again, in the cities, at least in Stockholm) to start using "ni" again. I guess to a lot of people it sounds "nice" (fint) and "like people talk on the continent" etc. Others do want to get back to the old usage, as it marks a distance (cultural/ethnical/economical/social etc.) between people.

    I would say that "att vara du med alla" is a quite distinct feature for Sweden and the Swedes. There is both a bit of jante (google!) and viking camaraderie in there.

    I grew up on Östermalm, Stockholm and I always used "du", and so did everybody around me.

    Living in Spain I do my best to always "tutear" people (except perhaps in the case of elderly people), and I think there exists a certain "tendencia tuteante" in the media and among people. Distance can sometimes be very offputting or used as an excuse for not assuming responsibilities (e.g. civil servants, doctors...)/answering questions (e.g.politicians)/behaving politely (shop assistants) etc. (I'm getting out of line here so I'd better stop...)
  33. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia

    I found this:

  34. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I was Uppsala, and not even once did I "ni" someone. Not even elder persons. Nor was I ever "ni'ed".
    I don't know if the situation in Stockholm is different. But you said yourself that you grew up there and have always used "du".

    About Spain, I've never used "usted" there, either. But as I mentioned earlier. "Usted" and "ni" have different histories. "Ni" was never strongly rooted in Sweden, and it was used in specific contexts, so not as a general polite form of "du".
  35. Åland New Member

    United Kindom - English
    Hi everyone, I'm new to posting to the forum but I've been reading it with interest for some time.

    I have a question related to the whole du/ni thing. Is ni still used when addressing shop assistants and you're referring to the shop rather than to the person specifically.

    t. ex. Har ni läderhandskar?

    Surely if you used du in this circumstance, it would be more of an enquiry if the shop assistant personally had some gloves.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

  36. Basaloe Member

    I would say people always use "Ni" when adressing to a shop assistant.

    Are you from Åland by the way? Åland fo life!
  37. María Madrid

    María Madrid Banned

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish Spain
    ??? Sorry never been too much into comparing "social development" of countries I've been to just a couple of times. This is thread is in not in CD anyway.

    And again... I never said ni is used som usted in Spanish.

    As for "ni" in a shop I always thought it was plural, as normally they reply "sorry, WE don't..."
  38. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    Hi Traductor!

    You can read the quote in post #33.

    "Ni" was in fact never universally implemented in Sweden. There was an unsuccessful effort to introduce it in Stockholm (and probably other cities) amongst certain classes. But otherwise, people have "du'ed" each other.
    Like in the countryside, you can't speak of a "du-reform" if "ni" never really got through, anyway. ;)
  39. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    Aww c'mon, María. It was obvious that you didn't want to believe me, which is why I decided to wait for our Swedish friends. ;)

    Those people who were annoyed when they said ni and were replied with du probably belonged to a certain class in Stockholm (or another city), and probably they didn't expect to be ni'ed back, but to be addressed with something in the third person.

    I think the question has been cleared up by now:
    You (guys) can use "ni" if you want to, but it would be better to know which implication it has, and that it is not to be put on a level with continental "usted", "vous", "Sie", etc. which mostly are simply a general polite form.


  40. María Madrid

    María Madrid Banned

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish Spain
    Det här är vad Magdalena Ribbing säger om "Ni", i fall någon är intresserad:

    Det niande som nu är vanligt är säkert artigt och vänligt menat...

    ... Ska niandet vara artigt i formell mening så ska det föregås av ett direkt personligt till, exempelvis "vill fru Karlsson ha mer kaffe eller vill ni kanske hellre ha te".

    När du säger ni eller själv blir niad är det inte någon förolämpning, inte alls i nutidsbruk. Däremot är det så gott som alltid accepterat att säga du, även till statsministern.
  41. El Patillas Senior Member

    Hope you don't take this personal, but that was maybe one of the weirdest thing I've ever heard, sorry.

    But at the same time interesting. (Maybe the person you tried to talk to just had a bad day or something:))

    Exactly, and it's like María said, even if you say it to one person, you're referring to the shop, or everyone who works there,(or something like that:)) And they often answer with "vi form" (we).
    But if you go to like a small store or a kiosk or something similar, and its just one person working, atleast I would use "du".
    (Hej, har du några cigaretter här..?) (do you have any cigarettes here?)

    Writing this, it ocurred to me that I asked an elderly woman today if she wanted my seat at the bus, because it was loaded with people, and I said: "Ni kan sitta här om ni vill" (you can sit here if you want to)
    And she didn't seem to be insulted, that's for sure:)
  42. A tad too categorical, in my opinion.

