Is the German language “Sie” dying out?


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New discussion about the German language! Students in Berlin will soon be addressing their teachers as “Du”. If the Berlin lawyers have their way, teachers will soon no longer be addressed as “Sie”.

To be honest, start-up companies in Berlin and other companies such as Ikea addressing each other with “Du” is the norm. And now the schools want to do the same thing. Will the “Sie” die out completely soon?


“Sie” as a form of respect and distance

Some are skeptical about the development. After all, “Sie” is a form of respect, a means of keeping two people at a distance. And the respect of the younger generation for old age!

By using “Du” in the classrooms, you will end up reducing the distance between teachers and students.

The fact that other languages ​​such as English the distance between students and teacher is reduced should not simply be transferred to the German language. Because the German language has tradition – and an important function.

By offering “Du” you decide for yourself whether you want to raise a relationship between and teacher and a student to a friendship level. In a school environment, it can lead to a better atmosphere. But also to the fact that the teacher is no longer perceived as a person of respect.

Who is actually allowed to do whom?

What is common practice in other countries does not apply to the German language. In Germany, you are usually not allowed to simply use “Du”.

The general rule:

► The older one offers the “Du”. If both are about the same age, both can do it.

► It’s a little different at work. “The person higher in the hierarchy offers the “Du” to the person lower in the hierarchy and a woman to a man.

Attention: In some areas of life there is general usage of “Du”. For example in bars at the counter or on the campsite. Using “Du” is normal here and “Sie” would seem strange.

An important rule is: You only use “Du” if you like each other.

What are the experts saying?

The school expert and former President of the German Teachers’ Association Josef Kraus sees it similarly: “Teachers and students need distance – also when speaking.”

According to the chairman of the board of the German Knigge Society, Clemens von Hoyos (32), many companies use “Du” to seemingly dismantle hierarchies. “But that doesn’t just work through “Du”. This requires a general rethink. “

By the way, von Hoyos considers it unlikely that it will die out completely: “Our language is developing, but the “Sie” will certainly remain with us for the next few decades.”

Why now?

Jusos: Abolish artificial distances

The Young Socialists in the Berlin SPD (Jusos) decided on a motion with this demand at their Berlin state delegates’ conference over the weekend. They want students to be able to use their teachers’ names. 
“We want students to be able to use their terms on their teachers in order to reduce artificial distances and create a learning atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable,” said the Neukölln Jusos on Monday on Facebook, who had made the request.

Furthermore, the initiative is justified by the fact that in other countries such as Sweden and Finland, for example, school has been used for a long time, which in the eyes of the Jusos also contributes to the fact that the performance there is better. This becomes clear from the good performance of these countries in the regular PISA study, it says in the application.

TIPS: This is how you handle the “Du” and “Sie” in style!


1. Offer and pronounce the “Du” offer

In business, this continues to include the corresponding hierarchy. So the boss or the customer offers the employee or the supplier the “Du”.

If you would like to offer a “Du” yourself, simply ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I want to say “Du” to the person and do I really feel good about it?
  • Does this significantly improve the working atmosphere and / or cooperation?

However, this is often not so easy, because many people simply do not know how the “Du” is offered correctly.

If you have the feeling that you would like to be in business with you, just do it as follows:

“Guten Tag, wir kennen uns ja schon länger und verstehen uns gut. Ich fände es schön, wenn wir uns duzen. Ich bin der Boris”. (“Hello, we have known each other for a long time and get on well. I think it would be nice if we used “Du” when talking to each other. I am Boris”)

In any case, that goes over better than “Du kannst mich gerne duzen”. Because the other person often does not know what your first name is. In the business area, use the subordinate clause “Wenn Sie lieber beim Sie bleiben wollen, habe ich dafür natürlich Verständnis.”

Remember, however, that once officially pronounced “Du” is forever. In case of doubt, it is better to wait until you know your colleague or business partner better and have both established a trusting relationship before moving on to “Du”.

2. Refuse the “Du” offer

Often you cannot cope with a quick “Du” or you feel taken by surprise. Of course, you can also refuse. Please do this politely and appreciatively and explain your behavior, such as:

“Vielen Dank für Ihr „Du“ Angebot, im Business möchte ich aber gerne beim „Sie“ bleiben. Ich komme gerne später darauf zurück.” (Thank you for your “Du” offer, but in business I would like to stay with “Sie”. I’ll be happy to come back to it later)


“Ihr Du Angebot ehrt mich sehr. Ich hoffe, es ist in Ordnung für Sie, wenn wir trotzdem beim Sie bleiben.” ( I am very honored by your “Du” offer. I hope you will be okay with staying with “Sie” anyway.)


3. “Duzen” in meetings and seminars

In meetings there is often an atmosphere between “Du” among colleagues and “Sie” among customers and business partners. Please make sure that you do not address your colleagues clumsily.

It is best to use:

The Munich “Du” – “Herr Mustermann kannst du bitte Herrn Meindl die Präsentation noch einmal zeigen?” (“Mr. Mustermann, can you show Mr. Meindlethe presentation again?”

The Hamburg / American “Sie” – “Amanda können Sie bitte…” (Amanda can you please …”)

It is important that there is an official introduction round in advance so that the business partners always know how to address the other person appreciatively in the “Sie” form.

In seminars in the field of personality development, it is often quite normal to talk to each other with “Du” in order to work better together on the content. Always ask in advance what people like. Especially in the English-speaking area, you can start with “Du” and then “Sie”. If the other person continues to offer “Du” in a personal conversation, you can of course it can stay that way.


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