Courtesy form

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The form of courtesy , also Honorifikum or Honorificum ( Latin honorificus "honoring") or Honorativ (um) ( Latin honoratus "honored"), is in the broader sense a special form of communication between speakers or writers and the respective addressee , sometimes also with a third party which is intended to express honor and respect. In the narrower sense, the term “politeness” is sometimes only understood as the Siezen, while “Honorificum” is a special honoring attribute .


The term polite, on which the noun courtesy is based, was added to the German vocabulary in the 12th century as "hovelich" and means something like "corresponding to the court", i.e. H. based on the customs and language of the court. Politeness in this original and broader sense can refer to many behaviors in daily life, such as neat clothing and eating habits, gestures and choice of words, greetings and salutations. Politeness in the oral and written form of address is expressed in many languages ​​in the pronominal form of address , in today's standard German e.g. B. by choosing "Sie" or "Du" as well as additions to names such as title or position.

The pronominal form of politeness "you" has been flattened in its former respectful meaning due to its everyday use as the standard form of address among adults for 200 to 300 years (beginning and spread differently). It therefore initially has nothing to do with special "courtesy" in the actual sense, but corresponds to the socially expected norm for addressing strangers or unfamiliar adults in written and oral communication. It can even be used in a targeted manner to demonstrate distance and substantive or personal departure. In return, the “you” form can express not only familiarity or close relationship but also respect and respect, for example in a religious-church context. Linguistic habits and their interpretations are in a constant flux: Today, a reverent use of the "you" form by children towards their parents would seem strange and dismissive to us, even though it used to be young and a more exclusive form of address , was used by children in high circles towards their parents and testified to respect and esteem, courtesy and well-behaved. In many dialects , the "you" form was sometimes used as a counterpart until the beginning of the 20th century. In other languages, analogous forms of address by children are still used today, for example in some families in France in the form of the vous ("you").

In different languages, dialects and social classes, different and often time-limited customs apply and were valid. a. be examined in the context of sociolinguistics . For example, some languages ​​have no pronouns at all (and thus no discussion about you and you or you and you) , but express politeness in the address through suffixes or honorable attributes are addressed to the person addressed or written to. This used to be the same in German, where often neither the name of the person nor a “Herr” or “Frau” appeared in the salutation. In many languages ​​and cultures the use of the first person singular of the personal pronouns (“I”) in a communication was or is rude or even taboo. In Persia from the 16th to the 19th century people spoke of themselves as in haqir (“this poor man”) or bande (“the slave”). Nowadays, Asian languages ​​often have particularly complex politeness systems that can seem strange to us, especially since when used orally they are also associated with gestures and body language that deviate greatly from those we use when addressing.

The politeness in the German language

Choice of pronoun

Salutation in the 2nd person singular and in the 3rd person plural (you and you)

In the standard German language , the form of courtesy is formed today by addressing the capitalized grammatical plural form "Sie" and the derived forms of the 3rd person plural and has the other forms (in particular the formerly widespread forms "Ihr" and "Er / You ") largely displaced. The corresponding verb is also in the plural. The formerly “pompous” politeness and honorary phrases are reduced. The address with "Sie" is called Siezen, the address with "You" is called Duzen .

Up until the spelling reform in 1996 , there was also a mandatory capitalization and thus a polite form of dozen - although only recognizable in writing. From then on, “you” should only be written in lower case. Since the fourth revision of the 2006 spelling reform, "you" and its derived pronouns can be capitalized again in letters, so that the alignment with the you form is preserved. However, the current capitalization rules are not completely symmetrical, as the word itself (as a personal or reflexive pronoun ) must always be written in lower case when using the Sie -form:

  • "Have you injured yourself?" With the lower case of "yourself". However, orthographically permissible is: "Have you injured yourself?"

Salutation in the 2nd person plural (your)

The form of address with “Ihr” is sometimes referred to as Ihrzen and is either outdated or taken from the respective dialect form. In fact, the dialects, which play an important role in Switzerland in particular, have often retained the former Ihr salutation, and in Upper German dialects Ihrzen sometimes comes from conspicuous forms such as "[d] ir", "üüch" or "ös" and "Enk" before; Siezen is linguistically wrong there. A “dir” or “ir” (both for “you”) as well as “üüch” (“you”) is used, for example, by and between every resident in the canton of Bern, as long as they are not using you, also by and towards all officials. From the dialect, Ihrzen sometimes gets into the (Swiss) high-level language, especially when used orally. The same applies to Low German as well as Frisian in North Frisia and on Helgoland , where, in addition to Jiezen , Duzen is common among long -established locals, and in many cases is still standard.

The Ihrzen was to the 18th century and in the high-level language of the whole German-speaking common and often met even in literary works, such as in the form:

  • "Have you received the change, my lord?" (Salutation to an upper middle-class or lower nobility: 2nd person plural, also in further conversation)
  • "Have your grace rested?" ("Your" in the 2nd person plural, the verb however in the 3rd person plural; the continuation in speech or letter also happens here in the 3rd person plural)

The second of these examples, taken from forms of address of the 18th century, can very rarely still appear today in a modified form, for example in constructions like "Your Eminence". Despite the use of the 2nd person plural in the possessive pronoun "Eure", all verbs in the accompanying sentence must be put in the current courtesy form of the 3rd person plural, unless a dialect-related language and salutation are deliberately chosen.

In the example given, the “you” has an additional attribute (“gracious sir”) that pays additional respect. Such attributes were not used every time, but rather only in the first sentence of a new salutation. In the course of social change in the 19th and 20th centuries with the use of the bourgeois "you", which itself already represented an increase in respect and courtesy, additions such as "gracious gentleman" or "gracious lady" were pushed back. Only the courtly forms of address Mr. and Mrs. from the Middle Ages are still used before the surname.

