If somebody says

Haben sie Deutsch in der Schule gelernt? or
Haben Sie Deutsch in der Schule gelernt?.

how I can recognise whether it's you or they?

  • 1
    In colloquial German, "sie" is often replaced by "die" if it doesn't mean "you". E.g., referring to a favorite band you'd often hear "Ich mag die gern" instead of "Ich mag sie gern". However, that doesn't work in a formal context.
    – Arminius
    Apr 22, 2017 at 1:14
  • 6
    How do you recognise in English if "you" is singular or plural? You do it using the context, and it's the same in German.
    – dirkt
    Apr 22, 2017 at 6:52
  • Du schaust Dich um. Stehst Du allein da? Singular. Seid Ihr eine Gruppe? Plural. May 4, 2017 at 7:32
  • There actually are cases in which it is not clear if it's she or they. I see this in movies every now and then.
    – Tobi
    May 4, 2017 at 10:19

2 Answers 2


In the written language, you can check if it is Sie (formal you) with a capitalized S at the beginning or sie (they), whose initial letter is lower case. But I am sure that you did not mean the written language.

In the spoken language, you cannot differentiate them without paying attention to the context. If the speaker talks about you, in this case, he/she means Sie (formal you), otherwise sie (they).

For example, if you are in a holiday and talk to a friend of yours about your family and your friend asks you,

Werden sie auch hierher kommen?

it's clear your friend's referring to your family and not to you.

On the other hand, if your family is on holiday and you talk to a (not close) friend of yours about your family and their holiday, and your friend asks you,

Werden Sie auch dorthin gehen?

it's also clear that your friend's referring to you and not to your family.


In the spoken case you can only tell this from the context. If the context is about many people, then it means "they", otherwise "You".

In the written case: A lower case "sie" indicates "they", an upper case "Sie" indicates "You". But check the context anyway because of possible typing errors.

  • 1
    How does one recognize whether somebody says (as asked in the question) in the lower or in the upper case?
    – Eller
    Apr 21, 2017 at 22:21
  • 1
    Danke für Ihre Erklärung, man
    – orgame
    Apr 21, 2017 at 23:08
  • The question doesn't start with »If somebody writes ...«. It starts with »If somebody says ...« But nobody can hear if the spoken word should be written capitalized or lower case. May 3, 2017 at 19:52
  • But "Sie" can also refer to many people: "you" (plural).
    – fdb
    Jun 30, 2017 at 22:21

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