7

I understand that

Wie geht’s?

is a shortened form of

Wie geht es dir?

where the es becomes contracted and the dir is omitted. However, this can only be used with close friends where du is OK. What if you are greeting someone with whom you need to use Sie? Can the same expression be used or do you have to use the longer and not contracted expression

Wie geht es Ihnen?

I think it’s possible that using a shortened expression may be less polite than using the entire thing but this is that’s a different question.

  • 2
    Actually, Wie geht's is not a short for Wie geht es dir but a short for Wie geht es. And that makes it informal enough that you should not use it in formal situations. – Thorsten Dittmar Jun 16 '15 at 11:38
9

The casual contraction wie geht's does not have any personal pronouns. It can therefore mean all of the following:

Wie geht es dir/Ihnen/euch?

It is indeed possible to ask someone "Wie geht's" even if you address them with "Sie" otherwise.

Still, whenever we need to be formal or polite we may not want to leave the impression of being casual. To be on the safe side we then may better ask "Wie geht es Ihnen?" (even though being asked "Wie geht's" is likely not being perceived as disrespectful) or do not ask this at all. We have to keep in mind that asking this in a formal setting is by far not as common as it is in English. It may lead to some confusion if the answer was different to "Danke, gut" but you were not at all prepared to talk about the other person's well-being.

As a rule of thumb we may use the casual form if we had met the person several times before, or are in an otherwise not too formal relationship.

Examples:

  • Neighbours meet: "Hallo Herr Maier, wie geht's?"
  • A medical doctor asks you: "Guten Tag Frau Müller, wie geht's heute?"
  • We are at work where the "Du" was discouraged for some reason (e.g.by corporate policy).

On the other hand we can also ask close friends or family members with the long un-contracted version.

Wie geht es dir?

This may then indicate our honest interest where it likely will initiate a conversation on personal matters.

  • 1
    +1 for adding »Wie geht es dir« – Jan Jun 16 '15 at 12:06
3

In those situations where I feel that it is necessary to use the polite forms (Sie, Ihnen, ...), I would never use a contraction of that kind. "Wie geht es Ihnen?" is the appropriate thing to say.

That said, I've got the impression that people have a different understanding of when exactly you can switch from "Siezen" to "Duzen". What I mean is that some people consider it OK to use a more personal tone once you get 'a bit acquainted' with someone (even in business), other stick with the "Siezen" longer.
However, once you use the contracted form "Wie geht's", you are certainly at the level of "Duzen". I wouldn't call it 'less polite'; the other person you're talking to might regard it impolite though, if they don't think it's appropriate.

  • 1
    What about e.g. a medical doctor who would not say "Du" to his patient but may ask "WIe gehts?"... – Takkat Jun 16 '15 at 9:53
  • 1
    @Takkat Never happened to me. Either I happen to know a doctor personally, then we "duzen" each other anyway. When I see a doctor very rarely or for the first time, we both stick with "Sie" and actually they would NEVER ask "Wie geht's" but rather something along "Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?". They're not interested in "how I am". They want to get straight to the reason I'm there. Finally, there are doctors I see more regularly but I don't know them personally. There it depends on the doctor but they either say "du" or "sie" but not a Mischmasch. – Em1 Jun 16 '15 at 10:14
2

Yes and no.

It all depends (as always) on your relation towards the addressee of the salutation. It can be acceptable to omit Ihnen, and it also cannot. Examples:

  • My boss uses Sie towards me. But again, he is sometimes rather casual despite Sie and would shorten the phrase to

    Wie geht’s?

    omitting the Ihnen.

  • Conversely, when I would be smalltalking with him, I would definitely not omit the Ihnen because of me being the lower level. Hence, I would only allow myself to ask

    Wie geht’s Ihnen?

    Note that I still contract geht es to geht’s. (The apostrophe is optional, by the way.)

  • Coming from Bavaria, it would be entirely acceptable to use the following greeting, though:

    Griaß Eana. Wia gähds? (Grüß Sie. Wie geht’s?)

    where it is clear from the first two words that the omitted pronoun is Ihnen, not dir.

Your guess that including the Ihnen is more polite is correct — but it is nigh impossible to separate the greater degree of politeness from the question of when can I use it.

2

"Wie geht's Ihnen?" is possible. The key is to keep "Ihnen" for being polite.

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