Salutation in the 3rd person singular ("Er" / "Sie", "man")

The form of address "He", which now only appears occasionally in a dialectal or humorous way, is sometimes referred to as ores. This capitalized salutation based on the 3rd person singular was once also a form of politeness. In 1810, the noble miners at the Bavarian royal court (sons of noble houses who were trained there) were forced to address each other with Er , as the following revealing sentence shows:

  • “It was forbidden to talk to each other; we therefore got used to calling each other him. "

In Lessing's " Minna von Barnhelm " from 1767, the servant of a major addresses the landlord with emphatically reproachful "He":

  • “He sees, Herr Landlord; if I could pretend, I would pretend for something like that; but I can not; it has to come out: he's a ruffian, Herr Landlord! "

The use of the “he”, in women the “you” as the 3rd person singular, could also express a linguistically elegantly packaged disregard for the counterpart or a moderate (as it were “polite”) reproach. This formulation was used in a targeted manner when required by socially superior or official persons vis-à-vis citizens. The form (and also the mentioned connotation) occasionally occurs dialectically today, e.g. B. in the so-called Berliner Er :

  • "Did you have a car permit?" ("Does he also have a valid ticket?"),

but also occurs in other dialects as a remnant of the he / she forms of address.

An address with the indefinite pronoun man is rare, but not impossible , especially in questions:

  • "Didn't you see anything?" (Question to a road user about an accident)

Salutation in the 1st person plural (we)

The "we" salutation is common in written presentations or in lectures as "authors-we". The author neither writes nor says “you” or “you”, but “we” by rhetorically including himself, but of course means the reader or audience:

  • "Let's assume ..." (instead of "Assume ...")

When cheering on a team, the coach may say:

  • "We want to fight, we don't spare ourselves, we want to win!"

This rhetorical inclusion of oneself sounds a little less harsh than when he primarily expects this sacrifice from the team, because of course he means "You should fight, you shouldn't spare yourselves."

In another context, the "we" form is used colloquially in a relaxed to joking sense or as a transition between the forms of address "you" and "you" in casual short speeches:

  • "Who are we looking for?"
  • "How are we today?"

and is also used in baby language for small children.

Non-pronominal politeness

Especially in restaurants, the wording

  • "Does the gentleman want to see the menu?"

used. This form, which can be seen as a variant of the he / she form of address (in the 3rd person singular), also occurs in some dialects as a politeness form in questions and is similar to the politeness form in Swedish.

Mutuality and one-sidedness of the dozen

The “you” form of address is traditionally used in high-level language between unfamiliar and unrelated adults. The eventual transition to "you" is carried out on the basis of mutual consent and is usually offered by the older or higher-ranking person. Until the third quarter of the 20th century, Duzen was widespread in urban areas, especially among close relatives, close friends and workers of the same rank, except in the country, where it was mostly widespread. In the case of the latter, it came and comes both within a company and in the inter-company area, e.g. B. on a construction site or under truck drivers. In addition, Duzen is widespread among most “activist” groups, for example in trade union circles, in socialist and green parties, many environmental or peace activists, and historically in all revolutionary groups. Since around the 1970s, an increase in direct speaking has become common among younger adults and is used in the informal environment, i.e. H. outside of a business or official environment, often used spontaneously for up to 30 years. In the period before about 1970 this was only common until about 16 to a maximum of 18 years; Young students between the ages of 19 and 20, who did not know each other from any other context, initially always met in Germany, often throughout their studies.

In addition to the traditional areas mentioned, Duzen has been increasingly exercised between employees of a company and often between superiors and employees since the end of the 20th century. Nevertheless, in German companies a legal regulation about you or you should generally be observed. According to Section 87 (1) No. 1 BetrVG, works councils have a right of co-determination in this regulation. Company parties usually regulate between each other whether the you or she is used and that there is no obligation to use you. For example: If a colleague does not want to be used, the company may be obliged to instruct other employees to refrain from using the colleague.

Spontaneous acquaintances at events also often lead to a Duzen, and this also became easier than it used to be in the neighborhood. In almost all of these informal cases, the greeting and closing formalities ( salutation , shaking hands ) are reduced or even absent. Nevertheless, the Siezen with the use of the traditional honorificum “Herr” or “Frau” plus surname is still the habitual and dominant form of address towards strangers on the street, in shops and authorities as well as at formal social events.

In Internet forums is usually name terms, even with totally unknown people as a discussion or chat partner. In individual cases, the moderator can specify a you form.

A one-sided use of the dozen has long been accepted and sanctioned in some training companies (crafts, various teaching institutions) between superiors and learners, even if they have already reached legal adulthood. This can also be done between teachers and older students (e.g. high school graduates) as part of a mutual agreement. The spontaneous Duzen used by an older person in everyday life towards younger people has in practice often not increased to the same extent as the Duzen between younger people, so it is presumably still frequently at (each estimated) 16 to 18 years.

In recent times, a spontaneous Duzen or at least a first name is sometimes used in relation to some adult foreigners, especially those from the Near and Middle East or Africa, who, conversely, sometimes think so or at least find it easier and prefer to communicate using first names. Correctly, the other way around, you will also be addressed by your first name.

Compared to socially marginalized groups and people who do not adhere to conventions themselves, the Siezen is sometimes perceived as unsuitable even in official traffic. In such cases, where the other person consistently does not address you as “you”, one observes the use of the “you” form even among the police. B. against heavily drunk people.

Children and relatives

Nowadays, children in the German-speaking world are not belittled by anyone, not even aristocratic children. They even use dues for all family members and initially also strangers. In other languages, children are taught a form of politeness for dealing with their parents, e.g. B. through the already mentioned use of the French "vous". Towards grandparents or other honored relatives, often also to in-laws, a form of politeness was used in German, sometimes dialectically in the form of yours, on various occasions until the middle of the 20th century; this has become rare today.

