I remain fairly fluent in German from my experience living in Germany back in the 70's and 80's. However, the use of familiar "Du" among relative strangers online surprised me when I recently read posts on a genealogy board. Is there some general softening of familiarity rules going on in German, or is this more limited to online venues? Or was I visiting an exceptional site?

  • 1
    It's a bit like not calling strangers on the internet Sir or Madam in English
    – Soana
    Sep 23, 2014 at 11:46

6 Answers 6


This is definitely limited to chat rooms and the like. In real life we still address strangers with "Sie".

However, online it is very common to address each other with "du", independently of the site or the topic being discussed. I'd be surprised if you could show me a german forum or chat room where people address each other with "Sie". But note that the above is only true for places online where people are (relatively) anonymous. In communication where both parties know each other by real name and position/rank, it is advisable to address them with "Sie". Most importantly in business e-mail communication is not a good idea to call the other person "Du".


Letztlich wurde, als das damals noch ARPANET genannte heutige Internet nach Deutschland kam, in den ersten deutschsprachigen Foren und Maillinglisten das "Du" aus den englischen Mailinglisten übernommen.

Am Anfang kannten sich die Leute persönlich, es waren nur wenige, so dass eine formale Anrede ("Sie") nicht notwendig war. Später teilten die Menschen die gleiche Technik und das gleiche Medium, was sie näher verband. Daraus hat sich bis heute in vielen deutschsprachigen Foren im Usenet das "Du" erhalten. Teilweise galt das Siezen sogar als unhöflich, wie beispielsweise hier unter Punkt 3 (Höflichkeit im Usenet) nachzulesen ist (Danke celtschk für den Kommentar!).

Die Tatsache, dass sich fast alle im Usenet duzen, und dass ein Siezen von vielen als unhöflich aufgefasst wird, ergibt sich aus der Tradition/Subkultur des Usenet.

Es gibt allerdings auch Foren, in denen auf das unpersönliche "Sie" bestanden wird (z. B. Support-Foren mit geschäftlichem Hintergrund). Welche Form der Anrede ("Du" oder "Sie") genau im Forum verwendet wird, findet man schnell heraus, wenn man zuerst nur mitliest und dann schreibt.

Anmerkung: In dem Buch "ARPA Kadabra" (erschienen beim dpunkt-Verlag) sind die Internet-Anfänge beschrieben, darunter auch die Entwicklung der E-Mail und der zunächst amerikanischen, später internationalen Foren und Mailinglisten. Auch das "Du/Sie-Problem" wird dort erwähnt.


In my experience chat rooms and forums are especially prone to creative and wrong usage of German. In business e-mail conversations I use and see the same rules as in printed letters. This includes formal greetings and "Sie".


In fact, often one can observer dialogs like these in support fora:

Q: Können Sie mir helfen?

A: Starte mal den Rechner neu.

Obviously, the question came from a newbie and was replied to by a more experienced user. However, it would be preferable for him to begin with a hint that "Du" is commonly used in that forum and that he will therefore use it and assume that the asker is not offended etc.


In email conversation, you normally use the same address as in real live, formal by default. Smaller communities however, are slowly introducing a kind unwritten "Du"-rule (also in real life), this might actually be a change from the situation in the 70s and 80s.

You will still often find the formal address in online news forums like tagesschau.de and spiegel.de, since there is a kind of especially official air around those.

Generally in forums especially related to fiction and computers you will more often find the informal address.

You may want to get a short grasp of what is customary in the community to which you write by reading a few other posts firs.


Internet started out as colloquial [and gay] student to student Usenet and relay chat. Feudalist Sie pronouns now on the net seem restricted to subtly financial relations give a few others and take some nonetheless colloquial. In offline communities you still need to find out the age distribution.

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