    Here is a sourced article with a full story on the subject, which might enlighten us all a bit on the subject:

    w w w . p o p u l a r h i s t o r i a . se /o.o.i.s?id=43&vid=898 (sorry about that, I'm still not allowed to post URL's)
    (If we accept it as authoritative, that is.)
    Here is a Swedish forum on the subject: google "bruket av ni" and pick the one from faktiskt. se

    It would seem that the thread is riddled with misconceptions, but a lot of us are also partly right in our assertions. Generally I tend to prefer a descriptive approach to language, and I've found it particularly interesting to listen to what native speakers have to say about the subject, as it often is based on lifelong experience (gut feeling/instinctive reactions are very important). In many cases it is also based on intelligent observations. If a native speaker tells me they feel offended or flattered when addressed in one way or the other I usually stand corrected (they can both be equally accurate), unless I suspect there's an ulterior motive. I'm not so much interested in being right as in learning.
  43. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I agree with you! :)
  44. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    ‹This is Finland calling. Wonderful organisation tonight! Here is the Finnish vote: Du twelve points, douze points! Thank you very much, see you next year!›

    Now on a more serious note, att nia is possibly more common in Finland, due to the influence of Finnish. But that is only true among some people (urban, "poshish" people, perhaps). Me I could count the times I've said Ni on the finger of one hand, and then only with a very awkward feeling of it not sounding "right". I have never heard my parents say Ni, nor did my grandparents ever say Ni to anyone.

    But no one, or nearly no one, would be offended by Ni.

    As María and Trad say, the ni of a shop is not the formal Ni.
  45. Basaloe Member

    Sorry man but thats the truth. I now a lot of youths have changed the meaning of "Ni" but in the originally meaing its "insulting" (in the sense that its used to adress a person of a lower class).

    Read this:
  46. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    Well, whatever the historical development, it doesn't necessarily carry the same implications for all and everyone.

    As we're quoting anyway, here's from Språkrådet (and I was kind of amused to see that coffee is the example that pops up everywhere - it also did to my mind :D):

  47. El Patillas Senior Member

    Hej Basaloe!

    Var har du hittat det inlägget? Skulle du kunna skriva ner länken till den sajten? Det var jätteintressant att läsa, de verkade ju riktigt irriterade båda två...:)

    Wow, ärligt talat så hade jag aldrig kunnat drömma om att människor skulle kunna bli arga om man tilltalar dem med "ni".
    Fast jag vet inte om jag köper det ännu, de personerna verkade bara vara allmänt bittra på livet...

    Jag ska höra vad min morfar och mina föräldrar säger om detta:D
  48. glaspalatset Member

    Hey, I was just watching an interview with the President of Finland from Svenska YLE website, and the interviewer referred to the president as "Ni".

    That was the first time I have ever heard of "Ni" (as a way of referring to a person) from that particular source.
  49. Wilma_Sweden

    Wilma_Sweden Moderatös

    Lund, Sweden
    Swedish (Scania)
    Having read the article in Populär Historia referred to earlier, I can now understand fully why the use of Ni could be considered impolite in the past, but I would have thought most of the people sharing that view would have died of old age by now...

    When I was a wee teenager at the end of the 70s, I had a summer job at an old people's home, and most of these people were in their 80s or 90s, and would have been born during the last two decades of the 19th century. After a few du/ni mishaps I learned that the only way to make sure how to address them was to ask them, since some of them objected to Ni, others to Du, and one of them wanted to be adressed by title only ('Doktorinnan', because she was a doctor's wife) and in the third person. Phew! As I had been brought up to use Ni indiscriminately to any strangers above my own age, I was certainly shocked at this confusion.

    Consequently, I'm not at all surprised that Swedes nowadays (younger than myself) are not aware of the past complications, and will share my original belief that it is a polite way to address strangers parallell to usted, vous or Sie. I use it that way when addressing total strangers above my own age and haven't heard any objections for the past ten years or so, and I don't care how others address me. I simply hope the Swedes (and others) would stop making a fuss about it and just use Du or Ni freely as per taste and preference.

  50. Södertjej

    Södertjej Senior Member

    Junto al Mediterráneo
    Spanish ES/Swedish (utlandssvensk)
    Jag tror att det kan variera lite beroende på vem man pratar med. Min mamma tycker inte om att bli niad av ungdomar för det känns som om det påpekar att hon är äldre och det gillar hon inte, men inte för att hon tycker att det är nedsättande och hon förstår att de inte menar "hörru, din gamla tant".

    Det är nog bäst o fråga först, speciellt till kvinnor i medelåldern.

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