If person A is addressing person B as 'Sie', is it always appropriate for person B to also address person 'A' as 'Sie'?

For example, a student would address a professor as 'Sie'. Would the professor use 'Sie' or 'du' to address the student?

  • 7
    Have a look at this question: german.stackexchange.com/questions/2420/…
    – 0x6d64
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 9:55
  • how do you say in German "May I address you as Du?"
    – user4800
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 14:22
  • I'd say (but I'm not a native) "darf ich Sie duzen?". However from what I've read I think it would be a little brave and possibly perceived as disrespectful. It's probably better to wait for the other person to explicitly tell you "Bitte, duzen Sie mich", or "Bitte duze mich" or something like that. Of course, corrections welcome.
    – persson
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 14:47

3 Answers 3


No, it's not automatically appropriate to respond with "du" to someone addressing you informally. If there's a difference in the level of age/esteem/reputation, you should not assume that it is Ok to address the other person informally. Child-adult or student-professor relationships are classical examples of such a difference.

Note that the rules governing when to do formal ("Sie") and informal ("Du") addressing have been changing constantly as long has I have been aware of them (let's say since the early 70s). It's very common even for Germans to be unsure about them.

If in doubt, being inappropriate in addressing the other person formally might, on average, be less awkward than being wrong in addressing them informally. So just stick to that, listen keenly how the natives do it, and rely on everybody giving you some slack for being a foreigner.


No. Not always. Between adults this is basically how it works.

However, at school, for instance, usually a teacher will address a child as "du" whereas the student will respond with "Sie".

  • 4
    Under normal circumstances you would never ever dare to address university professors with "Du" when she/he did not explicitely asked you to do before. This is irrespective of how they address you.
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 15:18
  • 4
    I disagree. At my university, if a professor addresses you with "Du" you are supposed to do so as well without him or her asking you to to so. And I think that's okay because at the end of the day we are all adults and it would be disrespectful from the professor to address a twenty something old student by "Du" and expect to be addressed with"Sie". It might be the case that a really old an honorable professor calls you by your first name, but he will still use "Sie".
    – Lilithly
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 17:01
  • 2
    @Lilithly That could just be related to the culture of the university itself or the relationship with the professor. I've had professors that I address with "Sie" regardless of how I was addressed, and I've also had professors that I only ever address with "du". I think you should generally just use common sense when addressing someone of seniority, you do so formally unless the circumstances dictate otherwise.
    – user89
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 17:15
  • 3
    @Glenn Nelson: Yes, you certainly can't go wrong starting high (Sie) and letting the other person bring you back down (Du) to their comfort level.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:07

Responding with "Du" to a "Sie" usually happens when a child or teenager talks to an adult using "Sie", then the adult uses "Du" to the child. I've also heard it used it the military, where the lower-ranked person uses "Sie" to the higher-ranked person, but the reply may be with "Du".

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