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German You - du, ihr, Sie

Which 'You' Should You Use?


One thing you need to remember is how to correctly use "you" in German. Modern English is the only Indo-European language that has just one form of "you." In German there are three:
  1. du
    This form is expressed only with those with whom one is on familiar or intimate terms, such as: family, close friends, children, pets and in prayer. In Germany the word friend isn't used as liberally as in America, or at least it doesn't carry quite the same meaning. Ein(e) Freund(in) is used more to denote what we call here "a close friend", whereas the word ein Bekannter/eine Bekannte is the preferred term used for "casual" friends and acquaintances.

  2. ihr
    Ihr is the plural form of du. For example in: Wo seid ihr?/ Where are you?

  3. Sie
    This polite form implies a certain formality between people and takes into account social considerations. Sie is used for those people we address as Herr, Frau and with other titles (such as your German teacher!) It is also polite to address co-workers as Sie. The verb that describes using Sie to address someone is siezen. To utelize du with someone is duzen.

Other important points about using Sie you need to know are:
  • It is always capitalized. There are no exceptions to this rule (thank goodness)
  • Sie remains written as Sie whether you are using it in the plural or singular sense. For example, if you are addressing two German teachers, a sentence with Sie could look like this: Werden Sie uns viele Hausaufgaben geben? The same sentence adressed to only one teacher would look like as follows: Werden Sie uns viele Hausaufgaben geben? So, the two sentences are exactly the same. Why? Check the next point to understand further.
  • Sie takes the same verb form as when it is conjugated in the plural form for sie. This means that sie trinken is conjugated with Sie as Sie trinken

So in a nutshell:

du trinkst ihr trinkt
Sie trinken Sie trinken

Keep in mind, that like with all other pronouns, du, ihr and Sie will also have genitive, dative and accusative forms that you must memorize. To see a chart of personal pronouns in all of their grammatical cases, please click The Four German Cases: Summary Part 2.
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