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 '17 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 '17 at 6:52
  • Du schaust Dich um. Stehst Du allein da? Singular. Seid Ihr eine Gruppe? Plural. – user unknown May 4 '17 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 '17 at 10:19

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 '17 at 22:21
  • 1
    Danke für Ihre Erklärung, man – orgame Apr 21 '17 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. – Hubert Schölnast May 3 '17 at 19:52
  • But "Sie" can also refer to many people: "you" (plural). – fdb Jun 30 '17 at 22:21

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