Even children are traditionally encouraged a certain age to siezen all adults, except their own families , national and some adults out of the narrow circle of friends. The active and correct use of the politeness form is, however, associated with a longer learning process for them: They soon address their teachers with "Herr" or "Frau" plus surname, but then forget the pronominal change and use the "Du" - Shape, e.g. For example: "Ms. Müller, can you show me how I can solve the task?" In Germany, kindergarten teachers usually allow children to address themselves by their first names (presumably the majority nowadays, especially among the younger ones), sometimes by their last name.

As part of the so-called anti-authoritarian upbringing , an alternative approach and upbringing concept was temporarily propagated in Germany in the second half of the 20th century, according to which one's own parents were addressed directly with their first names instead of the relatives mother and father (or analogous terms) and also strangers Adults would have to be referred to as an expression of equality if addressed directly . This tendency has clearly declined again with regard to the biological parents, but compared to the stepparents ' parts that have become more common again in today's stepfamilies (“blended families”), however, they are often used.

How far the family position of relatives flows into the form of address taught to the children is handled differently (Grandma Maria, Uncle Fritz). Often the addition is added so that the child recognizes and keeps the nature of the relationship; from other quarters it is often perceived as no longer up-to-date, especially where traditional family and relative structures are dissolving and are being reformed more frequently than before. A supplementary designation is most likely used where it is possible to mix up the address (Aunt Leni, as opposed to Grandma Leni). The later further use of the term relative by adults towards their aunts, uncles and grandparents can show respect or be an aftereffect or imitation of children's expressions, but often fades with increasing age. The naming of unrelated but familiar friends as Uncle XY or Aunt XY (named aunt) to children has largely gone out of fashion, but was used for some close acquaintances or friends until the third quarter of the 20th century and was mostly with them the authorized use of the "you" by the child towards these adults. The children may also speak to godmothers and godfathers, although generally not related.

How adult distant, in-marriage or in love relatives (e.g. cousins , grandniece , Schwipp-brother-in-law and their respective life partners) address each other when they meet for the first time, e.g. B. on the occasion of a family celebration, see, is handled differently. Most of the time, spontaneous reciprocal Duzen is perceived as "natural" today, which at other times and in other cultures and languages ​​did not have to be or does not have to be. Especially people with migration roots from the Balkans, Turkey or the Near and Middle East sometimes live in complex and traditionally structured extended family structures with kinship-specific forms of address and courtesy attributes towards the various family members.

Siezen with first name and Duzen with last name

One-sided and reciprocal sifting in combination with first names is sometimes called Hamburger Sie or Hanseatisches Sie , because it is said to have been somewhat more widespread in the north than in the south of the German-speaking area. Today it can be found almost everywhere in a similar frequency, but it is probably used more unilaterally by adults compared to younger people who are no longer adolescents. For example, teachers say to older students, "Lena, come to the blackboard." This asymmetrical use was a common form of addressing service personnel in the 19th and 20th centuries, but it still occurs in this role today.

Subjectively, it is perceived as a middle way between Duzen and Siezen and, if reciprocal, is considered polite or respectful. For external parties, however, reciprocal use sometimes acts as an artificial balancing act. In recent times it has perhaps unconsciously become more widespread through intensified contact with other cultures as well as through television broadcasts of synchronized American soap operas , films and reports. In particular, however, participation in English-language meetings, where general first name addressing is automatically common, sometimes leads to the fact that the first name is also used in German communication, but at least for a while to stay with Siezen.

Duzen in combination with "Mrs. / Mr." plus surname is casually referred to as cashier you ("Mrs. Meier, can you come to the cash register?") And should be more common in southern Germany. The fact that first names are noticeably seldom called out loud in shops, especially when using the loudspeaker, may be related to internal company guidelines.

Among male colleagues and also from supervisor to employee, mere surname mentioning (without Mr) occurs when you are at the same time. This variant is also more likely to be found in the southern German-speaking area (southern Germany, Luxembourg, Austria), but is also occasionally observed among male friends in northern Germany ('Hallo Schulze!'); This form of address is considered impolite towards strangers or a distant person. Where the last name salutation with Duzen and without Honorificum is common, for example, from boss to employee, the third person speaks of "Meier Karl" instead of Karl Meier, a custom that is more pragmatic than polite.

In schools with an all-boy occupation, the asymmetrical naming of some teachers with their (male) students' names was widespread until at least the 1960s and probably continued until around the 1990s. As a result of this, the boys, also in their free time, often addressed each other by their last name and referred to each other as such. Teachers are unlikely to have followed this custom. Presumably, this variant of salutation hardly ever occurs, as the attitude towards an appropriate salutation has changed on the part of both teachers and students and the schools are mostly mixed. These students addressed the teacher himself with “Mr. Teacher” or “Mr.” + surname.

In Austria, one of the kuk remaining -Monarchie salutation in offices, z. B. as “You, Dr. Müller ”, as it were institutionalized in use: Duzen is relatively widespread, e. B. in the Austrian Foreign Ministry between all academic officials. While in Germany and Switzerland the combination of Duzen and first name or Siezen and last name is the normal case, in Austria the title may be more important than the Du or Sie , i.e. H. a “You, Mr. Section Head” spoken to Mr. Meier is more appropriate in an official setting than a “You, Mr. Meier”.

The miss replacement

The salutation “ Fräulein ” for unmarried younger or older women, which until then usually referred to themselves accordingly, became less common from the 1970s , e. B. in the label

  • "Miss. Dr. med. U. Zellweger, pediatrician ",

has been officially repealed and is hardly ever used as a salutation anymore, most likely occasionally for very young women who one no longer likes to use one-sided terms. As a substitute for these (who sometimes even find the address “woman” inappropriate or old-fashioned), the use of the first name in conjunction with “you” has become increasingly prevalent in the last few decades. - The use of the term “Fräulein” for adolescent (elegantly appearing) girls has been increasingly out of use since the middle of the 20th century and is mostly used in a funny way. In other languages, the corresponding salutations are still used for this (e.g. "Miss" in Great Britain, "Signorina" in Italy).

