This is a slightly different question from How to differentiate Sie (they) or Sie (you)?.

The major question here is when I am directly speaking with someone whom I address as Sie, how do I go refer to a different they, with whom I would normally use “sie”.

For instance, how do I make it clear that:

Sie haben mir gesagt, dass Sie einen neuen Beleg unterschreiben müssen.

that the second Sie is actually Sie, and not sie? It would be a major annoyance to have to make the references explicitly every time:

Die Kassierer haben mir gesagt, dass Sie einen neuen Beleg unterschreiben müssen.

Is there any more convenient way to make this distinction clear in conversational German?

  • 6
    Some points in no particular order. 1) One trick is to use "die" instead of "sie" to refer to some unspecific "they". 2) This is much less of a problem in real life than you'd expect. There are tons of homonyms (in all languages, not just German), but it works out just fine (otherwise the humanity would have long eliminated them). 3) When you are actually standing there talking, you'd use not just your mouth but also your hands. Gestures. "Sie [points somewhere] haben mir gesagt dass Sie [points to the interlocutor]...". You would do it instinctively, too, no need for a special training.
    – RegDwight
    Dec 28, 2013 at 12:45
  • 1
    I asked the question because I've actually had this situation several times. When it happened in person, I felt it would be rude to point too much. And, of course, there are the times it happened in a telephone call (my biggest nemesis, in so many ways), where visual clues are obviously useless.
    – aeismail
    Dec 28, 2013 at 13:41

2 Answers 2


The suggestion of @thekeyofgb is correct and works but it sounds incredibly formal. Maybe too formal for a supermarket. I think the more common way would be a demonstrative pronoun

DIE haben mir gesagt, dass Sie...

This is not the most refined language but that's how people talk... at least in Berlin. But no pointing to accompany "die" :). Also, if that is too offensive, you can go for the impersonal man and possibly a local reference.

Da hat man mir gesagt...

Man hat mir gesagt...

And finally a passive

Mir wurde gesagt...


I would use an appositive, if it were going to be unclear:

Sie haben mir gesagt, dass Sie, Herr Mustermann, einen neuen Beleg unterschreiben müssen.

Die Kassierer haben mir gesagt, dass Sie, Frau Weber, einen neuen Beleg unterschreiben müssen.

Sie haben gesagt, dass sie, der neue Buchhalter, einen neuen Beleg unterschreiben müssen.

  • Shouldn't the 2nd sie in the last (3rd) example also be capitalised?
    – alk
    Dec 29, 2013 at 22:58

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