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T-V distinction

In sociolinguistics, a T-V distinction describes the situation wherein a language has second-person pronouns that distinguish varying levels of politeness, social distance, courtesy, familiarity, or insult toward the addressee.

History and usage

The expressions T-form and V-form were introduced by Brown and Gilman (1960), with reference to the initial letters of these pronouns in Latin, tu and vos. In Latin, tu was originally the singular, and vos the plural, with no distinction for honorific or familiar. According to Brown and Gilman, usage of the plural to the Roman emperor began in the fourth century AD. They mention the possibility that this was because there were two emperors at that time (in Constantinople and Rome), but also mention that "plurality is a very old and ubiquitous metaphor for power". This usage was extended to other powerful figures, such as Pope Gregory I (590-604). However, Brown and Gilman note that it was only between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries that the norms for the use of T- and V-forms crystallized. Less commonly, the use of the plural may be extended to other persons, such as the "royal we" (majestic plural) in English.

Brown and Gilman argued that the choice of form is governed by either relationships of 'power' and/or 'solidarity', depending on the culture of the speakers, showing that 'power' had been the dominant predictor of form in Europe until the twentieth century. Thus, it was quite normal for a powerful person to use a T-form but expect a V-form in return. However in the twentieth century the dynamic shifted in favour of solidarity, so that people would use T-forms with those they knew, and V-forms in service encounters, with reciprocity usage being the norm in both cases.

Modern English has no T-V distinction. It can often be confusing for an English speaker learning a language with a T-V distinction to assimilate the rules surrounding when to call someone with the formal or the informal pronoun. Students are often advised to err on the side of caution by using the formal pronouns. However, this risks sounding snobbish or ridiculous.

Though English has no syntactic T-V distinction, there are semantic analogies, such as whether to address someone by first name or last name (or using sir and ma'am). However the boundaries between formal and informal language differ from language to language, and most languages use formal speech more frequently, and/or in different circumstances than English. In some circumstances, it is not unusual to call other people by first name and the respectful form, or last name and familiar form. For example, German teachers use the former construct with upper-secondary students, while Italian teachers typically use the latter. This can lead to constructions denoting an intermediate level of formality in T-V-distinct languages that sound awkward to English-speakers. For example, the catchphrase of "Be careful, Michael" from Knight Rider was usually dubbed "Seien Sie vorsichtig, Michael" in German, implying both formality (use of Sie) and familiarity (use of first name).

The use of these forms calls for compensating translation of dialogue into English. For example, a character in a French film or novel saying "Tutoie-moi!" ("Use [the informal pronoun] tu when addressing me!") might be translated "Do not be so formal!"

Examples of T-V distinctions

In many languages, the formal singular pronoun derives from a plural form. Many Romance languages have familiar forms derived from the Latin singular tu and formal forms derived from Latin plural vos, sometimes via a circuitous route. Sometimes, singular V-form derives from a third person pronoun. Some languages have separate T and V forms for both singular and plural; others have the same form; others have a T-V distinction only in the singular.

Different languages distinguish pronoun uses in different ways. Even within languages, there are differences between groups (older people and people of higher status tending both to use and to expect more formal language) and between various aspects of one language. For example, in Dutch, u is slowly falling into disuse in the plural, and thus one could sometimes address a group as jullie when one would address each member individually as u. In Latin American Spanish, the opposite change has occurred – having lost vosotros, Latin Americans address all groups as ustedes, even if the group is composed of friends whom they would call or vos (mostly in Argentina and Uruguay). In Standard Peninsular Spanish, however, vosotros is still regularly employed in familiar conversation. In some cases, V-forms are likely to be capitalized when written.

Following is a table of singular and plural versions of the second person plural and singular in many languages. Many of these do not demonstrate T-V distinction in the above sense of the "you" plural being used for "you" singular informal.

second-person singular informal second-person singular formal second-person plural informal second-person plural formal
Afrikaans jy /jou u
U (to God)
julle u
Albanian ti ju ju ju
Amharic አንተ (antä) (m)
አንቺ (anči) (f)
እስዎ (ɨsswo) or
እርስዎ (ɨrswo)
እናንተ (ɨnnantä) እስዎ (ɨsswo) or
እርስዎ (ɨrswo)
Arabic أنت (anta, when addressing a man), أنتِ (anti, when addressing a woman) anta / anti; in some spoken varieties of Arabic, such as Egyptian, terms such as ḥaḍretak (your grace) or siyadtak (your lordship) are used antum (when addressing men), antunna (when addressing women) antum / antunna; in some spoken varieties of Arabic, such as Egyptian, terms such as ḥaḍretkum or siyadetkum are used
Armenian դու (du) Eastern dialect, դուն (tun) Western dialect դուք (duk) Eastern (tuk) Western դուք (duk) Eastern (tuk) Western դուք (duk) Eastern (tuk) Western
Basque hi (very close or dialectal), zu zu, berori (very respectful) zuek zuek
Bengali তুই tui (very informal)
তুমি tumi
আপনি apni তোরা tora (very informal)
তোমরা tomra
আপনারা apnara
Bosnian ti Vi vi vi
Bulgarian ти (ti) Вие (Vie) вие (vie) вие (vie)
Catalan tu
vós (only to elders)
vostè vosaltres vostès
Chinese (Mandarin) nín 你们 (你們) nǐmen no official form; often 大家 dàjiā but see below
Croatian ti Vi vi vi
Czech ty Vy vy vy
Danish du De I De
Dutch jij /je (more in the Netherlands) or
gij/ge (more in Flanders)
u (Capitalised when addressing God, or in very formal writing: U. Alternatively: Gij(to God)) jullie (from jij /jou + lui (people) = "you people") u
English you
thou (archaic and in certain dialects in northern England)
you you
y'all (Southern US English)
you guys (North American colloquial)
you lot (UK colloquial)
ye (archaic and in Ireland as a slang term)
yous/youse (various dialects)
you
ye (archaic)
Esperanto ci (experimental use only), normally vi vi vi vi
Estonian sina Teie teie Teie
Faroese tygum tit tygum
Filipino ka /ikaw kayo kayo sila
Finnish sinä te te te
French tu /toi /te vous vous vous
Frisian (West) dû/do jo (Jo when addressing God) jimme/jim jimme/jim
Gaelic (Scottish) thu sibh sibh sibh
Galician tu, vostede vós vostedes
Georgian შენ shen თქვენ tkven თქვენ tkven თქვენ tkven
German du Sie (and third person plural of the verb) ihr Sie (and third person plural of the verb)
Greek εσύ (esy) εσείς (eseis) εσείς (eseis) εσείς (eseis)
Hungarian te maga (formal) or Ön (official) ti maguk (formal) or Önök (official)
Hindi तू (very informal)
तुम tum
आप āp तुम लोग tum log आप लोग āp log
Icelandic þú þér (obsolete, mostly informal used) þið þér (obsolete, mostly informal used)
Ido tu vu vi vi
Indonesian kamu Anda kalian Anda
Interlingua tu (te) vos vos vos
Italian tu (te) Lei (archaic Ella, old voi) voi voi (rarely used Loro)
Javanese kowe, awakmu panjenengan, sampeyan kowe kabeh panjenengan sedanten
Kannada niinnu niivu niivu niivu
Kazakh сен (sen) сіз (siz) сендер (sender) сіздер (sizder)
Korean neo (directly addressing a person);
dangsin (addressing anonymous readers)
neohui (yeoreobun)
Kung-ekoka a i!a i!a i!a
Kurdish (North), Kurmanji تو (tu) هون (hûn), هنگۆ (hingo), تو (tu) هون (hûn), هنگۆ (hingo) هون (hûn), هنگۆ (hingo)
Kurdish (South), Sorani تۆ (to) ێوه (êwe), تۆ (to) ێوه (êwe) ێوه (êwe)
Kyrgyz сен (sen) сиз (siz) силер (siler) сиздер (sizder)
Ladino, see Spanish tu tu vozótros vozótros
Latvian tu Jūs jūs Jūs
Lithuanian tu Jūs jūs Jūs
Lombard ti ; or lüü (male) or lée (female) viòltar viòltar; or ; or lur
Malay kamu (standard), engkau (regional Malay; common spoken short form is kau -- when pronounced as "ko", is even more informal.), hang (northern dialect, but understood and accepted across Peninsula Malaysia), awak (is rude in all contexts except in very close relationships, e.g. friends [but not acquaintances]) anda (polite/friendly formal; found in formal documents and in all formal contexts, e.g. advertisements. "Anda" is almost never encountered in spoken Malay; instead, most Malaysians would address a respected person by his title or name), kamu (impolite/unfriendly formal; also found in formal documents and in all formal contexts, where the intention is to convey a forceful tone in writing - often seen in lawsuits and summonses). kau orang (when pronounced as "ko'rang" [equivalent to "you all" in parts of the U.S.] is slang and more informal), kau semua, hangpa (northern dialect), kalian (archaic) anda, kalian (archaic)
Macedonian ти (ti) Вие (Vie) вие (vie) вие (vie)
Nepali तँ, तिमी (tã, timi) तपाईं (tapāī̃) तिमी(-हरू) (timi[-harū]) तपाईं(-हरू) (tapāī̃[-harū])
Norwegian (bokmål) du De dere De
Norwegian (nynorsk) du De de De
Oriya tu/ tume aapano tumemane aapanomane
Persian تو to شما shomâ شما shomâ شما shomâ
Polish ty pani (to a woman)
pan (to a man)
(verbs following any of the above addresses are in the 3rd person singular form)
In the early period of the communist rule, a practice of using the second-person plural form wy as a formal way of referring to a single person was introduced (a calque from Russian) but it did not catch on.
wy państwo (general)
panie (to women)
panowie (to men)
(verbs following any of the above addresses are in the 3rd person plural form, although in many cases for państwo (general) the 2nd person plural form is also possible).
Portuguese (Portugal) tu
vós (regional use)
o senhor/a senhora (more formal)
você (less formal)
vós (archaic and literary)
vocês
vós (archaic, literary, or regional)
os senhores/as senhoras
Portuguese (Brazil) você
(sometimes tu)
o senhor/a senhora
vós (archaic and literary)
vocês
vós (archaic and literary)
os senhores/as senhoras
Romanian tu dumneata (less formal or, in certain contexts, an insult) /
dumneavoastră (formal)
voi dumneavoastră / domniile voastre (archaic)
Russian ты (ty) вы (vy) / Вы (Vy) (addressing officials in letters etc) вы (vy) вы (vy)
Serbian ти (ti) Ви (Vi) ви (vi) ви (vi)
Slovak ty Vy vy vy
Slovenian ti vi
Vi (protocolar)
vidva (dual), vidve or vedve (dual - when addressing two women); vi (plural), ve (plural - when addressing only women) vi (dual and plural)
Sorbian (Lower) ty Wy wej (dual), wy (plural) wy
Somali adhi adhiga idhinka idhinka
Spanish (Peninsular, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco) usted (formerly or literary vos, usía and vuecencia/vuecelencia among others) vosotros (masc.)
vosotras (fem.) (Note, vosotro/as is usually used only in Spain, and occasionally not even there.)
ustedes
Spanish of the Americas and some parts of Andalusia (altered system: i.e.: ustedes estáis) and Canary Islands where previous system is replacing this one or vos usted ustedes (literary vosotros, vosotras, in poetry, anthems...) ustedes
Swedish du or Du ni or Ni ni ni or Ni
Tagalog ikáw ka (postpositive only) kayó kayó kayó
Tajik ту (tu) Шумо (Shumo) шумо (shumo) шумо (shumo) or шумоён (shumoyon)(the latter is used in Spoken Tajik only)
Tamil nee neengal neengal neengal
Telugu nuvvu meeru meer-andaru meer-andaru
Turkish sen siz siz siz, sizler
Ubykh wæghʷa sʸæghʷaalha sʸæghʷaalha sʸæghʷaalha
Ukrainian ти (ty) ви (vy) / Ви (Vy) (addressing officials in letters etc) ви (vy) ви (vy)
Urdu تو (very informal)
تم tum
آپ āp تم لوگ tum log آپ لوگ āp log
Uyghur سەن sän سىز siz or سىلى sili سىلەر silär سىزلەرsizlär
Welsh ti or chdi chi or chwi chi or chwi chi or chwi
Yiddish דו (du) איר (ir) איר (ir)
עץ (ets) (regional)
איר (ir)