In another meaning, “Miss” is or was used as a traditional, polite form of address to female service employees whose name you didn't know, especially in restaurants, but also in shops or for telephone information and switching to the Miss from Office . This form of address was independent of age and marital status and was used in the form: “Miss, I would like to pay please!”. In northern Germany one often heard "Waitress, please!" Since today's younger women in the German-speaking area usually no longer know this traditional, thoroughly polite (and in other languages, such as Spanish, sometimes even English) form of address for female service providers, they consider this to be unsuitable or disrespectful. In Germany and Austria, male operating personnel are sometimes still shouted, "(Herr) Ober!" In Switzerland, the male operating personnel, who used to be generally less frequent, were usually called without a salutation (“Pay, please!”). In both cases, for male as well as for female operating personnel, no uniform and polite replacement call designations have so far emerged. If the (male or female) waitress wears a name tag, the restaurant etiquette recommends, for example, to call by name if necessary or to draw attention to yourself “in some other way”.

Whether service staff would like to be addressed by their first name (in case of doubt with Hamburger, except for very young people) or by their last name, can - if available - be derived from the name tag, which either only bears the first name (often at international events, in fast-food restaurants and with trainees) or just the surname (often in department stores and grocery chains) or contains both names (often in international service centers). The label is usually specified by the company, so it does not necessarily correspond to the preferred address of the person concerned.

Name suffixes and academic titles

In German, various additions to names are used in oral or written form of address, the origins of which go back to the Middle Ages, in particular "Herr" (at that time a tribute and salutation to people of higher rank, especially nobles and knights), woman (formerly the name and address of a distinguished wife, mostly from knights and / or nobles) or "Doctor" (formerly called "Doctus" the title or address for students, ie scholars). Few of the additions are entered in official registers and documents. No Honorificum is used in the Swiss passport, not even 'Herr' or 'Frau' (gender is indicated by a letter). When used orally, addressing “doctor” without a surname was comparatively common in the past, but is less common today (preferably with the doctor).

Addresses such as “Gnädiger Herr” or “Gnädige Frau” have hardly been used in direct two-way speech in Germany since about the middle of the twentieth century, and in Austria at least they are decreasing. You are most likely to hear these salutations today at exclusive events. In addition, "Madame" is sometimes used (in the absence of a good alternative) when addressing the word to a single lady in a group of listeners (e.g. "Please, madam"; a more prosaic alternative is "Please, my lady") . In Switzerland these forms of address are practically unknown; the roughly equivalent French forms Madame and (somewhat less often) Monsieur are used for this.

Many of the other name additions that were used in the past and were used after “Herr” or “Frau” have completely or largely disappeared, especially professional and master titles (“Herr Schneidermeister”, “Herr Lehrer”). Unmarried primary school teachers were sometimes addressed by the schoolchildren up to the 1960s as "Miss" or "Miss teacher" (later also called "Ms. teacher"), male colleagues often called "Mr. Teacher". The address 'Mr. Teacher' was sometimes even used by the children's parents, which has now de facto come to a standstill. The spouses of masters (formerly: 'Frau Bäckerin', 'Frau Meisterin') or of male doctors are no longer addressed by title; Until around 1980, the salutation 'Frau Doktor' (recently only rarely used) was considered polite and respectful if the husband had acquired a doctorate. All these forms of honorable salutation became rare soon after the Second World War and probably disappeared around 1980. However, in public salutations there are still additions to names for elected representatives and political office holders (e.g. "Ms. District Administrator", "Mr. Government Council") as well as for religious ones Officials and dignitaries used ("Mr. Pastor"). Nowadays, many owners of these designations tolerate or even expect, at least in personal dealings, a "normal" form of address without official or functional designation.

The academic title of the doctor and the academic title of the professor are shown in the address field of a letter or in a list of names in abbreviated form ( Dr. , Prof. [if the person has not acquired a Dr. degree] or Prof. Dr. ) placed in front of the name and thus serve as information about the status of the person concerned in the social and also scientific area (e.g. at symposia). In oral or written form of address but it will be only the supreme title (thus possibly Prof. call). In the face of personal encounters and mutual greetings between academics, the titles are practically never mentioned, unlike in the past (this occurred occasionally up until the 1970s / 1980s). Peers from the same professional field may greet each other with “Herr Kollege” (“Ms. colleague”), but most likely in the medical or legal environment. The academic names are often requested by companies and service providers in customer contact and then actively used, also when the title holder himself mentions his title as an addition to his name.

Nowadays students and employees of doctors and professors usually address them without a title, but there are exceptions, for example with foreign guest students with a different cultural background or for internal organizational reasons. Particular attention is paid to the naming of the titles in the doctor / patient contact environment, where the doctorate or professor title and the outwardly respectful interaction with one another are rated as a subjective orientation for the patient about competence and caring care. The doctor 's degree can currently be entered as the only academic degree in the German or Austrian passport, but not in the Swiss one. He is often not mentioned in official traffic. As a result of the "inflation" of academic titles with (2016) around 30,000 new doctorates per year in German-speaking countries, many doctoral candidates now forego reference to their doctorate in normal correspondence and in their personal environment. Since the late 1970s, most sponsors no longer consider the omission of the doctoral degree (or the professor's title) in oral and written private everyday life to be impolite - there are, however, exceptions.

The titles Prof. and Dr. apply traditionally and according to the (previous) Duden, both written out and abbreviated for the male and female form. However, since the first decade of the 21st century there has been a tendency to use the feminine form for female professors ( Frau Professorin XY or Frau XY ), but strangely enough not (so far) when using the (grammatically purely male) doctorate A woman with a doctorate (e.g. Dr. Tischbein , written out Dear Doctor Tischbein ), but customs and politeness do not always obey logic and consistency.

