T–V distinction

T–V distinction

In sociolinguistics, a T–V distinction is a contrast, within one language, between second-person pronouns that are specialized for varying levels of politeness, social distance, courtesy, familiarity, or insult toward the addressee.


History and usage

The expressions T-form (informal) and V-form (formal) were introduced by Brown and Gilman (1960), with reference to the initial letters of these pronouns in Latin, tu and vos. In Latin, tu was originally the singular, and vos the plural, with no distinction for honorific or familiar. According to Brown and Gilman, usage of the plural to the Roman emperor began in the fourth century AD. They mention the possibility that this was because there were often two or more emperors at that time as augusti, caesares and other titles, and later separate rulers in Constantinople and Rome, but also that "plurality is a very old and ubiquitous metaphor for power". This usage was extended to other powerful figures, such as Pope Gregory I (590–604). However, Brown and Gilman note that it was only between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries that the norms for the use of T- and V-forms crystallized. Less commonly, the use of the plural may be extended to other grammatical person, such as the "royal we" (majestic plural).

Brown and Gilman argued that the choice of form is governed by either relationships of 'power' and/or 'solidarity', depending on the culture of the speakers, showing that 'power' had been the dominant predictor of form in Europe until the twentieth century. Thus, it was quite normal for a powerful person to use a T-form but expect a V-form in return. However in the twentieth century the dynamic shifted in favour of solidarity, so that people would use T-forms with those they knew, and V-forms in service encounters, with reciprocal usage being the norm in both cases.

One other use of the distinction that occurs in some languages is the expression of "mock respect", essentially a humorous way of expressing disapproval, by the use of the formal form to address people with whom one would not normally use it, such as children or close friends.

Brown and Gilman's V-T Theory has been very influential, perhaps in part because its binary system is a convenient, easy-to-grasp concept. However, the V-T Theory does not provide an entirely satisfactory framework of interpretation as clearly shown in the case of modern English with its universal 'you' instead of a grammatical V-T binary system. Moving with the times, Manuela Cook's N-V-T Theory provides a dimension of Neutrality.

Modern English does not have a T–V pronoun distinction. In earlier versions of English, thou/thee was used as a T-form for singular second person, while ye/you marked the V-form. However, use of the thou forms became stigmatised and they disappeared from speech, leading to the situation where the original V-form, you, became the only second-person pronoun and thou and thee are considered archaic. Somewhat ironically, to a modern English speaker unaware of the origin of the distinction, the use of thou (for example in prayer), originally a sign of intimacy, now has connotations of formality due to its archaic appearance (example: Darth Vader's addressing Emperor Palpatine with thou in The Empire Strikes Back.).

Although English has no syntactic T–V distinction, to some extent there are semantic analogues, such as whether to address someone by first or last name (or using sir and ma'am in US English). The boundaries between formal and informal language differ from language to language, as well as within social groups of the speakers of a given language. In some circumstances, it is not unusual to call other people by first name and the respectful form, or last name and familiar form. For example, German teachers use the former construct with upper-secondary students, while Italian teachers typically use the latter (switching to a full V-form with university students). This can lead to constructions denoting an intermediate level of formality in T–V-distinct languages that sound awkward to English-speakers. For example, the catchphrase of "Be careful, Michael" from Knight Rider was usually dubbed "Seien Sie vorsichtig, Michael" in German, implying both formality (use of Sie) and familiarity (use of first name).

The use of these forms calls for compensating translation of dialogue into English. For example, a character in a French film or novel saying "Tutoie-moi!" ("Use [the informal pronoun] tu when addressing me!") might be translated "Do not be so formal!"


In many languages, the respectful singular pronoun derives from a plural form. Some Romance languages have familiar forms derived from the Latin singular tu and respectful forms derived from Latin plural vos, sometimes via a circuitous route. Sometimes, singular V-form derives from a third person pronoun; in German-speaking and some Nordic countries, it is the third person plural. Some languages have separate T and V forms for both singular and plural; others have the same form; others have a T–V distinction only in the singular.

