Personal pronouns

Here are the German personal pronouns:

Icons showing the people pointing at themselves and at each other to depict the personal pronouns in German.
duyou (singular, informal)
ihryou (plural, informal)
Sieyou (singular or plural, formal)

Unlike English, German has three words for ‘you’. It is important to use them correctly so that you do not offend anyone:

  • du is singular - use du for one friend or relative, someone you know well
  • ihr is plural - use ihr for several friends or relatives, people you know well
  • Sie is formal and can be singular or plural - use Sie for people you do not know or when you have to be respectful to them

Remember that the formal Sie (you) always has a capital letter. It sets it apart from sie with a lower case letter, which can mean either ‘she’ or ‘they’. Some people think that it has a capital letter to make it stand out from the rest, as it is a more respectful and formal form of you. To remember the capital letter, think of it as the VIP of pronouns.

The German word Sie which is the formal form of 'you', with the capital S underlined, next to the letters VIP to show that a capital letter is important.

Did you know?

The different words for ‘you’ are so important that German has the verbs sich dutzen, which means ‘to call each other du’ and sich siezen, which means ‘to call each other Sie’.

So in a conversation with a good friend and a teacher you could say, ‘Ich dutze dich, aber ich sieze Sie’, which means ‘I call you you (du), but call you you (Sie)’.

If you get to know someone you used to call Sie a bit better, they may invite you to call them du by saying Wir konnen uns jetzt dutzen - 'we can call each other you (du) now'.

It's illegal in Germany to use the informal form du when speaking to a policeman. You're expected to use the formal Sie. If you get it wrong, you could be fined up to 600 €.

Two pupils and their teacher experimenting with a robot in a classroom at the Heinrich-Mann-School in the Neukoelln district of Berlin, Germany
Students in German-speaking countries call their teachers 'Sie'