At celebrations, the university rectors are sometimes addressed as a magnificence . The designation does not apply to university presidents; they are addressed as Mr. (University) President or Mrs. (University) President. The deans of the departments or faculties of the universities are sometimes addressed in a solemn speech with spectability or spectabilis.

Some people have been awarded an honorary doctorate (h. C.). Usually you address them in direct verbal contact without this title, it is often mentioned at festive events. Here it is recommended to take into account any personal sensitivities of the person concerned when addressing them.

On the other hand, addressing non- doctoral candidates with “ doctor ” is an ingratiating form of address, which in Austria (as well as in some Mediterranean countries) was sometimes used specifically in the sense of an honorificum or is perhaps still used, e.g. B. by hotel or restaurant staff to important customers; The same was sometimes true for the title " Baron " (corresponds to Freiherr / Freifrau). In any case, both have decreased significantly. Usage may come from the fact that in Italy every university degree allows the designation "dottore" (doctor), so that the use of the title simply indicates that one considers the corresponding government to be educated.

Respected persons and nobility

Foreign ambassadors in the German-speaking area are often addressed officially as "(Your / Your) Excellency ", while their own ambassadors are addressed as Mr. or Mrs. Ambassador. The heads of consular missions can be called consul general, consul or honorary consul and are often addressed with this suffix, especially when they are mentioned for the first time. Some traditional titles for clergymen have been in decline since around 1970 and are being replaced by more contemporary functional names: Cardinals are addressed with "Your Eminence " or "Herr Cardinal", bishops with "Excellency" or "Herr Bishop". Designations such as "(Your) Reverend " for Catholic clergy in the priesthood have almost completely disappeared. Despite the additional forms "Eure / Euer" (possessive pronouns of the 2nd person plural), which still originated from the time of Ihrzen, today (unless spoken alternately in dialect with Ihrzen as a polite form) all persons are verbally and in writing with "Sie" (3rd person). Person plural), even if the sentence construction is grammatically incorrect ("Have Your Eminence ...").

There are separate conventions for the encounters of commoners with nobles as well as with nobles among themselves, whereby these are former noble families and noble houses within the German-speaking area, except Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. Here it is usually unusual to use the form of address “Mr.” or “Ms.”, but only the (highest) title, possibly with a supplement. A person from a non-ruling family called a “princess” is usually addressed simply as “princess” or possibly “princess of ...”. A Graf is usually addressed with "Graf" or "Graf von" and a surname (gender name), a "Freiherr" or a "Freifrau" with the same former title (which is a part of the name in Germany) plus a surname. Mr. / Ms. von ”, whereby the“ from ”is also optional. Nobles are presented to one another without the predicate “from” and also omitting all titles that are of equal or lower ranking than the title of the person to whom they are presented.

Even with the nobility, despite the sometimes ancient titles with conspicuous names and additions such as "Eure / Euer" (2nd person plural), the salutation "Sie" (3rd person plural) is used today without first names. The first names are usually only mentioned in addresses together with the title of nobility and in written addresses.

If aristocrats come from a ruling family, special forms of address apply: The Prince of Liechtenstein is to be addressed as “Your Highness”, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg as “Royal Highness” or “Altesse royale”. According to the protocol requirements of the Swedish court, both the Swedish king and queen are to be addressed in writing and orally as "Your Majesty". B. should read "Her Majesty the Queen Silvia of Sweden". Your children, called prince and princess in everyday German usage, should be addressed or written to as “Your Royal Highness”. In all cases, the protocol suggests "Yours faithfully" as the closing formula by letter.

Subjunctive as a circumscribing form of politeness

In the case of verbal requests, wishes, requests and questions, sentence constructions with a modal or auxiliary verb in the subjunctive are often used in modern standard German , which is intended to suggest restraint and politeness. In this case, the sentences are not to be understood and answered literally, but to be interpreted as a friendly request:

  • "Could you please tell me what time it is?" (Courtesy form for: "What time is it?")
  • "Would you please close the window?" (Courtesy form for: "Please close the window.")
  • "I would like a white bread." (Instead of "Will you give me a white bread, please?")

The politeness is often underlined by voice modulation. Depending on the pitch of the voice, these rhetorical questions and indirect statements can in principle also be changed from a friendly (politely pleading) tone into a determining instruction and are then provided with an exclamation mark in writing.

As with all aspects of the forms of communication that are perceived as polite, these modes of expression also differ in time and region and change slowly and imperceptibly, often due to influences from contact with other cultures. In Germany it is a rather direct request like

  • "Another beer please!"

widely, this direct request is considered to be at the limit of the polite and reasonable in Switzerland. Here is more of a phrase like

  • "Chönt i no nes Bierli ha?", "Could I have another beer?",

d. H. a rhetorical question in a subjunctive construction and an Alemannic diminutive to further weaken the request, common. In the central and northern part of Germany this would be understood as a cumbersome pseudo-question, especially since the speaking speed is often reduced to further express politeness.

A purely indicative form of expression, as it can be heard as standard at the bakery in Germany

  • "I get ten rolls."

is perceived by the Swiss as a rather impolite (military-looking) imperative , especially when it is pronounced in an unmodulated, uniform tone .

Greeting and address in front of the audience

When speaking to a large anonymous audience or on television, the traditional politeness phrase "Dear Sir or Madam" is often used. The host or the inviting person will greet the guests of honor separately and with the highest title, in the case of guests from politics in the order specified in the respective protocol. From the second address or from the second speaker onwards, “Ladies and Gentlemen” can be said in a simplified manner and the titles can be omitted, without this being perceived as impolite.

