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I was part of an email exchange that included a group of professionals—some of whom know each other quite well and use "Du" with one another, and some of whom do not.

One of the respondents on the list used "Du," "Dir," and "Dich" in a reply that was cc'd to the entire list. Is this considered an acceptable practice? (Assuming that I am on a "Du" basis with some of them, but not all of them, of course.) Or is it better to use "Sie" with everybody in such a circumstance, regardless of the mutual decision to use "Du" with the recipient?

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I hadn't either, until I saw it in the email and thought, "Huh, this is strange." –  aeismail Mar 7 '12 at 8:00
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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

To find a solution to this problem we may have to consider our intentions when writing an e-mail to more than one recipient.

Case 1: We just inform others about an ongoing conversation

In this case we should write to the recipient as we would do in a single conversation. The 'cc' then is like a real carbon copy of any paper letter. Of course we address the recipient the way we always do, using "Du" in case we are close.

Case 2: We write a letter to all but need a person as main recipient

We may want to choose a formal address using "Sie" when a letter addresses several people. This also implies that we do not address anybody with their name but choose a wider formula like "Sehr geehrte Kollegen,", "Liebe Mitarbeiter,", or the like.

Case 3: We want to hide close relationships

Sometimes we may not want to disclose a close relationship to all. Then it would be perfectly fine to address the recipient using a formal "Sie". The person would most likely know why you did that and thus would not be embarrassed at all.

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I think this is quite normal, especially as "du" gets more and more common even in business settings. I've heard "du" even in quite formal settings like award ceremonies (often together with a short explanation by the host).

Consider that offerring the "du" might be an important step of a relationship, demonstrating a new level of acceptance, respect, friendship or trust. Falling back to "Sie" just because others are present might feel awkward, hypocritical, or even insulting, depending on the context.

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I experienced exactly the opposite.

There are people that may know each other intimately (and therefore use "du") but address each other with "sie" when others are around. My prime example is that of a student knowing his or her tutor well but still using "sie" when in class.

In my experienced cases I have to confirm Landei's statement that this usually is awkward for the addressee (although I wouldn't be so harsh to call it hypocritical but that's me), especially so when there are not that many people around and it is "public knowledge" that the two know each other well.

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The case you are describing, that you address people with whom you are on a "Du" basis and only have others which are not in that category under CC, then it's perfectly valid to address the main recipents as "Du".

It gets more complicated, if you have some main recipents on a "Du" basis, and some not. I constantly have this in my projects, where I usually am quickly "per du" with the engineers, but not with the managers. And if I need to communicate to both, it's not easy. In the headline, I can use something like

Hallo Herr Müller, hallo Klaus, ...

But within the text I usually try to avoid the direct addressing or - in case you are in closer contact with them - use "Ihr", allthough this belongs to the "Du" category.

At a side note, it also depends on the topic. For example in our company we are all "per du" even with the CEO. But if I get an official information from him, for example concerning my contract, I am always addressed as

Sehr geehrter Herr...

But always when having to deal with such problems - I constantly wish we hadn't that damn thing in our language... ;-)

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