German word of the day: Duzen/Siezen 

When learning the German language, you are bound to be faced with the precarious business of when to use du or Sie – the informal and formal forms of “you”. Here's what you need to know.

German word of the day: Duzen/Siezen
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

What is duzen?

Duzen is the verb signifying using the informal “you”. Siezen on the other hand is using the formal “you” and is conjugated with the same forms as sie (they, 3rd person plural). But when do you use which form?

In the English language it is never an issue but Germans choose the Sie when addressing people you may not know or to show respect, such as to elders or teachers, and can be both singular and plural. Du on the other hand is used with people you know well, friends and family, or with children.

It is often hard to decide which form of you to use, and it is not rare to ask which “you” one prefers or be given permission to use the informal du. To be on the safe side, Siezen is often recommended.

The Duden dictionary explains that “in principle, the correct form of address in business life or with new contacts is ‘Sie’, and especially in a professional environment this maintains a necessary and useful distance. It is possible that people feel harassed or disrespected if they are addressed as ‘du’ without being asked.”

The decision is not always so straightforward

There are also different mixed forms of formal and informal depending on the region: the “Hamburger Sie” involves addressing a person with “Sie” and their first name, and the “Münchner du” involves addressing with the surname while simultaneously using the informal du. 

It is also not uncommon to use the capitalised Du form to indicate formality, without the use of siezen.

READ ALSO: To du or not to du? How to crack Germany’s tricky etiquette dilemma

The end of Sie?

Making the leap from Sie to du has historically been a significant moment in any interpersonal relationship in Germany.

In recent years, however, the use of the formal Sie is becoming a lot less common. On social media such as Facebook or Twitter the du form has long been the go-to. The more personal form of address could help break down rigid hierarchies and creates a closeness and familiarity, as opposed to the distant Sie

Back in 2003, Ikea was the first business in Germany to start addressing their customers as du, citing the traditions of their Swedish origin. Many companies, such as Ikea, Adidas, Apple and Aldi have since followed suit and it seems Germans are getting more on board. In the German cosmopolitan capital Berlin, this is especially true. 

Berlin’s public transport company (BVG) addresses its customers with du – their slogan being “Weil wir dich lieben” (“Because we love you”). Petra Nelken, spokesperson of the BVG, explained that the duzen in their campaigns worked because the company does not take themselves too seriously. She also added that the BVG was dealing with a new generation, in which the du is becoming more natural.

Berlin's BVG uses the informal 'du' in an advert to say "because we love you".

Berlin’s BVG uses the informal ‘du’ in an advert that says: “because we love you”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Germany’s career network Xing has similar views, believing that a cultural change is constantly developing, before deciding to address their users exclusively with du as a way to create a better togetherness in the professional environment. Linguist Stefanie Stricker from the University of Bamberg also pointed to this language change, especially in the current generation.

It seems however, that even the young generation lean towards using the formal Sie in formal situations. Plus, Siezen is not only a German thing, with many other languages having a formal “you”, and lots of Germans continuing to view its usage with importance. And so while it is becoming less common, Sie is not dying out by any means.


Wie geht es dir?

How are you? (informal)

Wie geht es Ihnen?

How are you? (formal)

Bist du schon angekommen?

Have you already arrived? (informal)

Sind Sie schon angekommen?

Have you already arrived? (formal)

Hamburger Sie

Thomas, können Sie mir helfen?

Thomas, can you help me?

Münchner Du

“Müller, kannst du mir helfen?”

Müller, can you help me?

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German word of the day: Lüften

One of the first lessons you learn when living in Germany is that airing out rooms is extremely important.

German word of the day: Lüften

Whether you sublet, rent a flat or own your home in Germany, it’s likely you’ve been told how important it is to lüften, or open your windows and let air in and out regularly. 

Lüften can be a verb or noun in Germany. As a noun it uses the ‘das’ article and stands for ventilation. The verb lüften means to air out something. It comes from the German word die Luft which means air.

The proper airing out of rooms is a very German thing. Hell, it’s a way of life. 

Just check your rent contract. Foreigners in Germany are often surprised to find that ventilating their homes is usually written into their contract and accompanied by instructions. That means it’s literally legally binding! 

There are very important rules to remember, and German even has a set of vocabulary dedicated to getting fresh air safely in and out the room. 

Words like Stoßlüften – which translates to shock or impact ventilation. This is needed at least twice a day (and more in summer) and involves opening the windows or balcony doors wide to let a ‘shock’ of cold air in. According to experts, you should do this for about five minutes a time in winter, 10-15 minutes each time in autumn and spring, and up to half an hour in summer.

Meanwhile, Querlüften or cross ventilation involves opening all the windows of a house or building and letting the fresh air flow through.

The aim of all this lüften is to stop mould from forming, get rid of smells and to stop rooms from getting too humid. The more people that live in your home, the more airing out you’ll have to do. 

Germans recommend that you turn off your heating while airing out your room (to save on money and to protect the climate) – so be sure to have a big jumper on if you’re airing out in winter. 

READ ALSO: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out a room

Lüften took on a whole new meaning in the pandemic as other countries – or at least those that didn’t have the same culture for airing out – began recommending it to people as a way of helping protect against Covid-19 transmission.  

A good German habit

Lüften can quickly become a habit. Whereas before Germany, I was happy to leave a window tilted open for a while to get some fresh air, I’m now obsessed with the proper way to do it. 

I throw open the windows of my flat wide at regular intervals to get that fresh air circulating, even in the dead of winter. When I’m at home in Scotland or on holiday somewhere else, I do the same thing, which can be alarming to people who think you are trying to freeze them.

I find myself feeling pleased when the neighbours across the road from my Berlin flat open their windows or balcony doors wide. It’s like we’re all part of the secret society of fresh air.

There is nothing now that stands between me and Lüften. When I tweeted about this habit, lots of people said they felt a similar way. 

One Twitter user said: “Been telling my family this for years – as they shiver and complain about how cold it is, and my partner and I passive-aggressively follow each other around shutting and reopening windows. Makes for fun times.”

Another said: “My little sister spent an exchange year in Germany before me and when I visited was thoroughly disturbed by her obsessive window opening. A couple years later I was living in Germany and had become a convert, too.”


Hey Karl, Kannst du bitte dein Zimmer lüften?

Hey Karl, can you please air out your room?

In Deutschland muss man die Zimmer richtig lüften.

You really have to air out rooms the right way in Germany.