In discussion forums, especially on television, it is often stated that participants are using it, although it is known or likely that they are using it outside of this event. The reason for this "pretense" is mainly that the communicative distance between the interlocutors should be uniform and also correspond to the distance to the audience, which the participants would usually see themselves. Many interview partners, such as moderators and sales representatives, speak to each other in public in the form of you, but for some years now have often greeted each other by first name (previously: by last name) in public media outlets. In contrast to these serious formats , entertainment programs are often wholly or largely used.

In Switzerland, when using the standard High German language, the polite form of Siezen is used; when using the dialect, the form that is common in the respective dialect is used. The mixed use (Siezen by speakers from Basel, Ihrzen by speakers from Bern) that may arise in dialect-language discussions is hardly noticeable to a Swiss because he is used to multidialectal conversations.

Salutations and closing formulas in correspondence

The forms of politeness mentioned above for verbal intercourse often also apply analogously to correspondence, whereby certain traditional forms of courtesy (often frozen and empty in terms of content) are put in front. This is what formulations from the 20th century are like

  • "Dear Ms. Lehmann" or shortened to "Dear Ms. Lehmann"

in both forms, with or without “very”, often felt in correspondence today as ingratiating to exaggerated and out of date, but still used verbally and in writing at festive events or honors. The salutations

  • "Dear Ms. Lehmann" or (more rarely) also abbreviated "Dear Mr. Lösche"

However, they are still used as standard in business and government transactions, even if the following letter content should not be a great honor.

However, from around the beginning of the 21st century, much simpler formulations such as "Hello" have become commonplace in business life. Even a "Hello Mr. / Mrs. ...", often in electronic letters, is now widespread and, at least among younger people, is hardly seen as impolite anymore. With local differences in customs, especially in email correspondence, it often occurs when you already know each other, although this also leads to a "Hi" [ha͜i] (taken from Anglo-Saxon) among younger people can shorten. Between female employees and from male supervisors to female employees or students, “love…” is often written more formally. More detailed forms of address and closing formulas are only used if you haven't communicated with each other for a long time.

Within and between authorities, closing formulas are often no longer used, only name and function. In other institutions, too, especially in electronic communication, the form of address and closing formula can be omitted, which has long been common in the Anglo-Saxon area (“John, can we meet at noon? Hal”, “ok, ill come, john”) in combination with reduced syntax and simplified orthography.

In the e-mail traffic between customers and salespeople, insider communication, hobby articles or amusement activities are often written or answered in the you form. This behavior is sometimes directly suggested, especially where the customer is addressed in the advertising text of the Internet advertising platform.

In SMS and instant messaging traffic, neither salutation nor closing formula is now often used in private traffic, even in German, since you can tell who the other is by being embedded in the corresponding chat or by the signature of the thread . In official or business dealings (if used for this), however, a brief salutation and a brief greeting as well as a full formulation are still common in the German-speaking area. The closing formula, if it is still used, is often shortened to VG (“Greetings”), hdl (“I love you!”, In private communication) or the like, or symbolized by a smiley .