Language-specific remarks

Afrikaans

Modern Afrikaans rarely makes the distinction between the informal "jy" and "jou" ("you" subject and "your" / "you" object) and the more formal "u" (or "U" when addressing God), although sometimes it is upheld in a formal setting, such as in politics, business or in a polite conversation. The trend is moving towards using the informal pronoun most often.

Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic does not have a T-V distinction, using أنت (anta, male) and أنتِ (anti, female) for both formal and informal situations in the singular, antuma (for male and female) in the dual, and antum or antunna in the plural. However, many spoken varieties of Arabic do make the distinction. Notably, Egyptian Arabic uses حضرتك (ḥaḍretak/ḥaḍretik, meaning "your grace") and variants as the formal pronoun, with anta as the informal pronoun. In general, ḥaḍretak is reserved for elder relatives, authorities, bosses, and senior business partners.

Bengali

Bengali has three levels of formality in its pronouns; the most neutral forms of address among closer members of a family are তুমি tumi and তোমরা tomra (plural). These two pronouns are also typically used when speaking to children, or to younger members of the extended family. তুমি tumi is also used when addressing God. When speaking with adults outside the family, or with senior members of the extended family, the pronouns আপনি apni and আপনারা apnara (plural) are used. This is also true in advertisements and public announcements. A third set of pronouns, তুই tui and তোরা tora (plural), is reserved for use between very close friends, and by extension, between relatives who share a bond not unlike a close friendship. It is also used when addressing people presumed to be of "inferior" social status; this latter use is occasionally used when speaking to housemaids, rickshaw-pullers, and other service workers, although this use is considered offensive.

The situations in which these different pronouns can be used vary considerably depending on many social factors. In some families, children may address their parents with আপনি apni and আপনারা apnara, although this is becoming increasingly rare. Some adults alternate between all three pronoun levels when speaking to children, normally choosing তুমি tumi and তোমরা tomra, but also often choosing তুই tui and তোরা tora to indicate closeness, or আপনি apni or আপনারা apnara in a joking manner. Additionally, Bengalis vary in which pronoun they use when addressing servants in the home; some may use আপনি apni and আপনারা apnara to indicate respect for an adult outside the family, while others may use তুমি tumi and তোমরা tomra to indicate either inclusion into the family or to indicate somewhat less honorable status. Others may even use তুই tui and তোরা tora to indicate inferior status.

Bulgarian

Bulgarian distinguishes between familiar ti (ти) and respectful vie (вие), which is also used familiar address for several people. (Respectful Vie may be capitalized, while plural vie is not.) Generally, ti is used among friends and relatives, but the usage depends not only on the closeness of the relationship but also on age and the formality of the situation (e.g., work meeting vs. a party). Children always use ti to address each other and are addressed in this way by adults but are taught to address adults with vie. When talking to each other young people often start with the formal vie when talking to each other but may transition to ti very quickly in an informal situation. Unless there is a substantial difference in social situation (e.g. teacher and student), the choice of the form is symmetric: if A uses ti to address B, then B also uses ti to address A. While people may transition quickly from vie to ti, such transition presumes mutual agreement. In the last years the formal "Vie" form is slowly diminished in some situations, but is (and will be) still used in formal speech and when addressing someone unknown.

Catalan

Catalan vós follows the same concordance rules as the French vous (verbs in second person plural, adjectives in singular), and vostè follows the same concordance rules as the Spanish usted (verbs in 3rd person). Vostè originated from vostra mercè as a calque from Spanish, and replaced the original Catalan form vós.

In some dialects of Catalan, vós is no longer used. Other dialects have a three-way distinction tu/vós/vosté, where vós is used as a respectful form for elders and respected friends, and vostè for foreigners and people whom one does not know well. Vostè is more distant than vós.

Chinese (Mandarin)

Historically, Mandarin has upheld its T-V distinction rigorously in speech as well as in writing. This is particularly evident in Beijing, whose dialect formed the basis for Standard Mandarin. Written Chinese, which generally strives for a more formal, or even semi-archaic tone, consistently makes the T-V distinction, sometimes even going so far as to employ archaic forms no longer used in speech (such as 閣下 (阁下), géxià, literally, from below the pagoda, used in extremely formal situations in Imperial China). Although rarely, 前辈 (qianbei) is still sometimes used in very formal settings, and when there is a very large chronological age gap between the speaker and the listener.

Unlike many European languages, the T-V distinction in Mandarin is predicated much more on the chronological age of the speakers rather than on their social positions per se. Unless there is a very large gap in the social status or social standing, e.g. you are addressing your boss, or a servant (or a waiter at a restaurant) is addressing you, people of the same age generally refer to each other in or as 你 (nǐ), even if they are strangers. Older people, including one's parents, are properly addressed in or as 您 (nín). 您 is also used as a way to indicate (formal) affections, because the character for 您 is composed of 你 (nǐ) with an added 心 (xĩn) below, which means heart -- denoting that the 2nd person and plural persons are addressed with a (formal) affection. Because of this, it is relatively rare to have a situation where each of two people addresses each other in or as 您, unless it is the intention of the parties concerned to indicate their (formal) affection. As such, 您 may also be used with one's close family members, and it does not carry any implication of distance, or a lack of intimacy, as the vous of modern French does.

