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You (forms of address in German: singular/plural; formal/informal)

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by Carmen la nita, Nov 22, 2009.

  1. Carmen la nita Banned


    I have issues with the you in German. So you have du, which is for one peron only and familiar. Bist du hier mein freund?

    Then Sieis for a lot of people. More than one. (All of you are eating is Sie essen) but then what is you when you want to be polite? Is it Sie or Ihr?

    What is the difference between sie and ihr? If I want to be formal with one person shall I use Ihr or Sie? What about formal with more than one person? I'm lost...

    Many thanks

  2. Kuestenwache Senior Member

    the personal pronouns work like this. First you have 8 pronouns:
    ich; du: er/sie/es; wir; ihr; sie
    note that "sie" is wirtten in lower case.
    Than in addition we have "Sie" (generally) written in upper case which is basicly equivalent to the italian "Lei" it expresses politeness and keeps a distance between persons. There are already some articles on this board about the correct use of "Sie". "Ihr" however is just a declinated form of "Sie".
    "Könnten Sie mir Ihr Handy geben"-"Could you give me your cellphone?". I hope this will help.
  3. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    I´ll make a complete list:

    Singular (one person addressed):
    Kommst du heute auf Arbeit? (informal)
    Kommen Sie heute auf Arbeit? (formal)

    Plural (more than one person is addressed):
    Kommt ihr heute auf Arbeit? (informal)
    Kommen Sie heute auf Arbeit? (formal)
  4. Sowka

    Sowka Forera und Moderatorin

    German, Northern Germany
    Hallo Carmen :)

    It is:

    Informal, singular: "Du". Beispiel: "Du bist klug."
    Informal, plural: "Ihr". Beispiel: "Ihr seid klug."

    Formal, singular: "Sie". Beispiel: "Ich habe Sie in der U-Bahn gesehen."
    Formal, plural: "Sie". Beispiel: "Ich habe Sie in der U-Bahn gesehen."

    You can see that the formal form of address is the same for singular and plural. Which one is meant can only be decided on the basis of the context.
  5. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    Hi, some parts of your question are discussed here: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1375611&highlight=du+sie+ihr

    It is not a trivial question.

    "Du" is used 1. to address family members of the own family, 2. friends (in case of adult persons there is a kind of ceremony before, at minimum you agree about "du"), 3. other persons belonging to a group in case it is group language - as in the word reference forum, this can also be in some offices - especially with connections to English speaking countries-, but mostly it is not, 4. children up to 14 years
    "Ihr" is the plural form to address such persons.

    "Sie" is the "polite form" - "Höflichkeitsform" - at present times. It is used to address all unknown people (except young children) and all persons not belonging to the groups I described above. This includes mostly your boss, your neighbor, and many others. It is the default if you are in doubt. It is as well singular as plural.

    In case of a mixed group, you should usually use "Sie" rather than "Ihr" or avoid it.

    "You" has an additional meaning "one":

    Example: You/one can eat there very good.
    In German this is usually "Man". Man kann dort sehr gut essen.
    In my home dialect "du" (singular only) is possible, too, but this may be misinterpreted as addressing with "Du" and in this case it could cause trouble. Use "man" in this case.

    Especially note: You cannot switch between "Du" and "Sie" easily, this means "formal" and "informal" is a description which describes it only partly. We stick to it because it is an easy word.

    Usually the older person or the person with the higher rank proposes to use "Du" when switching from "Sie" to "Du". You can accept this, than both are using "Du" in the future. If you do not accept it, you should have good reasons and tell them. After rejecting "Du" proposal the relationship often will be disturbed.
    So be carefully if you propose "Du" or reject it.
    Switching back to "Sie" after agreeing "Du" is always considered as attack (except in very formal situations, for exampe in an interview broadcasted by TV).

    Only in TV some use formal "Sie" to persons they usually address with "du".

    So it does not depend on the situation but on relationship.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2009
  6. Carmen la nita Banned

    Vielen dank. You are all being very helpfull. Just a last question to double check I have understood. If I am being formal speaking to one single person, I should say Kommen Sie bitte. Then, if I speak to more than one person, I should say, Kommen sie bitte. Is that right?

    Then you don't hear the difference do you? You can only read it?
  7. Kuestenwache Senior Member

    Well not quite. If you speak to one person formally it's "Kommen Sie bitte", if you speak to more than one person formally it's also "Kommen Sie bitte" "Sie" is the same in singular an plural since it basicly already is plural. If you speak to more than one person informally it's "Kommt ihr bitte". "Kommen sie bitte" does not make much sense in German. It's a request indicated by "bitte" but also a statement since you are not talking to but rather talking about someone (3rd person plural).
  8. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    I see a difference in my area. I do not know if this is the same in Küstenwache's area.
    I would say "Kommt bitte!" in this case. "Kommt ihr bitte!" is not neutral. It has the connotation: You are very slow. Hurry up! This is even more in "Kommt ihr bitte endlich!"

