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Other than e.g. in France an academic grade or title is still widely used in German speaking regions. I observe that in letters the title is mostly used. But in conversations a person may be addressed differently:

1. Both, title and name

"Herr Dr. Müller, schön dass Sie gekommen sind!"

2. With the title only

"Frau Doktor, darf ich Ihnen noch etwas anbieten?"

3. The title is not used

"Herr Müller wird heute von seiner Reise erzählen"

With Professor and Professor Dr. this is similar but the title seems to be used far more often.

What would be the appropriate and modern approach for using grades or title in a salutation in conversations or in writing? Are there differences for Germany, Switzerland, Austria, or other German speaking regions?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

In written, formal communication, it's never wrong to use it. If you use the name, you would usually abbreviate the title:

Sehr geehrte Frau Prof. Maier,

if you don't use the name, don't abbreviate:

Sehr geehrte Frau Professor,

In oral communication in Germany, it becomes more hazy, and is subject to many subtleties. It depends extremely on context and target audience.

In my experience, most modern, young holders of academic titles are very relaxed and approachable people. It's the 21st century after all. They derive no sense of superiority from their title, and will often even refuse to be called by it, finding it ridiculous.

However, older or very class-aware individuals who see themselves elevated to a higher caste by their title may be insulted if you omit it.

It really depends on what kind of person you are dealing with, your relationship with them, and the setting.

  • On a very formal, high-level party to which you and your counterpart are invited in some professional function, using the title is never wrong.

  • In a professional setting where the person's title is relevant (say, in a hospital), older patients will usually use the title; younger ones often won't. I never call physicians by title as a patient. There is a slight risk of pissing off really stuck-up individuals though. If you are about to receive life-saving heart surgery from a snobby top-notch physician, you may feel compelled to use it. :)

  • In a setting that is completely unrelated to the person's title - say if Dr. Müller is a medical doctor in his mid-thirties, just came back from Africa, took some photos, and is planning to show them in a neighbourhood club setting - it's most likely safe to ignore the title and say "Herr Müller wird heute von seiner Reise erzählen".

Using the academic title is a rather subservient form of addressing someone. If used too strongly or in a context where it's not desired/needed, it will leave a slightly sycophantic impression. Much will be down to your own judgement and what is most important in your situation.

Using the academic title can also be used as a kind of gentle mockery. Da hat der Herr Doktor aber kräftig eingeschenkt! but like with all mockery, if in inter-cultural doubt, make sure you are on safe grounds and know how much humour your counterpart is able to take.

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1  
Very good answer. I agree that in oral conversation it's not easy to choose the appropriate salutation. Some people may even feel a little bit awkward when you use their title. My boss, who is professor, once told me to omit the professor when adressing him. Also in a professional environment where many persons are Dr. and Prof. (a scientific conference, for example) you don't use the titles. –  Deve May 26 '11 at 22:02
    
"never wrong" is wrong, I can easily make up (realistic) scenarios where someone could be... maybe not insulted, but irritated, at you using a title. –  Jürgen A. Erhard May 26 '11 at 22:14
    
@jae you mean when talking to former defense ministers? :) Seriously though, if you have a correction, fire away –  Pekka 웃 May 26 '11 at 22:17
    
What a brilliant answer! 21st century it is. –  Takkat May 27 '11 at 6:06

I can answer for Switzerland and the habits at the university. In letters or emails use the titles and the name:

Sehr geehrte Frau Prof. Dr. xy

In conversations you do not use the title:

Guten Tag Frau xy.

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When introducing people (unless it's in a private context), I'd say it is a necessity to use the full name including the academic title:

"Herr Dr. Müller wird heute von seiner Reise erzählen"

But once introduced, I'd refer to him as "Herr Müller" (perhaps using "Herr Dr. Müller" on every nth repetition out of politeness, where n will greatly vary depending on factors like age, fame etc.)

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I like the 'n'-factor - that's exactly the point (and problem). –  Takkat May 27 '11 at 6:08

In a letter or an e-mail always use all the titles and the name. Example:

Sehr geehrter Herr Prof. Dr. Know-It-All,

When adressing someone orally, only use the most important title like:

Guten Tag, Frau Professor!

This is how you adress people in and around Saxony. I don't know how they do it in Switzerland or Austria, though. Maybe someone from around there could enlighten us.

Cheers.

EDIT: Do not include academic grades below Dr. in a salutation. That is: a Bachelor, Master or whatever is still only adressed as ,,Herr''

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Yup, don't include grades, because they're grades, not titles. ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard May 26 '11 at 22:24
    
@jae: hehe, right! –  sl0815 May 26 '11 at 23:59
    
“When adressing someone orally” … I disagree. Calling somebody “Professor” or “Doktor” without using their name sounds very stilted, and, while technically the correct etiquette, is very rare (at least in north Germany). You’d normally use title only in conjunction with their name, if at all. –  Konrad Rudolph May 27 '11 at 13:09
    
@Konrad Rudolph: Well, everyone does it like so 'round here. –  sl0815 May 27 '11 at 13:16

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