In many of the southern Chinese languages (for example Wu), there is no T-V distinction made at all. Formality in these languages is indicated by use of different kinship terms only, much like other Asian languages (such as Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese). Because of this, some southern Chinese, whose mother tongue is not Mandarin, when speaking Mandarin find it irrelevant, unnecessary, and sometimes difficult to make the distinction. However, as almost all Chinese mother-tongue-speakers (including overseas Chinese) understand the rudimentary rules with regard to the agglutination-cum-contextual rules in Chinese languages, this is merely a minor set-back at the beginning of the Mandarin-learning stage – the addition of a 心 (xĩn) to 你 in 您 speaks for itself. Nevertheless, many southern Chinese often see 您 as a form of expressing (formal) affections only, and do not make the subtle distinction that 您 may be used in various formal communications. This simple linguistic faux pas has earned many southern migrants in Beijing and other northern cities a reputation for being rude and uncouth.

Although the plural forms of personal pronouns in Mandarin are typically formed by adding the suffix -們 (-men) (们 = simplified character) to their singular counterparts, the construction of 您們 is quite rare in Standard Mandarin, indirect constructions such as 大家 (dàjiā, everyone) or 諸位 (zhũ wèi, written language) resp. 各位 (gèwèi, polite/formal) being preferred when addressing a crowd. The use of 您們 remains extant in the Beijing dialect, however, which retains a number of distinctions lost in Standard Mandarin. Examples of its use include situations where a small number of older people with whom one is relatively familiar is directly addressed, making 大家 (dàjiā) awkward.

Croatian

Use of ti is limited to friends and family, and used among children. In any formal use, vi is used only; ti can be used among peers in a workplace, but rarely in official documents. It is a common misconception even among native speakers to always capitalize Vi when used in formal tone but Vi is capitalized only in direct personal correspondence between two persons.

Czech

Traditionally, use of the informal form was limited for relatives, very close friends, and for children. During the second half of the 20th century, use of the informal form grew significantly among coworkers, youth and members of organisations and groups. The formal form is always used in official documents and when dealing with a stranger (especially an older one) as a sign of respect. 2nd-person pronouns (Ty, Tvůj, Vy, Váš) are often capitalized in letters, advertisement, etc. The capitalization is optional and is slowly becoming obsolete. A variant of the formal form modeled after German "Sie" (Oni/oni, Jejich/jejich, verb onikat) was frequently used during 19th century but disappeared.
In grammar, plural forms are used in personal and possessive pronouns (vy – you, váš – your) and in verbs, but not in participles and adjectives, they are used in singular forms (when addressing a single person). This is a difference from some other Slavic languages (Slovak, Russian, etc.)

One person
informal
(tykání)
One person
formal
(vykání)
More people
(both formal
and informal)
English
ty děláš vy děláte vy děláte you do
dělal jsi dělal jste dělali jste you did
jsi hodný jste hodný jste hodní you are kind
byl jsi přijat byl jste přijat byli jste přijati you were accepted

Greetings are also connected with T-V distinction. Formal dobrý den (good day) and na shledanou (good-bye) are used with formal vy, while ahoj, nazdar, čau (meaning both hello, hi, and bye) are informal and used with ty.

Danish

In Denmark, the use of the formal forms of address has diminished significantly over the last twenty years. De is still used in the written language, in official letters and the like, but the spoken form will be du. De must be written with a capital "D". For example, a letter from the Inspector of Taxes inviting you a meeting to go through last year's tax return will use De, but during the meeting itself, everyone will say du. Waiters might very occasionally use De, but this is unexpectedly formal.

In general, say du to one person, and I to more than one. Write du if you know the name of the person to whom you are writing and De if you do not.

The word de with the small "d" is the third-person plural pronoun - equivalent to "they."

Dutch

Dutch has three principal forms of second-person pronouns, namely u, gij and jij. In the case of gij/jij, ge/je are its unstressed variants. In Dutch, the T-V distinction is difficult as it relies mainly on (personal) status.

U is the formal pronoun used in all Dutch speaking regions, however gij/jij are region specific. Jij is preferred in writing in both the Netherlands and Belgium, but when speech is concerned, Dutch-speakers in Belgium tend to use gij. The southern part of the Netherlands (mainly Brabant) also uses gij, but not when addressing people from outside Brabant, as the majority of the Netherlands uses jij. To address God in Dutch, both gij and U in both the Netherlands and Belgium are used, never jij.

The pronoun je can also be used impersonally, corresponding to the English generic you.

In Dutch the formal personal pronoun is used for people with a higher or equal status, unless the addressed makes it clear (s)he wants to be spoken to with the informal pronoun. Unlike for example in German, there is no defined line (in the case of German, roughly when someone passes the age of 16) in which everyone, apart from family, is addressed with the formal pronoun. A Dutchman might be called jij by his own cousin, but u by his own children, although many people use jij to address their parents (the younger generation also uses jij to their grandparents more and more)

In the closely related Afrikaans language, the same distinction between "jy" and "u" exists as in Standard Dutch, but "u" now sounds archaic and is dying out. Instead of using "u", Afrikaans-speakers will often use a person's title or another term denoting that person's status relative to the speaker: "Oom, kom jy saam?" ("Uncle, are you coming along?") would be informal usage while "Oom, kom oom saam?" ("Uncle, is uncle coming along?") would be more formal. The generic you is expressed in Afrikaans by the term "'n mens" ("a person").

English

Anglo-Saxon (a.k.a. Old English) had no distinction between formal and informal "you". In the 13th century, the term "ye" was used as a formal version of "thou" (to superiors or non-intimates) — however, this use was often contextually-dependent (i.e., changing dynamically according to shifting nuances in the relationship between two people), rather than static. By the 17th century, "thou" increasingly acquired connotations of contemptuous address, or of addressing one's social inferiors (so the prosecutor in Sir Walter Raleigh's 1603 trial declaimed "I thou thee, thou traitor!"). Therefore, the frequency of use of "thou" started to decline, and it was effectively extinct in the everyday speech of many dialects by the early 18th century. Its use is now archaic except in certain regional dialects, usually as "tha", and Modern English today makes no T-V distinction.

The use of the term "thou", however, survives in some liturgical language when addressing God, most notably in the Lord's Prayer, and is also found in liturgical dialogue (for example, "V. The Lord be with you R. And with thy spirit."). This is not an indication of familiarity, but retention of the original distinction between singular "thou/thee/thy" and plural "ye/you/your", reflecting the corresponding singular and plural Greek forms in the original texts.

In Latter-Day Saint prayer tradition, the terms "thee" and "thou" are always and exclusively used to address Deity, as a mark of respect.

Originally "ye" and "thou" were nominative pronouns, while "you" and "thee" were accusative forms, but by the 15th century, "you" had begun being used as a subject pronoun, and only "thee" survived into Quaker "Plain Speech".

Esperanto

The constructed language Esperanto is not a T-V-distinguishing language. Vi is the generic second person for both singular and plural, just like you in English. An informal second person singular pronoun, ci, does exist, but it is almost never used in practice. It is mainly intended to make the informal/formal distinction when translating (literature for example) from languages that do have the T-V-distinction.

Some have imagined ci as an archaic term that was used before and then fell out of common usage; however, this is not true. It has only appeared sometimes in experimental language. In standard Esperanto, vi has always been used since the beginning. For example, ci appears in neither the Fundamenta Gramatiko nor in the Unua Libro.

Source: http://bertilow.com/pmeg/gramatiko/pronomoj/dua.html

Estonian

Estonian is a language with T-V distinction, second person plural (teie) is used instead of second person singular (sina) as a means of expressing politeness or formal speech. Sina is the familiar form of address used with family, friends, and minors. The distinction is still much more widely used and more rigid than in closely related Finnish language.

Similar to the French language vouvoyer, the verb teietama is used, and teie is used when addressing a (new) customer or a patient, or when talking to a person in his/her function. In hierarchical organizations, like large businesses or armies, sina is used between members of a same rank/level while teie is used between members of different ranks. Sina (the verb sinatama is also used) is used with relatives, friends, when addressing children and with close colleagues. Borderline situations, such as distant relatives, young adults, customers in a rental shops or new colleagues, sometimes still present difficulties.

Finnish

Today, the use of the informal singular form of address is widespread in all social circles, even among strangers and in business situations. A counter-trend has been reported in recent years, whereby some people are choosing to use the formal plural more often, but in practice it is very unusual to use this form unless addressing people considerably one's senior or in situations where strict adherence to form is expected, such as in the military. As the use of formal plural conveys formal recognition of addressee's status and of polite distance, the formal plural may also be used jeeringly or to protest addressee's snobbery. A native speaker may also switch to formal plural when speaking in anger, as an attempt to remain civil.