    The neutral informal imperative form for "du" and "ihr" does not use a pronoun. For "Sie", it does, however.

    There is an exception ihn following kind of sentences: Kommt ihr bitte hierher und ihr geht bitte dorthin! (Addressing different parts of the group.)
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2009
  9. Carmen la nita Banned

    Ok... Ich glaube ich verstehe. Vielen dank fuer alle!
  10. Zwitter Senior Member

    I have questions regarding addressing several persons (plural) in German. Since my native language has the T-V distinction, the concept between du and Sie (singular) is clear to me. However, my native language has no distinction between "ihr" (2nd person plural) and "Sie" (2nd person plural), it's all the same.

    The thing that bugged me is that my German teacher addresses each of us with "Sie", but when she addresses us as a group, she uses the "ihr" form. BTW, there are only three of us in the group + the teacher.

    1. I'd like to know if you find that strange. Is that common in Germany/Austria? I know I read somewhere that priests address the group in the church with "ihr", even thogh they would say Sie to each one. But this seems to be a different case when there's only three of us.
    2. Is it considered offensive to use "ihr" instead of "Sie" when speaking to a group?
    3. How would you address the following groups:
    3a) You are on "du" terms with one and "Sie" terms with the other one
    3b) You are on "du" terms with two and "Sie" terms with one

    Any additional info regarding the ihr-Sie when speaking to a group is appreciated. :)

    Thanks in advance!
  11. Sowka

    Sowka Forera und Moderatorin

    German, Northern Germany
    Hello Zwitter :)

    The correct formal form of address would indeed be "Sie" if she speaks to you as a group.

    However, the form of addressing the individual person as "Sie" and the group of persons as "ihr" is quite common as an "intermediate" version, for instance at my workplace. It sounds more amicable.

    So, the correct form would be:

    "Herr Meier, Sie schreiben dann bitte das Protokoll, und Frau Sowka, Sie schicken es an die Teilnehmer. Ich hoffe, Sie bekommen das bis Montag erledigt."

    The semi-formal version that is sometimes used at my workplace would be:

    "Herr Meier, Sie schreiben dann bitte das Protokoll, und Frau Sowka, Sie schicken es an die Teilnehmer. Ich hoffe, ihr bekommt das bis Montag erledigt."

    PS: I just realize that this works only in the direction boss --> team members (or among team members, but with the members of our team I'm on the informal "Du" basis). The other direction would not easily be accepted (I'm going to try it on Monday :D)
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2012
  12. Zwitter Senior Member

    Thanks for the clarification!

    But I'd like to understand the social differences a bit more, since the concept of "polite" plural doesn't exist in my language. May one always use "ihr" as a plural? What about the situations I wrote in my previous post at point #3?

    I know that addressing someone with "du", instead of "Sie" is offensive, if the other person doesn't want it, but can something similar be said also with ihr and Sie?
  13. Sowka

    Sowka Forera und Moderatorin

    German, Northern Germany
    This is correct (as far as I can remember). I think in that case, the plural "Ihr" is intended as "the shepherd addressing his sheep" ;)

    I think this "ihr" form should normally not be used. It's used only toward people - such as colleagues - whom you know quite well, and with whom you feel you are "almost on a Du-basis". And, as explained above, it should not be used toward the boss.
    This depends. If I knew that other person quite well, I'd use the "ihr" form to address both. If not, I'd probably say "Sie", or "Sie und du" in situations in which this would not sound too clumsy. Perhaps use both forms when I first speak to them, and then only "Sie" when I mean both:

    "Guten Tag, Herr Müller, hallo Tobias! Ich begrüße Sie und dich zu unserem heutigen Meeting. Bitte folgen Sie mir nun hinunter in den Keller".

    "Guten Tag, Herr Müller! Hallo Larissa und Tobias! Ich begrüße Sie und euch zu unserem heutigen Meeting. Bitte folgen Sie mir nun hinunter in den Keller".

