I know that when asking a favor from an adult that I am unfamiliar with, such as asking for directions, I should start with "Entschuldigen Sie..." but should I use the formal form when I am, for example, just trying to pass someone while walking?

Should I always say "Entschuldigen Sie" rather than simply "Entschuldigung" when dealing with people I don't know?


It depends. If you directly address a person, you'd use Entschuldigen (not: Entschuldigung) Sie. Yes, if you are not on familiar terms with them you'll usually use Sie, i.e. the polite form. (The usual exceptions, like students among each other, fellow sports(wo)men, adults addressing small children etc. apply, of course. The corresponding du-form would be "Entschuldige", interestingly without the "du".)

In this case it's easy to avoid the whole issue, though, by simply using "Entschuldigung" (or "Verzeihung"), i.e. the nominative. Matter of fact, if you don't want to strike up a conversation, i.e. you're simply passing someone by, stepped on their toes or whatnot, a simple "Entschuldigung" would be slightly more idiomatic, I think. "Entschuldige / Entschuldigen Sie" is really more like "Excuse me".

  • 2
    The correct polite expression is Entschuldingen Sie bitte,.... In addition we use Entschuldigung,.. for both sorry and excuse me. The last sentence of your post may be confusing without pointing out on that. – Takkat Aug 12 '14 at 6:32
  • 1
    I think, excuse me is used in both situations. – Carsten S Aug 12 '14 at 7:32
  • 3
    I disagree with the need to add bitte. It's certainly not wrong, but "Entschuldigen Sie, ist das der Weg zum Bahnhof?" (to give a random example) is perfectly fine in my opinion. – Ingmar Aug 12 '14 at 7:33
  • 1
    @Ingmar: I do realize that most Germans are too lazy for bitte but whenever we want to be polite we still need it. In most cases however we hear just Entschuldigung,.. or Verzeihung,... (without Sie). Of course there is no need to be polite ;) – Takkat Aug 12 '14 at 8:41
  • 2
    @Takkat You only need bitte if it's a verb. "Ich bitte vielmals um Verzeihung". In any other case, it's superfluous. You occasionally say it; I've never omitted or inserted it intentionally. – Em1 Aug 12 '14 at 9:39

While they are generally mostly the same, "Entschuldigen Sie, [bitte]..." is orders of magnitude more polite than "Entschuldigung...". You will normally use the former if you want something from the other person, such as when asking for the way or asking for a small favor.

The single word "Entschuldigung" is not truly impolite, but it is much closer to yelling "Hey, you!" at someone. Which is however still appropriate, for example when you address someone who just left the café and left his wallet on the table without noticing.

"Entschuldigung" is sometimes even used, especially by elder ladies, as in "Entschuldigung!" (note the exclamation mark) while they accidentially-deliberately hit you with their elbow or run you over with their trolley in the supermarket because they felt you were in their way.

Yet another shade of grey a bit darker, we get to "Entschuldigen Sie mal..." or "Entschuldige mal [... du Depp]", which best translates to "Hey, what the hell...". It's something you would use if, for example, someone took your spot in the waiting line while you didn't pay attention for a second.

  • Orders of magnitude more polite, huh? I don't quite agree. It will always depend on the circumstances, the way you voice it, your exact choice of words, etc. I can use Entschuldigen Sie, bitte in a very sarcastic way, insultingly even (Entschuldigen Sie, bitte, so geht das nicht!) and vice versa (Entschuldigung, könnten Sie mir vielleicht kurz helfen?) If there really is a difference (not sure, actually) it's a small one. – Ingmar Aug 12 '14 at 16:13
  • @Ingmar: Sure, there is no single word or expression that you can't pronounce cynically. But in the concrete example, it's the same difference as between "Wo geht's zum Bahnhof?!" and "Könnten Sie mir bitte sagen, wie ich zum Bahnhof komme?". Even though the latter is technically incorrect (asking the wrong question), and some people will likely reply with nothing but "Ja." (very funny. indeed), it is a million times more polite. – Damon Aug 12 '14 at 20:21
  • How do you measure politeness? – Carsten S Aug 12 '14 at 21:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.