The number is expressed in pronouns (sinä or for singular, or te for plural), verb inflections, and possessive suffixes. For example, imperatives are expressed in the plural, e.g. menkää "go(pl.)!". Likewise, the -nne "your" suffix is used instead of the singular -s(i) suffix. There is number agreement in Finnish, thus you say sinä olet "you(sg.) are", but te olette "you(pl.) are". However, this does not extend to words describing the addressee, which are in the singular. For example, oletteko te lääkäri? "are(pl.) you(pl.) doctor(sg.)?" A common error, nowadays often made even by native speakers unused to the formal plural, is using the plural form of the main verb in the perfect and pluperfect tenses. The main verb should be in the singular when addressing one person in the formal plural: Oletteko kuullut? instead of *Oletteko kuulleet? "Have you heard?"

Sometimes the third person is used as a polite form of address, after the Swedish model: Mitä rouvalle saisi olla? "What would madam like to have?" The passive voice may be used to circumvent the choice of the correct form of address; the passive voice is also the equivalent of the English patronizing we as in Kuinkas tänään voidaan? "How are we feeling today?"

Finnish language includes the verbs for calling one with informal singular or formal plural: sinutella, teititellä, respectively.

Frisian

The closest modern language to English, the formal singular nominative jo (pronounced yo) is very close to the English you and the Middle and Early Modern English ye. In some parts of eastern Germany, the plural familiar nominative is jöch instead of euch; the former is much closer to its English counterpart.

French

In most French-speaking regions (Canada is an exception; see below), a rigid tu-vous distinction is upheld. Tu is the second person singular, while vous in addition to being the second plural is also used to convey formality. Vous is expected when encountering any completely unknown adult under normal circumstances. "Abnormal" circumstances (where tu could be used) include emotional situations like surprising a thief, or addressing informally other road-users while driving (including swearing at them). New acquaintances who are conscious of having something socially significant in common (e.g., student status, or the same "rank" in some hierarchy) may use tu more or less immediately as a sign of solidarity. In some cases, there may be an explicitly defined practice in a particular company, political party, etc. In general, however, the switch from vous to tu is "negotiated" on a case-by-case basis; it can happen nearly unconsciously, or it can become extremely complicated. Rigidly sticking to vous can become equally awkward in a long-standing relationship. Children (including teenagers) generally use tu to speak with another child, whether known or not.

Tu can be very offensive, in the mouth of a person who speaks with a stranger and wants to show disrespect. Vous may be used to distance onself from a person one does not want to interract with. Two people who use tu in their private interactions may consciously switch back to vous in public, for example in a formal or professional environment, or in an artificially constructed situation (e.g., co-hosts of a television show), or simply to conceal the nature of their relationship from others. In some families, the traditional habit is followed: vous is used to address older family members; more rarely, children are taught to use vous to address their parents, and vous is sometimes even used between spouses.

When praying, tu is nowadays often used in addressing the deity, as this is a mark of a personal relationship with God and particularly Christ as one's savior. The opposite is true, however, in Louisiana where vous is always used to convey a sense of respect and reverence when praying. (In fact, vous was used in catholic praying until the Second Vatican Council). When praying the Hail Mary prayer to the Blessed Virgin, Louisiana French speakers also use the more formal vous.

The T-V distinction exists only in the singular in French. Vous is the second person plural pronoun in all situations.

Terminology:

  • tutoyer (verb), tutoiement (noun) — calling someone "tu"
  • vouvoyer (or rarely, vousoyer, voussoyer), vouvoiement (vousoiement, voussoiement) — calling someone "vous"
  • faire schmolitz (Swiss French) — making the transition from vouvoiement to tutoiement, traditionally over a drink

Sources:

Belgian French

In French-speaking Belgium, usage is mostly identical to that in Standard French. However, linguistic interference from Dutch and the Walloon language can influence the speech of those who have these as their first languages:

  • Flemings who are native-speakers of Dutch have a tendency when speaking French to use tu in as wide a range of contexts (both familiar and formal) as they do the gij / ge of Dutch. A tu used in formal circumstances — which from a native French speaker would normally be taken as a sign of deliberate rudeness — will be "forgiven" when uttered by a native Dutch speaker (as identified by his or her accent).
  • In Walloon, the use of which tends, in any case, to be restricted mostly to "familiar" contexts, vos (=vous) is the general usage and is considered informal and friendly. Ti (=tu), on the other hand, is considered vulgar, and its use can be taken as an expression of an aggressive attitude towards the person addressed. This influence from Walloon affects the usage of tu and vous in the French spoken in Belgium, though more so among people accustomed to using Walloon as their everyday language. The influence of Standard French, particularly as exercised through the mass media, is eroding this particularity amongst younger French-speakers.

North American French

Similarly to Danish, North American dialects of French, including Quebec French and Acadian French as well as Louisiana Cajun and Creole French, permit and expect a far broader usage of the familiar tu than in Standard French. There are still circumstances in which it is appropriate to say vous: in a formal interview (notably for a job) or when addressing people of very high rank (such as judges or prime ministers), senior citizens, customers or new acquaintances in a formal setting. As acquaintances become familiar with one another, they may find vous to be unnecessarily formal and may agree to return to the tu with which they generally more comfortable.

For a number of Francophones in Canada, vous sounds stilted or snobbish, and archaic. Tu is by no means restricted to intimates or social inferiors. There is however an important minority of people, often those who call for a use of standard French in Quebec, who prefer to be addressed as vous. At Radio-Canada (the public broadcaster, often considered as establishing the normative objectives of standard French in Canada), the use of vous is widespread even among colleagues.

Finally, in familiar language, it is usual to use a "generic tu" (cf. English generic you) instead of "on", which is used solely as a first-person plural.

German

Sie and du

In German, the respectful form is the same as the third person plural (sie), rather than the second person plural (which in German is ihr). The second person sense is always capitalized (Sie) in writing, as well as its accusative and dative forms, to avoid any ambiguity. Danish and, through Danish, Norwegian, along with (in a sense) Italian, have adopted this German third person plural model. Verbs used with this form of address are also identical to third person plural forms. In requests and demands, it is considered good manners to combine Sie not only with bitte (please) but also with the subjunctive mood, for example: Würden Sie bitte das Fenster schließen? (Would you (Sie) mind closing the window please?) instead of Schließen Sie bitte das Fenster! (Please close the window).

The corresponding informal German address is du. The verbs duzen and siezen mean respectively "to call du" and "to call Sie" and the phrases per du or auf du und du mean, "to be on du terms". In general terms, Sie is used with persons who would be addressed in English with Mr. or Ms., while du is used as soon as one progresses to first-name terms. In Internet chats and forums, however, Germans rarely use Sie, although there are exceptions. Sometimes, switching back to Sie is used as a method of distancing oneself from the addressee. The connotation is slightly ironic courtesy.

When speaking to more than one person in formal situations, Sie is used in standard German, although ihr can often be heard instead, especially in the South of Germany.

In northern Germany, there is an intermediate address combining Sie with the first name ("Hamburger Sie"), whereas in the Berlin region, sometimes Du is combined with the surname ("Berliner Du"). The former usage also occurs when addressing teenagers, household staff, or guests of TV or radio programs, while the latter style is usually considered inferior and mainly occurs in working class environments. It may be associated with professional contexts, when colleagues have known one another for a long time, but, e. g. due to differences of status, do not want to switch to the usual Du style.

Generally it can be said that everyone up to the age of sixteen can be addressed as du without problems, with a tendency to start addressing children with Sie at the age of fourteen in East Germany, while West Germans tend towards delaying this until the teens are 18. In most circumstances, adults should at first always be called Sie. However there are many exceptions; for instance, university students nowadays always address each other with du (except for some fraternities who deliberately adopt a so-called 'Siez-Comment'), as do members of the parties on the political left. Children and teenagers are expected to address all adults who are not family members as Sie. Street and similar social workers will usually, sports clubs trainers will sometimes tell children and teens to address them with du. In shops, bars, and other establishments, if they target a younger audience, it is becoming increasingly common for customers and staff to address each other as du, to the degree that it is sometimes considered awkward if a waitress and a customer who are both in their twenties call each other Sie.

Usage varies in the German-speaking world when addressing a group containing both du and Sie persons from the speaker's point of view. Some speakers use the informal plural ihr, others prefer the formal Sie and many, concerned that both pronouns might cause offence, prefer to use circumlocutions which avoid either pronoun.

In Germany, an old custom (called Bruderschaft trinken, drinking brotherhood) involves two friends formally sharing a bottle of wine or drinking a glass of beer together to celebrate their agreement (initially proposed by the elder or socially higher-standing of the two, or by the lady to the gentleman) to call one another du rather than Sie. This custom has also been adopted among the Swiss-French of the Jura, and in Poland (called by its German name, bruderszaft), though the custom in Poland is now slowly disappearing. It was formerly found also in Sweden.

