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I sometimes watch the 1960s series Combat! and there is a lot of German spoken on it. In one episode a supposedly dead German soldier is found by some of his comrades and as they assume he is dead and start walking away. The wounded soldier rises part way, holds his arm up and calls out, weakly, "Helfen Sie mir!" which is the formal address.

In an episode last week a german soldier comes out of the tent rubbing his head with a towel and he pauses and listens. His fellow soldier is splitting some wood. The soldier who came out of the tent asks the other, "Hörst du was?" and the soldier with the ax listens for a moment and replies "Nein!" Then, moments later they all hear the tank and the soldiers start calling out "Panzer!" and they knelt behind some head stones and started firing on the American tank crew. As expected, the American tank crew won the battle.

My question is why on the one episode a German soldier used the formal method of address to his peers and in the other the soldier used the familiar method of address? They were both talking to their peers but used different forms of address,

Can someone help?

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    This is a TV show meant for an American audience, so I wouldn't expect the writers to have been too careful about linguistic accuracy. That said, my best guess is that in the first case the other soldiers were strangers, and in the second case they knew each other. I don't think it's possible to give a really definitive answer without actually watching the episode to learn all the circumstances.
    – RDBury
    Commented Aug 27, 2023 at 2:34

2 Answers 2

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Comrade is not comrade.

One likely will be on colloquial terms ("Du") with the men one immediately serves with, thus the same company, maybe batallion - those men you hang out with daily and with whom you grab food together and immediately fight together. Other people you don't know that well you address in the formal manner usually unless you somewhen made better acquaintance with them. These rules became also increasingly relaxed in the recent years, but definitely not a hundret years ago.

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As far as I know (haven't been in the army myself) the general rule is that soldiers of a rank below non-commissioned officers address each other with Du, whereas higher ranks are addressed with Sie. So a soldier may use Sie if he is not sure which rank the person he is talking to has. But I agree with RDBury that one should probably not expect too much accuracy from such a TV show.

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