    But these are situations that are a little awkward for native speakers, too. :) And there may be different solutions.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2012
  14. Demiurg

    Demiurg Senior Member

    I think it's quite common in rural Bavaria. In hotels for example, they often use phrases like

    Habt's ihr gut geschlafen?
    Setzt's euch doch dahin.
    Die Zenzi zeigt's euch jetzt euer Zimmer.

    but they would not address you with "du".
  15. Gernot Back

    Gernot Back Senior Member

    Cologne, Germany
    German - Germany
    I think the acceptance of Ihr instead of Sie in the plural depends a lot on whether the old formal address with a capitalized Ihr is still used for both, the singular and the plural, instead of capitalized Sie in the dialect of the region where you use it.

    E.g.: The question

    Bekommen/Kriegen Sie [sg. or pl.] das (etwa) nicht hin?!

    ... would come out as

    Kritt Ehr et nit geregelt?!
    (pronounced: Kridder et nit jerejelt)

    ... in Cologne dialect.
  16. Resa Reader

    Resa Reader Senior Member

    @ Demiurg: Not that it really is important for the topic of this thread but I simply had to apply "correct" Bavarian grammar. :)

    @ Zwitter:

    du > informal for one person

    ihr >

    a) informal for a group of persons whom you would individually address with "du"

    b) sometimes also used for a group of persons whom you would individually address with the formal "Sie";
    I might do this with my students for example. I would individually address them using "Sie" but most of
    the time I address them with "ihr" when addressing them as a group. It's not too informal and it always sounds a bit friendlier than the more formal "Sie".

    As Sowka said this only works one way. Let's say I'm standing somewhere with a couple of colleagues
    these same students would address us using "Sie".

    Sie >

    a) formal address for a single person

    b) formal address for a group of persons

    As Sowka said for these situations there are no strict rules. Sometimes "ihr" will work and sometimes it won't. And - here I also agree with Sowka - even native speakers feel a bit awkward in these situations.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2012
  17. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    In Bavarian, this "strange, Prussian" Sie is only used very reluctantly, anyhow. And when addressing a group it is easier to evade. In some other parts of the Austro-Bavarian dialect area (e.g. Tirol) you will never hear "Sie" under any circumstances, not even the President, the Pope or any other dignitary.
  18. Zwitter Senior Member

    I know that I'm resurrecting an old thread, but this buggs me:
    I suppose you'd hear "ihr" for plural, but what about singular? The old "Ihr" form used to address nobelty or "du"? :D
  19. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)

    to address a single person has survived in some other dialects, e.g. Bern-Düütsch.
  20. Zwitter Senior Member

    How would you say "You Germans" to a German native speaker with whom you are "per Sie"? "Ihr Deutschen" or "Sie Deutschen"? I know that "Sie" or "ihr" depends on a lot of things, but is it OK to say in every occasion "ihr Deutschen"? Something tells me that if you're referring to an entire ethnic group, which is BTW huge, you can use "ihr".
  21. bearded

    bearded Senior Member

    These questions have already been partially discussed in the thread ''Duzt oder siezt ihr einander'' of 3rd Dec.2013 , the reading of which can be useful.
  22. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    We say "ihr Deutschen".
  23. Zwitter Senior Member

    Thanks! So, it would be perfectly fine if I said "ihr Deutschen" in very formal occasions. Would "Sie Detuschen" sound weird in that situation?
  24. Schimmelreiter

    Schimmelreiter Senior Member

    In a strictly per Sie environment? Imagine a formal meeting with people from Switzerland. Would you say, Ihr Schweizer seid ja nicht bei der EU, daher braucht ihr nicht alles zu tun, was Brüssel will​?
  25. Zwitter Senior Member

    Maybe I can add more context: a job interview (I am with others "per Sie") where I would state some differences between Croatians and Germans.
  26. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Of course not but equally "of course" I wouldn't say Sie Schweizer seid ja nicht bei der EU, ... The expression is intrinsically informal and slightly derogatory. In a formal environment it absolutely out of the question to use it, Ihr or Sie makes no difference. By the way, in parts of German speaking Switzerland (e.g. Bern), Ihr is formal; one isn't per Sie but per Ihr.
  27. Schimmelreiter

    Schimmelreiter Senior Member

    What about Sie, als Schweizer/Deutsche/Amerikaner, sind​ ...?

    Another suggestion:

    Sie, die Schweizer/Deutschen/Amerikaner, sind ...
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2013
  28. Nebenbei Member

    German (Switzerland)
    Same here, during a job interview, I would say something along the line, Wir in Kroatien sind .... Sie als Deutsche haben.. or Sie in Deutschland sind..

    Regarding the "Bernese" Ihr, it is of course strictly dialectal. "Sit er (=Ihr) öpper (= jemand) or nämmet (=nehmt) er (=Ihr) Lohn?" Speaking "standard" German, all Swiss stick to Sie.

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