It is also a custom to propose the use of du rather than Sie by stating one's first name (as in: Ich heiße...). One accepts the proposal by introducing one's own first name. Should a person later forget that they have adopted du, it is polite to remind them by saying, Wir waren doch per Du (We moved on to 'du' terms).

Historical predecessors: Ihr and Er/Sie

Ihr, capitalized, was formerly used in addressing social superiors, unless more informal relations had been established. This form is still found today in some dialects as a respectful way of addressing elders.

Er (male) or Sie (female), capitalized, was similarly used in the second person to address a social inferior, as a master addressing a servant, but is now obsolete, except in the Northeast, where it sometimes replaces Sie as formal address.

Both Ihr and Er/Sie go by a similar grammar rule pertaining to the verb used with these addresses as modern Sie. The dated capitalized address Ihr demands the same verb form as the modern second person plural pronoun ihr, and dated Er/Sie demands the same verb form as the modern third person singular er and sie.

Greek

In Greek, sy (σύ) was originally the singular, and hymeis (υμείς) the plural, with no distinction for honorific or familiar. Paul addressed King Agrippa II as sy (Acts 26:2). Later, hymeis and hēmeis (ημείς) ("we") became too close in pronunciation, and a new plural eseis (εσείς) was invented. The e (ε) of esy (εσύ) is a euphonic prefix. In Modern Greek, εσείς (esis, second person plural) with second person plural verb conjugation is used as the formal counterpart of εσύ (esi, second person singular) when talking to strangers and elders. Although in everyday life it is somehow common to speak to strangers of your age or younger than you using the singular pronoun. In addition, the informal second person singular is used even with older people you are acquainted with. Since the formal εσείς (esis) starts getting less common outside schools and workplaces, many people often do not know which form to use (because using a formal version might sound too snobbish even to an elder and using the informal version might sound inappropriate to some strangers) and thus prefer to substitute verbs with nouns (avoiding the dilemma) until enough information on the counterpart's intentions is gathered in order to use either the formal or the informal second person pronoun and verb conjugation.

The modern social custom when using the Greek language in Greece is to ask the other person "may we speak in the singular?" in which the other person is expected to answer "yes" and afterwards the discussion continues using the informal εσύ (esy, literally thou but in modernity you); it is unthinkable for the other person to answer "no" or show preference for plural forms, and for this reason one should not make this question to a person of high status, such as a professional. Therefore, asking this question can itself be considered a form of disrespect in some social situations. Likewise, not asking this question and simply using εσύ without prior explicit or implicit agreement would also be considered disrespectful in various other social contingencies. In other cases, even using the formal εσείς (without a question) could also be considered offensive. A similar social custom exists with the words κύριε (mister) and κυρία (miss/madame) which can show both respect and a form of "virtual respect" which essentially communicates a weak disapproval or "call for return to civility", often depending on the voice intonation and the social situation.

Hebrew

In Hebrew, there is a T-V distinction used in very formal speech only and only to people of higher authority (for example, a lawyer addressing a judge) or when speaking to rabbis. The second person singular "אתה" (ata, masculine) or "את" (at, feminine) are the usual form of address in most other situations.

The formal form of address when speaking to a person of higher authority is the third person singular using the person's title without the use of the pronoun. Thus, a rabbi could be asked: "כבוד הרב ירצה לאכול?" (would the honorable rabbi like to eat?) or a judge told: "כבוד השופט דן בבקשתי" (his honor the judge is considering my request).

Other persons of authority are normally addressed by their title only, rather than by name. In school, teachers are normally addressed as "המורה" (the teacher), for instance, "המורה, אפשר לצאת?" (the teacher, may I go out?"). Officers and commanders in the army are addressed as "המפקד" (hamfaked, "the commander") by commandeers.

In non-Hebrew-speaking Jewish culture, the second-person form of address is similarly avoided in cases of higher authority (e.g., a student in a yeshiva would be far more likely to say in a classroom discussion "yesterday the rabbi told us..." than "yesterday you told us..."). However, this usage is limited to more conservative (i.e. Orthodox) circles.

Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu)

In both versions of Hindustani, there are three levels of honorifics:

  • आप آپ āp/[αːp]: Formal and respectable form for you. Used in all formal settings and speaking to persons who are senior in job or age. No difference between the singular and the plural; plural reference can, however, be indicated by the use of "you people" (आप लोग آپ لوگ āp log)) or "you all" (आप सब آپ سب āp sab).
  • तुम تُم tum/[tum]: Informal form of you. Used in all informal settings and speaking to persons who are junior in job or age. No difference between the singular and the plural; plural reference can, however, be indicated by the use of "you people" (तुम लोग تُم لوگ tum log) or "you all" (तुम सब تُم سب tum sab).
  • तू تُو tū/[tuː]: Extremely informal form of you, as thou. Strictly singular, its plural form would be तुम تُم tum. Inappropriate use of this form — i.e. other than in addressing children, very close friends, or in poetic language (either with God or with lovers) — risks being perceived as offensive in Pakistan or India.

Hungarian

Hungarian provides numerous, often subtle means of T-V distinction:

The use of the second-person conjugation with the pronoun te (plural ti) is the most informal mode. As in many other European languages, it is used within families, among children, lovers, close friends, (nowadays often) among coworkers, and in some communities, suggesting an idea of brotherhood. Adults unilaterally address children this way, and it is the form used in addressing God, animals, and objects or ideas. Sociologically, the use of this form is widening. Whereas traditionally the switch to te is often a symbolic milestone between people, sometimes sealed by drinking a glass of wine together ("pertu"), today people under the age of about thirty will often mutually adopt te automatically in informal situations. A notable example is the Internet: strangers meeting online use the informal forms of address virtually exclusively, regardless of age or status differences; even Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány encouraged people in his blog to use te mutually when asking him. (A slang term for someone using formal speech in, for example, a chat room is an "Inönrnet", which is "te", informal "you", replaced with "Ön", formal "you", in the word "Internet".) IKEA (or rather, its Hungarian team) was noted and practically unique in its choice of this way of addressing people in Hungary in its brochures; reactions were mixed.

Nevertheless, formal forms of address are alive and well in Hungarian:

  • The third-person verb conjugation is the primary basis of formal address. The choice of which pronoun to use, however, is fraught with difficulty (and indeed a common solution when in doubt is to simply avoid using any pronoun at all).
    • The pronoun maga (plural maguk), for instance, is considered the basic formal equivalent of "you", but may not be used indiscriminately, as it tends to imply an existing or desired personal acquaintance. (It would not, for instance, ordinarily be used in a conversation where the relative social roles are predominantly important – say, between professor and student.) Typical situations where maga might be used are, e.g., distant relatives, neighbours, fellow travellers on the train, or at the hairdresser's. If one already knows these people, they may even take offence if one were to address them more formally. On the other hand, some urbanites tend to avoid maga, finding it too rural, old-fashioned, offensive or even intimate.
    • Ön (plural Önök) is the formal, official and impersonal "you". It is the form used when people take part in a situation merely as representatives of social roles, where personal acquaintance is not a factor. It is thus used in institutions, business, bureaucracy, advertisements, by broadcasters, by shopkeepers to their customers, and whenever one wishes to maintain one's distance. It is less typical of rural areas or small towns, more typical of cities.
    • Other pronouns are nowadays rare, restricted to rural, jocular, dialect, or old-fashioned speech. Such are, for instance, kend and kegyed.
    • There is a wide spectrum of third-person address that avoids the above pronouns entirely; preferring to substitute various combinations of the addressee’s names and/or titles. Thus, for instance, a university student might ask mit gondol X. tanár úr? ("What does Professor X. think?", meant for the addressee) rather than using the insufficiently formal maga or the overly impersonal Ön. (Note that it is possible because the formal second-person conjugation of verbs is the same as the third-person conjugation.)
  • Finally, the auxiliary verb tetszik (lit. "It pleases [you]") is an indirect alternative (or, perhaps, supplement) to direct address with the third or even second person. It is very polite (sometimes seen as over-polite) but not as formal as the Ön/maga form. Children usually address adults outside their family this way. Adults may address more distant relatives, housekeepers and older persons using this form, and some men habitually address older or younger women this way (this is slightly old-fashioned).

Example: "you" in the nominative
"Will you be leaving tomorrow?"
Example: "you" in the accusative
"I saw you yesterday on the television."
Te (Te) holnap utazol el? Láttalak tegnap a tévében.
Maga (Maga) holnap utazik el? Láttam magát tegnap a tévében.
Ön (Ön) önt
(A) Tanár úr* (a) Tanár urat*
Tetszik Holnap tetszik elutazni? Láttam tegnap (a) Mari nénit** a tévében.
OR Láttam magát tegnap a tévében.