Policies in other languages

Indo-European languages

  • In French , more attention is paid to formal manners than in German, although the vous (2nd person plural as a politeness form, historically, as in other Romance languages, derived from the accusative form (“you”)) is written in lower case. This form of politeness is used more often and for a longer period of time with acquaintances than in German, where the transition to Du (French tu ) is quicker . However, a “vous” with first name usage, analogous to the Hamburger Sie, is not uncommon. As in German, however, there is also a difference between the generations. The name and address Mademoiselle (Fräulein) lasted longer than in German-speaking countries . In official documents, however, it was banned from official documents in multilingual Switzerland as early as 1973, in Québec in 1976, in France and Luxembourg in 2012 and in the French-speaking part of Belgium in 2015. Mademoiselle is still used colloquially , but is likely to be decreasing. While vous and tu are capitalized in the written salutation, the name suffixes Monsieur , Madame , (Mademoiselle) , (Monseigneur) are capitalized .
  • In Italian there are basically two forms of addressing individual strangers that correspond to German Sie : Lei (3rd person singular female, but capitalized) and Voi (2nd person plural, capitalized). In the time of Italian fascism (1922–1943) the use of the less bourgeois form Voi was propagated, which was used simultaneously for individuals and several people, but since then it has definitely been defined by Lei (for individuals) or Loro ( in the standard language ). third person plural, as in German). Voi , however, is still regional, for example among the residents of Naples, for whom Voi sounds more elegant than Lei . Duzen is common among young people, less common among adults, especially those of the upper class, than in German. The address Signorina (Miss) is still popular with girls and young women, and for women who are no longer very young (more than around their late twenties) there is a slight connotation shift from “young and attractive” to “aging virgin”.
  • The Spanish has (not by personal pronouns, but by the possessive Vuestra Merced "Your Grace" derived) words usted and ustedes for the singular and the plural form of the German you . These are conjugated (as in Italian) using the 3rd person singular or plural and can be written in lower or upper case, but always in upper case in the abbreviated form (Vd., Vds.) . Unlike in German, however , Spaniards only use the form usted for persons in authority, while strangers are usually addressed with . In Spanish schools it is even common for students to address their teachers with “tú”. The combination of señor (a) or don / doña and the teacher's first name is often used here. The direct form of address in the 2nd person singular using is quite unusual, especially in large parts of Latin America, and is considered to be harsh. But even “usted” is considered rather crude in some Latin American countries and is replaced by a more elegant sumercé (analogous to: “Your honor”) or “vos”. The term señorita (Miss) is to be used in a similar way to Italian. Incidentally, in Mexico, for example, chambermaids, receptionists or saleswomen are also addressed as señorita , which is roughly analogous to the term Fräulein, which used to be common in German, for female sales and service personnel. Depending on the location and context, addressing señora (woman) can be seen as an insult by a younger lady.
  • The Portuguese as the Spanish language developed a group derived from a possessive form of address você, one contraction of vossa Merce is "Your Grace" - você Portuguese applicable in Portugal and the African countries as a semi-formal. Informal is addressed with tu , formally with o senhor / a senhora and the verb in the 3rd person singular. The original polite form of address with vós is only common in a few regions of northern Portugal. In Brazil, você is the almost exclusive form of address in the standard language, only in very few formal contexts is the form o senhor / a senhora used , as in Portugal . The tu is still used in Brazilian Portuguese , especially in the south and north of the country. For some professions, it is also common to address them with the job title, so university lecturers and school teachers are often addressed as professor / professora outside of their professional environment . Salutation by name takes place exclusively with the first name.
  • In English , you has been the general form of address in the single and plural for everyone since the 17th century. Today it can take on the nominative meanings you, you, your / you [forms of politeness] and even one . Originally it is derived from you and corresponded to the obliquus (= dative / accusative) of the personal pronoun of the 2nd person plural. It has also retained this dative / accusative function to this day, which is why it also includes you, dich, you, you / you or you [accusative] or "one, one" (as a dative / accusative replacement form of "man") can mean. From the Middle Ages to the early modern period , it was used in the nominative on the one hand as the plural form of thou and on the other hand in the sense of a special form of politeness, until it remained as the only generally accepted form of address for the nominative, dative and accusative. You has largely displaced the traditional singular form thou in England and almost completely overseas, even in the Christian religious area, in standard language , since the latter is perceived as archaic. Regionally, however, thou has survived in the north and west of England as well as on the Scottish Orkneys and the Shetlands to the present day and is sometimes still used there today as the only form of address. Since you, similar to vous in French or Sie in German, has become identical for individuals and several people, regional secondary plural forms have become unofficially established, such as y'all (from you-all) in the southern states of the USA. The use of the Honorificum Miss , originally to designate unmarried women, is subject to change, as in other languages, which also varies from region to region. Miss is used in the USA as a general form of address up to around 18 years of age (“May I help you, Miss?”) And is known internationally primarily as an award title (e.g. Miss World) . Miss was also used earlier in the business sector, not unlike the extended meaning of Fräulein in German. In Great Britain , Canada and Australia , female teachers are often still addressed by students as Miss (without a surname), a form of address that is sometimes desired by the women themselves. If you are unsure which salutation is appropriate, depending on the region and the way in which the sentence is integrated, Ms. (spelling in American English) or Ms (traditional spelling in British English ) can be pronounced as [mɪz], [m [z], [m [z] or [məs] ) can be used for both married and unmarried women. Ma'am and Madam are also used as a substitute , but some women also perceive them as terms with negative connotations for various reasons. It is often recommended that the form that the woman in question prefers should be used. - Title honorifica can be important, in particular doctor for addressing young students to their professors and doctors at the university (i.e. more formally than we do today), as well as the following Sir or Ma'am to superiors in formal hierarchies.
  • In Dutch , the traditional du was superseded centuries ago by the second person plural as a polite form of jij (unstressed je ). This is now used as the standard form of address and a secondary form of politeness developed, U, which is derived from the possessive pronoun uwer (for your [grace, etc.]). The twofold change in the politeness form is not unlike the process in English (thou> ye> you) or also in German (du> Ihr> Sie), the ultimate substitute use of a possessive pronoun for a secondary politeness form of the nominative is similar to the language change process in Spanish. The current form of courtesy follows slightly different rules in everyday life than in German: colleagues at work are more likely to be addressed more quickly with jij (the new you), while older relatives are often addressed with u (the new you or you) . An analogy to 'Hamburger Sie' ( U combined with first name) should be avoided; this sounds strange to Dutch ears.
  • Most Slavic languages use the second person plural as a polite form (z. B. Russian Вы, Serbo-Croatian Vi , Bulgarian Вие ). In the Polish and Kashubian languages , the non-pronominal politeness form ( Pan the Lord, Pani the Lady, Państwo , the gentlemen) is used (e.g. Would the gentleman want to sit down? Instead of Would you like to sit down? ).
  • In Swedish , until well into the 20th century, an indirect form of address without pronouns was used as a polite form ( e.g. går direktören? 'Is the director?' In the sense of German 'are you going?'). Although it is widely used today (see Du-Reform ), the indirect form of address mentioned can still be used as a somewhat more elegant form, for example in polite customer contact.
  • In modern Greek there is a difference between Duzen and Siezen, but it is mostly used as soon as one is no longer completely alien. Even police officers should sometimes switch to the you form as early as the second sentence, after the official has been communicated, to compatriots .

Finno-Ugric languages

  • The Hungarian language differentiates between three forms of address: te (proximity and confidentiality), maga (distance) and Ön (formality and respect).

Turkic languages

  • In the Turkish language , and similarly in the Azerbaijani language , younger people address the older ones and above all all teachers and university teachers in a generally polite manner. The you-form is possible for peers or peers, and also for relatives, but then the kinship designation for father, aunt or uncle is put in front. These kinship terms are considered to be salutations. In some traditional families, even their own family members are still addressed in the you form, which is almost always the case with in-laws. When using the you form, the speaker easily slips into an inappropriate form of speech. Anyone who, as a teacher or university professor, offers Turkish-speaking pupils or students in the German-speaking area the "Du", often finds that it is not accepted, but an asymmetrical Duzen is suggested to compensate (only from the lecturer to / to the student).

Semitic languages

  • In Arabic , the second person singular is predominantly used as an expression of politenessأنت anta (masculine) or anti (feminine) in connection with the wordسيد sayyid 'Lord' orسيدة sayyida 'woman' as well as the given name. In addition, honorable words or personal suffixes can be added. For more details cf. under pronominal form of address .
  • In New Hebrew ( Ivrit ) the second person singular is always used. Special forms of courtesy are possible through paraphrase or perfect constructions.

