General Question

Stewie's avatar

When to switch from Sie to Du in German?

Asked by Stewie (40 points ) February 5th, 2013

In German, I am still unsure when to use “Du” and when to use “Sie”. Certainly “Sie” is the polite form, and shall be used when you get to know new people, however, once you get more familiar, when to switch to “Du” ?

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7 Answers

SamandMax's avatar

I hope I’m following this correctly.

It’s an informal “you”. According to a German friend of my own, “sie” seems to be getting phased out slowly but surely – but the use of “du” as a word used to denote familiar recognition of someone else is probably subjective. As for it’s use on a personal level in practical application I think it’s a case of trial and error I’m afraid.

Sunny2's avatar

Perhaps it’s one of those endearments you wait to hear the other person use first? Families use it amongst themselves, I know. I hope someone from a German speaking country will tell us the whole story.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Ask them. In a professional setting you will most likely remain on the “Herr Meyer (or whatever their surname is)” or “Sie” terms indefinitely. If a German person feels you should be talking more informally, they will let you know that you should “DUtzen” instead of “SIEtzen” ;-)

ragingloli's avatar

Du is reserved for friends, family, close acquaintances or when talking to and amongst children.

mattbrowne's avatar

The use of Du keeps increasing, yes, but the Sie is still very important. Before 1968 students were using Sie until better acquainted for example. Today that would be ridiculous.

As a general rule it’s the older person who first offers the Du, sometimes also the more senior person in a company (who could even be slightly younger but not too much).

When to switch? It’s a bit like when Americans offer to drop the Mr. Miller or Ms. Smith and ask to be called Paul or Emily without using sir and ma’am. There are cases in the US with being on a first name basis, but still using sir and ma’am. That would still be the equivalent of the German Sie.

theodiskaz's avatar

I would like to add that most, but not all, dialects of German, as well as many, many European languages which (still) maintain this sort of distinction, will use the familiar “Du” to address deity.

mattbrowne's avatar

@theodiskaz – Which dialects use “Sie” to address deity?

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