* "Tanár úr" is a form of addressing for professors (cf. "Sir"); "tanár urat" is the accusative. Other forms of addressing are also possible, to avoid specifying the maga and ön pronouns.
** "Mari nénit" is an example name in the accusative (cf. "Aunt Mary").

Icelandic

In modern Icelandic the formal second person pronoun (þér or Þér for both singular and plural) is archaic. Today, it is used only on rare occasions when one intends to be extremely formal or when one wants to treat another person with contempt, or create/maintain distance between the parties. The formal pronoun is sometimes used in translations from a language that adheres to them, in formalized official correspondence and court proceedings. Some phrases such as excuse me (afsakið mig) and good appetite (gjöri þér svo vel) are still commonly used with the formal second person pronoun and traditional sayings such as seek and you shall find (leitið og þér munið finna).

Ido

In theory tu is limited to friends and family, whereas vu is used anywhere else. However, many users actually adapt the practice in their own mother tongue and use tu and vu accordingly. In the plural, though, the only form in use is vi, which does not distinguish between formal and informal address.

In all cases, an -n is added to the original pronoun to indicate a direct object that precedes its own verb: Me amoras tu (I love you) becomes Tun me amoras if the direct object takes the first place, for example for emphatic purposes.

Italian

In Italian the formal second person singular pronoun is lei, which means "she", with the third person singular of the verb. The lei is sometimes capitalized as a sign of respect, particularly in administrative or business correspondence; if the pronoun is capitalized, so are all its forms, including the enclitics: "...vorrei incontrarLa per parlarGliene" "...I should like to meet you to talk to you about this".
It is also possible to use Ella as a very polite alternative, but this is very rarely used and is perceived as archaic or snobbish, since in Italian egli ("he"), essi ("they") and especially ella ("she") have fallen out of common use, being replaced by lui ("him"), loro ("them") and lei ("her").
For the background to the use of "her" as a polite pronoun, see the section "History" below.

Lei is nowadays generally concorded with the gender of the addressee; it might actually not be present in sentences as Italian is not subject-compulsory, and is then understood by the verb being conjugated in the third person.

  • "Have you ever been in Rome?"
    • "[Lei] è mai stato a Roma?" (-o: to a male)
    • "[Lei] è mai stata a Roma?" (-a: to a female. But this can also be addressed to a male, in a very formal style).

The polite plural form Loro ("them"), followed by a verb in the third plural person, is rarely used nowadays; voi is normally used both in informal and formal contexts when addressing more than one person. The main situation where Loro might still be heard is in restaurants, because many waiters still use this form to address customers.

  • "What do you wish to eat?"
    • "Che cosa desiderate mangiare?" (voi is understood)
    • "Che cosa desiderano mangiare?" (loro is understood)

Voi ("you", plural) might be used by some speakers instead of lei, especially in Southern Italy, but it sounds old-fashioned. When it is addressed respectfully to one person, the pronoun voi is used with singular adjectives and participles, concorded with the gender of the addressee, although the verbs are still in the second person plural form.

Lei is normally used in formal settings, or with strangers, and it is used reciprocally between adults: the usage may not be reciprocal when young people address older strangers or otherwise respected people.
Students are addressed with tu by their teachers until the end of high school, and with lei in universities. Students might say tu to their teachers in elementary school, but switch to lei in middle and high school. Currently, people tend to address strangers of their own age using the informal tu until about thirty years of age. Tu is also the pronoun of first choice to address strangers on the Internet.
In prayers, tu is nowadays used; in the past, voi was a possible alternative.
There's a wide range of possible forms on instruction booklets: tu, lei and voi (the last intended as a plural pronoun) are all acceptable; instructions may also be given in an impersonal way using verbs in the infinitive form, thus avoiding the problem of choosing a personal pronoun. In advertisements, companies usually address their customers using tu: lei sounds too distant, tu suggests a closer relationship between the company and its customers.
In administrative correspondence and on very formal invitations, la S.V. may be written instead of the pronoun lei: "La S.V. è invitata...". The abbreviation stands for la Signoria Vostra "Your Lordship/Ladyship", which is the historical basis for the use of the third person feminine pronoun (see also below).

History

At the beginning of its history, in the Middle Ages, the Italian language had a tu/voi distinction of formality, as with other Romance languages; in his Divine Comedy (begun in 1307), Dante normally uses tu when talking to the people he meets, but addresses them with voi when he means to show particular respect, for example to his former teacher ("Siete voi qui, ser Brunetto?").

During the Renaissance the use of lei as a polite pronoun began, with some subsequent influence from Spanish; the origin of lei is due to expressions as "Your Lordship/Eminence/Majesty/Holiness/...", where all of these nouns were feminine in gender (Vostra Signoria/Eminenza/Maestà/Santità/...) and referred to in the third person singular.

For a few centuries (possibly from the 16th century to the beginning of the 20th century) there was a three-pronoun system in use, with tu/voi/lei employed with a growing degree of formality; this was very well exemplified in Manzoni's novel The Betrothed (written in 1840-42 and set in 1628-30), where the characters talk using all three pronouns: the usage was often not reciprocal, with several combinations based on age and social status.

In 1938, under Fascist rule, the use of lei was banned on nationalistic grounds, since the use of voi was thought of as "more Italian"; the ban lasted only for a few years, until the end of World War II, and left little trace. However, in some parts of Italy, particularly in Southern Italy, voi had always been preferred as the polite form and continued to be used regionally, while lei definitely prevailed as the standard V-form.

Japanese

In Japanese, as in Vietnamese, kinship terms, titles, or names are commonly used instead of first-, second- or third-person pronouns. As in Korean, there are several levels of politeness regarding to social hierarchy, and polite language encompasses not only pronouns, but verb endings and vocabulary as well. (See the articles Japanese pronouns and Honorific speech in Japanese for more information.)

Korean

Much like Japanese, the Korean language has complex gradations. It uses honorifics and no less than seven speech levels, each with a singular/plural distinction, making for fourteen basic verb stems. Nevertheless, most levels have all but disappeared from everyday language, so one can simplify this into the basic distinction between plain and polite conjugations of verbs and adjectives. In general, the plain form is used when speaking to family, close friends, and social inferiors, and the polite form otherwise. When two Korean-speaking strangers meet where none is the obvious social superior, both use the polite form; when it is determined that one or both can switch to the plain form, one often asks for permission for this switch. The phrase used to describe this is mareul nota (literally “to release language”). In Korean, the polite form is called jondaenmal and the plain form is called yesanmal or banmal. In contrast to the neutral term yesanmal, banmal (literally “half speech”) often has a rather negative connotation, referring for instance to the plain form that one may deliberately use to provoke someone who should be addressed in the polite form.

There is a similar phenomenon called nopimmal, which is honorific speech triggered not by the addressee but by the content of an expression. It is used independently of the speech levels. For example, in -hasimnida “do(es) …”, the speaker uses the infix -si- to honour the subject of the sentence and the ending -mnida to express courtesy or politeness (or simply his distance) towards the addressee. As the subject of the sentence and the addressee do not have to be the same person both forms can be mixed. The speaker can honour a higher person he is talking about with the infix -si- while talking to a friend who is addressed in the informal banmal.

Lithuanian

Historically, aside from familiar tu and respectful jūs or Jūs, also used to express plural, there was a special form tamsta, mostly referred to in third person singular (although referring in second person singular is also not uncommon). This form was used to communicate with a stranger who has not earned particular respect (a beggar, for example). Through the Soviet occupation period, however, this form was mostly replaced by standard neutral form drauge ('comrade' in vocative form), and by now tamsta is used sparsely.

Malay

As there are many additions to the vocabulary of the Malay language, Standard Malay today is a result of many years of various refinements (the Malay language was never, and is still not, taught in a strictly prescriptive manner).

Norwegian

In Norwegian, the polite form "De" is rarely heard in spoken language. Norwegians almost exclusively use du in their daily life. De is still used in formal situations or when talking to elderly people. De can also be found in written works, business letters, theatrical plays and translations where an impression of formality must be retained. A popular saying is that "De" is reserved for the king.

However, it should be mentioned that Norwegians also generally refer to one another by first name only unless the person is better known by their full or last name only, putting this weakening of the courteous pronoun into a general pattern of declining use of polite speech (for town dwellers), or of a return to traditions of the near past (for country-dwellers). For example, a student might address his professor John Doe, not as "Mr./Dr. Doe", but as "John", but would refer to the president of the US as "Bush", not "George". However, Norwegian politicians and celebrities are sometimes referred to by their first names, especially in newspaper headlines. Nicknames are not very common.

As the distinction between Bokmål and Nynorsk exists only for written Norwegian (Nynorsk writers speaking more or less their respective dialects), the T-V rules are the same for both forms.

Polish

Portuguese

In Brazilian Portuguese, você and vocês (singular and plural "you", respectively) are used as informal addressing, while o senhor and a senhora ("mister" and "mistress", plurals os senhores and as senhoras) stand for formal speech.