South and East Asian languages

In the languages ​​of South and East Asia there are a large number of Honorifica, especially forms of address and pronouns (for example pluralis majestatis ):

  • In Sanskrit and derived from it in Hindi, there is the respectful prefix Shri , which corresponds to the prefix Tiru in the Tamil language . When addressing in the second person, three levels of politeness are distinguished in Hindi: तू (intimate to rude), तुम tum (familiar) and आप āp (polite). Also in the third person is a distinction between different forms of politeness, the Malayalam z knows. E.g. three words for 'he' (അവൻ avan , അയാൾ ayāḷ and അദ്ദേഹം addēhaṃ ), the use of which depends on the relationship between the speaker and the person being spoken about. In Sinhala there is a separate vocabulary for verbs and nouns, which u. a. in relation to members of the Buddhist clergy.
  • The politeness forms of standard Chinese consist of a differentiated system of pronouns and affixes for the designation of the speaking and the person addressed. In modern Chinese, however, only a few are still in use. It is still common to use the form of politeness towards people who are older or more important than the speaker. Here the personal pronoun ( 'you') is replaced by the more respectful (nín) . It is also polite to replace the personal pronoun with the name and title of the person addressed (e.g. 李先生 应该 打 的 去 , Mr. Li should take a taxi = you, Mr. Li, should take a taxi ).
  • The Japanese politeness language has not only different formal idioms , honorific prefixes , salutation suffixes and pronouns , but also different verb forms for different levels of deference . The Korean honorific system is similarly complex.

Special features of the languages ​​of indigenous peoples

As special features, so-called avoidance languages exist within some language communities of indigenous peoples in Africa, North America and Australia as special languages ​​that are used exclusively for communication with certain relatives. Communicating with them in everyday language would not only be impolite, it is taboo .


  • Werner Besch : Duzen, Siezen, titling. To address in German today and yesterday. 2nd, supplemented edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998, ISBN 3-525-34009-5 ( reading sample in the Google book search).
  • Penelope Brown, Stephen C. Levinson: Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage (= Studies in interactional sociolinguistics. Volume 4). 21st edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011, ISBN 978-0-521-31355-1 (English, first published in 1978; edition from 2004 as a reading sample in the Google book search).
  • Gustav Ehrismann : Duzen and Ihrzen in the Middle Ages. In: Journal for German Word Research. Volume 1, 1901 pp. 117-149, and Volume 2, 1902, pp. 118-159.
  • Helmut Glück , Wolfgang Werner Sauer : Contemporary German. 2nd, revised and expanded edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 1997, ISBN 3-476-12252-2 , pp. 119–128: Chapter Duzen, Siezen and forms of address (first published in 1990).
  • Hans Trümpy : The forms of address in older Swiss German. In: Paul Zinsli , Oskar Bandle (Hrsg.): Sprachleben der Schweiz. Linguistics, name research, folklore. Francke, Bern 1963, pp. 157-166.
  • Richard J. Watts, Sachiko Ide, Konrad Ehlich (eds.): Politeness in Language. 2nd, revised and expanded edition. Gruyter, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-11-018300-5 (English, first published in 1992; excerpt from Google book search).

Web links

Wiktionary: Siezen  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Hadumod Bußmann (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 , keyword Honorativ, p. 284; Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler-Lexikon Sprache, 2nd edition, Directmedia, Berlin 2000, keyword Honorativ .
  2. ^ Kluge, Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft, edited by E. Seebold, 25th, revised and expanded edition, De Gruyter Berlin / Boston 2011
  3. For German-speaking Switzerland, see Linguistic Atlas of German-speaking Switzerland , Volume V, Map 117 (address to non-residents).
  4. August von Platen's autobiography, page 44 of the 1896 edition .
  5. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing : Minna von Barnhelm , 1st act, 2nd scene.
  6. § 87 BetrVG - single standard. Retrieved May 3, 2020 .
  7. Dipl.-Psych. Rüdiger Maas and Dipl-Wirt.-Ing. Hartwin Maas: Form of address at work: Duzen or Siezen? April 24, 2017, accessed May 3, 2020 (German).
  8. Richard Schröder : Nineteen sixty-eight. In: Bernhard Vogel , Matthias Kutsch (ed.): 40 years 1968. Old and new myths - a polemic. Konrad Adenauer Foundation . Herder, Freiburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-451-30200-8 , pp. 195–207, here p. 206, (PDF; 67 kB; 13 pages): “Now children speak up, they complain that they were never allowed to say father and mother, but had to - had to address their parents by first name. "Erika, do we have to play what we want again today?"
  9. ^ Elisabeth Stricker: Aspects of the forms of addressing within the family in German. Diploma thesis University of Vienna, 2012.
  10. Werner Besch: Duzen, Siezen, Titulating. To address in German today and yesterday. 2nd, supplemented edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998, ISBN 3-525-34009-5 .
  11. Der Spiegel, June 17, 2013, Never Say Amigo Too Soon
  12. ^ "You, Mr. Section Head" and other peculiarities. Die Presse, print edition from April 22, 2014
  13. Eddie Ronowicz, Colin Yallop (Ed.): English - One Language, Different Cultures. 2nd edition. Continuum International Publishing Group, London / New York, ISBN 978-0-8264-8175-7 .
  14. Snježana Kordić : Words in the border area of ​​lexicon and grammar in Serbo-Croatian (=  Lincom Studies in Slavic Linguistics . Volume 18 ). Lincom Europa, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-89586-954-6 , p. 39-53 .
  15. Margot Hälsig: Grammatical Guide of Hindi . Leipzig 1967, p. 69.
  16. Rodney F. Moag: Malayalam: A University Course and Reference Grammar . Austin 1994, p. 8 ff.