Grammar Lesson

German Polite Form

When to use du, Sie and ihr?

In English, there is only one word to say you while in German there are three.

The informal word is du in the singular and ihr in the plural. In the formal form, both singular and plural is Sie.

But don't worry – the rule for when to use each of these three words is quite straight forward and easy to understand. Let's have another look at German subject pronouns first:

Table: German Subject Pronouns

German English
1st person ich I
2nd person du / Sie you (informal) / you (formal)
3rd person er / sie / es he / she / it
1st person wir we
2nd person ihr / Sie you (informal) / you (formal)
3rd person sie they

Note: German subject pronouns only have a capital letter when they begin the sentence. The only exception to this is the polite pronoun Sie which always begins with a capital S.

Table: You, formal and informal

Informal Formal
Singular du Sie
Plural ihr Sie

Singular Forms

  • The word du is used when you talk to one person who you know very well, like your family and your friends. The word du is also used for children.

    For example:
    Florian, warum gähnst du die ganze Zeit? ⇨ Florian, why do you keep yawning?

  • The word Sie is used when you talk to one person who you don't know so well or who holds authority over you, like your boss and strangers.

  • For example:
    Bitte setzen Sie sich wieder an Ihren Platz! ⇨ Please go back to your seat!

Plural Forms

  • The word ihr is used when you talk to more than one person who you know very well.

    For example:
    Warum redet ihr die ganze Zeit? ⇨ Why do you keep talking?

  • The word Sie is also used when you talk to more than one person who you don't know so well.

    For example:
    Was möchten Sie trinken? ⇨ What would you like to drink?


In most cases you should start off using the informal du and ihr forms as you will most likely be practising with people you know and interact with often. Get comfortable with these first and then move onto the Sie form. Do not worry if you use the wrong one as you will still be understood.

German Commands

The command form is also called the imperative form and is used when giving commands, orders or instructions.

For example:
Shut up!
Help me!

English has one verb form for a command whereas German has three forms. When to use which form depends if you are talking in the du, ihr or Sie form. Let's look how a German command is formed.

Table: German Command Form:

Form of Command Example Translation
du verb stem (+e) Komm! Come!
ihr verb stem + t Kommt! Come!
Sie infinitive + Sie Kommen Sie! Come!

As you can see from the table, a command always starts with the verb, followed by the pronoun. However the pronouns du and ihr are dropped, leaving only the verb itself. The only time when the pronoun still appears is when using the polite Sie form.

For example:
Mach deine Hausaufgaben! ⇨ Do your homework!
Lernt bitte mehr Deutsch! ⇨ Please learn more German!
Fahren Sie vorsichtig! ⇨ Drive carefully!

A command in the du form usually only uses the stem of the verb. There are of course exceptions, but these are very rare. For example, when the stem of the verb ends in -d, -t, -m or -n, an -e is added to make the pronunciation easier.

For example:
reden (to talk) ⇨ Rede nicht so viel! (Don't talk so much!)
arbeiten (to work) ⇨ Arbeite mehr! (Work more!)
atmen (to breathe) ⇨ Atme tief durch! (Take a deep breath!)
öffnen (to open) ⇨ Öffne die Tür! (Open the door!)

Weak verbs ending in -eln or -ern also use this -e, but the other -e in the stem itself is often dropped in spoken German.

For example:
handeln (to act) ⇨ Handle schnell! (Act quickly!)
feiern (to celebrate) ⇨ Feire! (Celebrate!)

Also, the verb sein (to be) is a strong verb and the command forms are quite irregular and don't follow the rules that we've just discussed. Let's have a look at the verb sein in the three command forms:

  • du form: Sei ruhig! ⇨ Be quiet!
  • ihr form: Seid ruhig! ⇨ Be quiet!
  • Sie form: Seien Sie ruhig! ⇨ Be quiet!

Note: We will come back to the imperative in our Seaside and Holiday Module in level B1.