In European Portuguese (as well as in Africa and Asia), tu (singular "you") is commonly used as the informal addressing pronoun, while "você" is used in formal or semi-formal situations; vocês (plural) is used for both formal and informal speech. The forms o senhor and a senhora (plurals os senhores and as senhoras) are used for the most formal situations (roughly equivalent to "sir" and "madam").

However, there is considerable regional variation in the use of these terms, and more specific forms of address are sometimes employed.

Historically, você derives from vossa mercê ("your mercy" or "your grace") via the intermediate forms vossemecê and vosmecê; compare with the derivation of Spanish usted from vuestra merced. For that reason, você and vocês require verbs conjugated in the third person, rather than the second person.

The second person plural pronoun vós ("thou"), from Latin vos, has fallen into disuse in all but a few regional dialects of Northern Portugal, where it expresses an intermediate degree of formality between tu and você(s). Its use is kept as an archaism in literature (historical setting), prayer (when addressing a deity) or exaggerated (mocking) ceremonial.

Romanian

Romanian dumneavoastră when used for the second-person singular formal takes plural verbs but singular adjectives, similar to French vous. It is used roughly in the same manner as in Continental French and shows no signs of disappearing. It is also used as a more formal voi. It originates from domnia voastră - your lordship. As it happens with all subjective pronouns dumneavoastră is many times omitted from sentences, its use being implied by verbs in the second person plural form.

The form dumneata (originating from domnia ta - thy lordship) is less distant than dumneavoastră and somewhat midway between tu and dumneavoastră. The verb is conjugated, as for tu, in the second person singular form. Older people towards younger people and peers favor Dumneata. Its use is gradually declining. An even more colloquial form of dumneata is mata.

Furthermore, there is an even more familiar term than "tu" used in some regions of Romania – matale. It is used only with immediate family members, and is spelled and pronounced the same in all cases, similar to "dumneavoastră." It is conjugated in the second-person singular, like "tu."

Russian

Russian distinguishes between familiar ty (ты) and respectful vy (вы), which is used familiar address for several people. (Respectful Vy may be capitalized, while plural vy is not.) Generally, ty is used among friends and relatives, but the usage depends not only on the closeness of the relationship but also on age and the formality of the situation (e.g., work meeting vs. a party). Children always use ty to address each other and are addressed in this way by adults but are taught to address adults with vy. Younger adults typically also address older adults outside the family as vy regardless of intimacy, and may be addressed as ty in return. When talking to each other young people often start with the formal vy when talking to each other but may transition to ty very quickly in an informal situation. Among older people, ty is often reserved for closer acquaintances. Unless there is a substantial difference in age, the choice of the form is symmetric: if A uses ty to address B, then B also uses ty to address A. While people may transition quickly from vy to ty, such transition presumes mutual agreement. Use of ty without consent of the other person is likely to be viewed as poor conduct or even as an insult, particularly if the other party maintains using vy.

Historically, the rules have been in favor of more formal usage; as late as the 19th century, it was accepted in many circles (generally among the more educated) that vy is to be used between close friends, between husband and wife, and when addressing one's parents (but not one's children), all of which situations today would strongly call for using ty.

The choice between ty and vy is closely related, yet sometimes different, from the choice of the addressing format - that is, the selection from the first name, patronymics, last name, and the title to be used when addressing the person. Normally, ty is associated with the informal addressing by first name only (or, even more informally, by the patronymics only), whereas vy is associated with the more formal addressing format of using the first name together with patronymics (roughly analogous to "title followed by last name" in English) or the last name alone or with a title (the last name is almost never used together with either of the other two names to address someone, although such combinations are routinely used to introduce or mention someone).

Scottish Gaelic

The informal form of the second-person singular in Scottish Gaelic is thu (emphatic: thusa), used when addressing a person the speaker knows well, or when addressing a person younger or relatively the same age as the speaker. When addressing a superior, an elder, or a stranger, or in conducting business, the form sibh (emphatic: sibhse) is used. (Sibh is also the second person plural). This distinction carries over into prepositional pronouns: for instance, agad and agaibh (at you), riut and ruibh (with you), umad and umaibh (about you), etc.

Serbian

Use of ti is limited to friends and family, and used among children. In any formal use, vi is used only; ti can be used among peers in a workplace, but rarely in official documents. It is a common misconception even among native speakers to always capitalize Vi when used in formal tone but Vi is capitalized only in direct personal correspondence between two persons.

Spanish

In Spanish, the respectful form requires verbs to be conjugated in the third person singular; this is because the form usted evolved from the title vuestra merced (your grace) which naturally took the third person like the Portuguese você. In some cases, if a younger person speaks to someone who is relatively older, the younger of the pair will address the elder with usted, perhaps combining it with Don. However, an altered form of vuestra merced, su merced (which in colloquial language has been corrupted to sumercé), has survived in the rural areas located in the plateau that surrounds Colombia's capital city, Bogotá.

In most dialects, close friends are referred to as , and venerable old women are usted, but there is a wide grey area in the middle. Even that is not universally true: in the Spanish dialects of some parts of Latin America (for example, in many parts of Colombia and Guatemala, as well as Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico), is almost never used, not even with close friends or relatives, which are usted. Similarly in the Rioplatense Spanish variant used in most of Argentina and Uruguay is generally replaced by vos (see voseo). The use of has its highest prevalence in Spain, as well as Mexico and Peru since these were the administrative centers of the Spanish Empire and so more readily kept up with changes in fashions in Spain (although Mexican and Peruvian Spanish are certainly not identical to the European dialects). Notably the Spanish-speakers in the United States tend to follow Mexican conventions because most are Mexican immigrants or descendants thereof.

The history behind -vos-usted is that for a time all three forms existed in Spain including during the colonization of the Americas. In most of Spain the vos form died out and is now largely regarded as an archaic expression and this attitude has been adopted in most of Mexico, Peru, and other countries. Some countries, like Argentina, have preserved the vos form instead regarding as being the archaic term.

In the plural, Spanish presents the T-form vosotros and the V-form ustedes, which uses verbs in the second and third person plural, respectively. However, only Northern Spain has retained this distinction, while in the Canaries and Latin America, ustedes is the only form used in all contexts. In Andalusia and Extremadura, ustedes is used as well, but combined with the verb forms corresponding to vosotros in standard European Spanish.

Swedish

In Swedish, there has in the last two centuries been a marked difference between usage in Finland-Swedish and in Sweden.

In Finland-Swedish, the second person plural form Ni (noted as formal above) was indeed the traditional respectful address to a single person up to the 1970s or so.

In mainland Swedish, the polite Ni was known from earlier epochs, but had come to be considered somewhat careless, bullying or rude; instead, an intricate system had evolved in order to prudently step around pronouns almost altogether:

  • addressing in third person singular adding title and (second) name was considered proper and respectful in most cases. But with persons of higher standing, say a doctor, count or managing director, there arose the question when to use that title only and when to precede it with a herr ('mister' or, in this connection, 'sir'); not doubling such titles could be very rude unless you were on somewhat informal terms.
    A woman, married to a husband with a specific title, was addressed using the feminine form of her husband's title as a matter of course. This created its own set of problems as more and more women acquired professional titles of their own.
  • If you were somewhat acquainted and not too far apart in rank and age, you could then drop the name and use the title only—with the same problem of single or double title as above.
  • surname without title was considered proper between friends not too close and for a superior to his subordinate or someone of similar rank. That was also customary in male brotherhoods like between students.
  • Below that on the social scale, both among peers and from above, was the third person singular pronoun only (han 'he', less often hon 'she'). That was more usual in the countryside; considered rustic by "educated" people, but fitting towards e.g. an old fisher- or woodman.
  • Simple folks of venerable age could be properly addressed far ('father';less usual) and mor ('mother') plus Christian name, both by their own and by superiors.
    The sex difference in the two addresses above was caused mainly by the hon ('she') being felt as too direct, maybe a covert insult or sign of doubt as to the addressee's decency. If she was a farmwife or the like, she could be called mor etc. even if young; otherwise, one had to make do with the nearest-fitting other way of addressing.
  • A master could address his servant, or a farmer his farmhand, by Christian name for pronoun; that was more common between females, as the female world was generally more confined, but restricted between the sexes unless the social gap was very wide.
  • A subordinate, in each case, answered by using the superior's title or titles or, in private, the informal term for his rank (e.g. herrn, patron).
  • Kinship term plus Christian name, still never alternating with pronoun, was proper in private to nearer older relatives.
  • The second person singular du was used only to and between children, within a married couple, between lovers or to a more or less voluntary mistress of lower standing, and between friends who had druckit duskål ('toasted for thou', as it were; infinitive dricka duskål) with each other—of course initiated by the elder or higher-ranked party. Again, the custom could be somewhat more relaxed among women—at least the toast itself was usually dispensed with. Then, du could be used to insult a tramp or the like.

