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To Du or not to Du?

That is the question that we'll be looking at today! In English the formal "you" ("thee," "thy," "thou" etc.) has fallen out of formal use. But as you probably know, the formal Sie and all of its grammatical forms are still used in German as polite forms of social address to people you don't know and to show respect for elders, figures of authority, and colleagues in the workplace.


I have known people who were friends in their personal lives, but who as colleagues at work addressed each other with the formal Sie. When uncertain whether to call somebody du (the verb is duzen) or Sie (with the verb siezen), it's usually best to start with Sie.


But if it's a less formal situation, and you note that others are using the informal du, there is a polite way to suggest using the informal du:


Hm, hm, danke, aber Sie dürfen mich gerne duzen, ich bin Eva.

Hm, hm, thanks, but you can gladly address me informally, I am Eva.

Caption 36, Das Lügenbüro: Die Bewerbung

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And you can simply ask, too:

Darf ich dich duzen? Oh, ungern.

May I address you informally? Oh, grudgingly.

Captions 32-33, 18 Miss-Kandidatinnen: beim Friseur

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Luckily, the person in the last caption was kidding, as they continue the conversation using the informal du. After spending some time among native Germans, it's actually much easier than you think to get a feel for when it's more appropriate to be less formal.


Fremde Menschen werden üblicherweise gesiezt. In der heutigen Zeit sind die Umgangsformen lockerer als früher.

Strangers are usually addressed formally with "Sie." Nowadays, manners are more relaxed than in the past.

Captions 29-30, Cettina erklärt: Sitten und Bräuche

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Being addressed for the first time as Sie can also be a bit alarming for younger adults:


Hat der mich grade gesiezt? Ja. -Oh, Janosch hat mich gesiezt, jetzt bin ich... Jetzt bin ich wirklich alt.

Did he just address me with "Sie"? Yes. -Oh, Janosch addressed me with "Sie," now I'm... Now I'm really old.

Captions 23-24, Free Birds Interview: mit Nora Tschirner & Rick Kavanian

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So while there's a very small chance that somebody might be offended if you accidentally address them informally, as a rule most Germans will be pleased to find a foreigner speaking German and make allowances for the fact that US Americans, at least, are generally less formal. In my experience, they'll even find it charming.


There's a likely apocryphal story that German Chancellor Helmut Kohl once told US President Ronald Reagan—or was it British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher?— "You can say 'you' to me." The point of the joke being that Kohl's English was so poor that he directly (mis)translated Sie dürfen mich duzen.


Further Learning
Do a search for videos on Yabla German for duzen and watch the video results in their entirety to get a feel for when people feel comfortable shifting to a less formal means of communication.

"To Earn" and "To Deserve": The Verb Verdienen

The verb "to earn" in German is verdienen, and it is the verb we use when talking about earning money or making a living. 


Die Schwestern im Kloster

The sisters in the cloister

verdienen damit einen großen Teil ihres Lebensunterhalts.

earn a large portion of their livelihood with that.

Caption 39, Hostien für den Papst - Abtei Sankt Gertrud in Alexanderdorf

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But, like in English, you can also "earn" things other than money, such as a break or success. 


Das fühlt sich natürlich toll an,

Of course that feels great,

weil sich das auch so anfühlt, als hätte man sich das...

because it also feels as if we have...

verdient, weil man sich's erarbeitet hat.

earned it because we have worked for it.

Captions 15-16, Culcha Candela - zieht Bilanz

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Wenn man hier so viel ackert,

When you slog away here so much,

dann hat man mal eine Auszeit verdient.

you have at some point earned a break.

Caption 21, Großstadtrevier - Neben der Spur

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There are times when either the verb "to deserve" or "to earn" can be used in English, and in German verdienen is used in both cases. It is used for positive outcomes and negative circumstances alike. Note, however, that the tense may change in the translation.


Na und? Der hat auch seine Strafe verdient.

So what? He also deserves his punishment. 

Caption 35, Großstadtrevier - Von Monstern und Mördern

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Also, ich finde, du hast den Preis echt verdient.

Well, I think you really deserved the prize.

Caption 91, Free Birds - Interview mit Nora Tschirner & Rick Kavanian

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Weil ich glaube, dass ein Typ wie Sie eine zweite Chance verdient hat.

Because I think a guy like you deserves a second chance.

Caption 35, Großstadtrevier - St. Pauli rettet HSV

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Further Learning
On Yabla German you can find the verb verdienen used to express both "to earn" and "to deserve." Pay attention to the tenses, which will not always align in English and German.

Der, die, or das? Part 2: Feminine Nouns

Der, die, or das? - Part 1: Masculine Nouns

Der, die, or das? - Part 3: Neuter Nouns


Last week, we discussed how the ending of a noun may indicate whether it's masculine, feminine, or neuter, and looked at some endings like -er and -ig that typically require the definite masculine article der. As we did last week, we must offer the disclaimer that this is not a 100% reliable way to learn the genders of nouns, due to many exceptions. We encourage you as much as possible to simply learn the appropriate definite article (derdie, or das) along with each individual word so that you'll always know the gender of the noun in the future.


However, if you ever get stuck, it might help to know that -anz-ei-heit-ik-ion

-keit-schaft-tät, and -ung are endings that often indicate a feminine noun. Let's look at some examples.


Es besteht die Möglichkeit, jedes Board vorher zu testen.

The possibility exists, to test every board beforehand.

Caption 41, Longboarding - mit Lassrollen

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Die Region zwischen Amrum und Sylt

The region between Amrum and Sylt

wurde wegen der Meeressäuger unter Schutz gestellt.

was placed under protection because of the marine mammals.

Caption 2, Abenteuer Nordsee - Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

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Beim Volleyball im Sand besteht

With volleyball in the sand,

die Mannschaft nämlich nur aus zwei Spielern.

the team consists, namely, of just two players.

Caption 10, Olympische Spiele - Beachvolleyball

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As mentioned last week, there are exceptions particularly for one-syllable words, which will most often not follow the rules. For example, die Einladung ("the invitation") is feminine, but der Sprung ("the jump") is masculine.


Die Einladung kommt noch.

The invitation is still on its way.

Caption 77, Free Birds - Interview mit Nora Tschirner & Rick Kavanian

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Und der Sprung an sich geht vielleicht nur drei Sekunden,

And the jump itself lasts perhaps only three seconds

aber es kommt einem ewig vor.

but it seems eternal.

Caption 44, Lucas' Hobbys - Achterbahn und Bungee

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Further Learning
Next week, we will conclude this small series with endings that are usually associated with neuter nouns. In the meantime, you can look for the words used in context on Yabla German. If you use flashcards, make sure you're in the habit of always including "the" on the English side (for example, "the possibility" or "the team"), so that you will be sure to include the correct definite article in the translation on the other side of the card.