Parts of this system began to erode around the Second World War or so, but the essentials held up into the 1960s.

In the province of Dalarna (Dalecarlia),however, and in a few other remote places with few upper class people, the du/ni distinction had remained one of number only; possibly, children addressed their parents with far (Father) and mor (Mother) also when du would otherwise have been more logical.
In some other remote places, the ni survived as both second person plural pronoun and polite address—to elders, including one's parents, not classified with "better people"—but in its older form I. In standard Swedish, that form had become archaic and solemn well before the 20th century. (I is always capitalized, not out of respect but to avoid confusion with the preposition i ('in').)

As the twentieth century progressed, this circumlocutive system of addressing, with its innumerable ambiguities and opportunities for unintentional offence, was increasingly felt as a nuisance. An early way out was to carry the circumlocutions one-degree further—finding impersonal ways of saying what was needful, avoiding both personal pronoun and title. (Får det lov att vara en kopp kaffe?, approximately 'Would a cup of coffee be allowed, please?'; Så det är till att resa?, approximately 'So, it is about travelling?'). However, that soon proved of little avail. For one thing, you still had to address the person you talked with directly from time to time in the conversation, otherwise you would really have sounded impolite—and over time, it became de rigueur to do so more and more often, until it was a system with both longish titles used instead of personal pronouns and impersonal circumlocutions; and for another, the impersonal constructions soon acquired their own gradations, to be observant upon—e.g., that in the second example above being perceived as more and more rustic, ending up rude.
Then in the 'sixties, things happened fast. First, authorities and influential circles tried rehabilitating the Ni in a so-called "ni reform"—but most people could not bring themselves to feel civil using that. Then, almost overnight and dubbed the "du reform", the system broke down and

  • du (noted as informal above) became the accepted way of addressing any one person except royalty.
  • Only slightly less accepted is the use of Christian name also when addressing an unknown person (Daniel, Pia, etc.). Some people try to avoid the name altogether when speaking to an unknown (older) person, a representative of authority or the like, but the pronoun is still du.
  • Addressing royalty went somewhat more slowly from a universal Ers majestät ('Your Majesty'), etc., to that address only on formal occasions, otherwise replaced by third person (singular if the addressee is single) with title (K(on)ungen 'the King', etc.).


These rules still apply, with marginal exceptions.

In a few circles of younger people, mostly in the larger cities, the use of the extinct Ni for polite address has gained ground again—notably among some shop assistants and waiters for addressing customers in shops and guests in restaurants.. It may also occur that a young person cannot bring him- or herself to address a venerable (and perhaps upper-class) old person du, and then takes recourse to the ni. In addition, Ni has become a fashionable address in some circles of younger businessmen. But whether this is a fashion, coquettery on some parts, a sign of uncertainty in a time of social change, or a beginning of something, is much too early to say. The vast majority of Swedes, including younger people in most or all situations, stick to the du as of this writing (2007).

In order to "alleviate the intrusion" in writing, e.g. in letters or in advertisement, the Du can be capitalized. That usage was most widespread in the early days of universal du address; it has become slightly more common again simultaneously with the partial Ni revival.

Finland-Swedish has undergone a similar development to mainland Swedish since the 1960s, but slower and slightly less. There, one may have to reckon with influence from the Finnish language, still slightly more conservative.

Swedish, also, has verbs for the addresses: dua 'to say du ', and nia 'to say ni '.

Thai

In Thai, first, second, and third person pronouns vary in formality according to the social standing of the speaker and the referent and the relationship between them. For a non-exhaustive list of Thai second person pronouns, see http://www.into-asia.com/thai_language/grammar/you.php.

Turkish

In contemporary Turkish, T-V distinction is strong. Friends and family members speak to one another using the second singular person "sen" as well as adults use "sen" to address minors. In formal situations (meeting people first time, business, customer-clerk, colleagues) second plural "siz" is used widely. In very formal situations, double plural second person "sizler" may be used to refer to a much-respected person. Rarely, third plural conjugation of the verb (but not the pronoun) may be used to emphasize utmost respect. In imperative, there are three forms: second singular person for informal, second plural person for formal and double plural second person for very formal situations: "gel" (second singular, informal), "gelin" (second plural, formal), "geliniz" (double second plural, very formal). The very formal forms are not frequently used.

Ubykh

In the extinct Ubykh language, the T-V distinction was most notable between a man and his mother-in-law, where the plural form sʸæghʷa supplanted the singular wæghʷa very frequently, possibly under the influence of Turkish. The distinction was upheld less frequently in other relationships, but did still occur.

Uyghur

The Uyghur language is notable for using four different forms, to distinguish both singular and plural in both formal and informal registers. The informal plural silär originated as a contraction of sizlär, which uses a regular plural ending. In Old Turkic, as still in modern Turkish, siz was the original second-person plural. However, in modern Uyghur siz has become restricted to the formal singular, requiring the plural suffix -lär for the plurals.

Siz as the formal singular pronoun is characteristic of Ürümchi dialect, which is the Uyghur literary standard. In Turfan they say sili and in Kashgar dialect, özlär. Sili is also used in other areas sometimes, while in literary Uyghur özlär as a singular pronoun is considered a "hyperdeferential" level of respect; the deferential plural form is härqaysiliri.

Vietnamese

Vietnamese does not have a clear concept of pronouns. Any noun can be used to refer to people, especially kinship terms. Pronouns are sometimes not needed in a normal conversation, as the speaker can always refer to him/herself, the audience, and others directly by name, which might seem strange to English speakers. The nouns used to refer to people can reveal not only the level of formality, but also the social relationship between the speaker and the person being referred to, differences in age, and even the attitude of the speaker toward the person whom is being referred.

There is an informal second-person pronoun: mày. This term is always condescending and should only be used with someone who is both familiar with and subordinate to the speaker. Young people also utilize it frequently.

Related verbs, nouns and pronouns

Some languages have a verb to describe the fact of using either a T or a V form. Some also have a related noun or pronoun.

T verb V verb T noun V noun
Bulgarian (говоря/съм)на "ти" (govorya/sam)na "ti" (говоря/съм)на "Вие" (govorya/sam)na "Vie" на "ти" na "ti"(more like adverb) на "Вие" na "Vie"(more like adverb)
Catalan tutejar/tractar de tú/vós tractar de vostè
Czech tykat vykat tykání vykání
Danish dutte
Dutch tutoyeren, jij/jouwen vouvoyeren tutoyeren vouvoyeren
English to thou thouing
Esperanto ciumi, "ci"-diri *viumi, "vi"-diri ciumado viumado
Estonian sinatama teietama
Finnish sinutella teititellä sinuttelu teitittely
French tutoyer voussoyer tutoiement voussoiement
Frisian (West) dookje jookje dookjen jookjen
German duzen siezen Duzen Siezen
Hungarian tegez magáz tegezés magázás
Icelandic þúa þéra þúun þérun
Italian dare del tu dare del Lei
Korean mareul nota; banmalhada
Lithuanian tujinti ''tujinimas
Polish mówić per ty
tykać (humorous)
mówić per pan/pani mówienie per ty mówienie per pan/pani
Portuguese tutear - tuteio -
Romanian a tutui a spune „dumneavoastră” tutuire plural de politeţe
Russian тыкать (tykat') выкать (vykat') тыканье (tykanie) выканье (vykanie)
Serbian не персирати (ne persirati),
бити на ти (biti na ti)
персирати (persirati),
бити на ви (biti na vi)
неперсирање (nepersiranje) персирање (persiranje)
Slovak tykať vykať tykanie vykanie
Slovene tikati vikati tikanje vikanje
Spanish tutear tratar de usted tuteo
Swedish dua nia duande niande
Turkish senli benli olmak/konuşmak sizli bizli olmak/konuşmak senli benli olmak/konuşmak) sizli bizli olma/konuşmak
Ukrainian тикати (tykaty),
казати "ти" (kazaty "ty")
викати (vykaty),
казати "ви" (kazaty "vy")
тикання (tykannia),
звертання на ти (zvertannia na ty)
викання (vykannia),
звертання на ви (zvertannia na vy)
Welsh tydïo tydïo
Yiddish דוצן (dutsn)
זײַן אױף דו (zayn af du)
אירצן (irtsn)
זײַן אױף איר (zayn af ir)

References

  • Brown, R. and A. Gilman (1960) "The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity" in American Anthropologist 4 (6): 24-39. Also found in Language and Social Context: Selected Readings, ed. by P. Giglioli (1972), ISBN 0-140-13303-8, pp. 252-282.
  • Chatelain, E. (1880) "Du pluriel de respect en latin". Revue de Philologie IV (April 1880): 129–139.
  • On-line Middle English grammar (PDF file)
  • Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, The. New York, Oxford University Press, 1971.

Notes

See also

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