Different languages distinguish pronoun uses in different ways. Even within languages, there are differences between groups (older people and people of higher status tending both to use and to expect more respectful language) and between various aspects of one language. For example, in Dutch, u is slowly falling into disuse in the plural, and thus one could sometimes address a group as jullie (which clearly expresses the plural) when one would address each member individually as u (which has the disadvantage of being ambiguous). In Latin American Spanish, the opposite change has occurred — having lost vosotros, Latin Americans address all groups as ustedes, even if the group is composed of friends whom they would call or vos. In Standard Peninsular Spanish, however, vosotros (literally, "you others") is still regularly employed in familiar conversation. In some cases, V-forms are likely to be capitalized when written.

Following is a table of singular and plural versions of the second person plural and singular in many languages. Many of these do not demonstrate T–V distinction in the above sense of the "you" plural being used for "you" singular informal.

second-person singular familiar second-person singular respectful second-person plural familiar second-person plural respectful
Afrikaans jy /jou u

U (to God)

julle u
Albanian ti ju ju ju
Amharic አንተ (antä) (m)

አንቺ (anči) (f)

እስዎ (ɨsswo) or
እርስዎ (ɨrswo)
እናንተ (ɨnnantä) እስዎ (ɨsswo) or
እርስዎ (ɨrswo)
Arabic أنت (anta, when addressing a man), أنتِ (anti, when addressing a woman) antum; in some spoken varieties of Arabic, such as Egyptian, terms such as ḥaḍretak (your grace) or siyadtak (your lordship) are used antum (when addressing men), antunna (when addressing women) antum / antunna; in some spoken varieties of Arabic, such as Egyptian, terms such as ḥaḍretkum or siyadetkum are used
Armenian դու (du) Eastern dialect, դուն (tun) Western dialect դուք (duk) Eastern (tuk) Western դուք (duk) Eastern (tuk) Western դուք (duk) Eastern (tuk) Western
Azerbaijani (Azeri) sən siz siz siz, sometimes sizlər
Basque hi (very close), zu zu, berori (very respectful) zuek zuek
Bengali তুই tui (very informal)
তুমি tumi
আপনি apni তোরা tora (very informal)
তোমরা tomra
আপনারা apnara
Bosnian ti Vi vi vi
Breton te c'hwi c'hwi c'hwi
Bulgarian ти (ti) Вие (Vie) вие (vie) вие (vie)
Catalan tu

vós (only to elders)

vostè vosaltres vostès
Chinese (Mandarin) nín 你们 (你们) nǐmen no official form; often 大家 dàjiā but see below
Croatian ti Vi vi vi
Czech ty Vy vy Vy
Danish du / dig De / Dem I / jer De / Dem
Dutch jij /je (more in the Netherlands) or
gij/ge (more in Flanders)
u (Capitalised when addressing God, or in very formal writing: U. Alternatively: Gij (to God)) jullie u
English thou/thee (archaic) you you you
Esperanto ci (experimental use only), normally vi vi vi vi
Estonian sina/sa Teie teie/te Teie
Faroese tú / teg tygum / tygum (restricted to official documents only) tit / tykkum tit / tykkum
Filipino ka /ikaw kayo kayo sila
Finnish sinä/sä Te (compound verb forms with participle in singular) te Te
French tu /toi /te vous vous vous
Frisian (West) dû/do jo (Jo when addressing God) jimme/jim jimme/jim
Gaelic (Scottish) thu sibh sibh sibh
Galician tu, vostede vós vostedes
Georgian შენ shen თქვენ tkven თქვენ tkven თქვენ tkven
German du Sie (and third person plural of the verb)
Ihr (and second person plural; archaic)
ihr Sie (and third person plural of the verb)
Ihr (and second person plural; archaic)
Modern Greek εσύ (esí) εσείς (esís) εσείς (esís) εσείς (esís)
Gujarati તું tu તમે taame (formal)
તમે taame
તમે taame
Hungarian te maga (formal) or Ön (official) ti maguk (formal) or Önök (official)
Hindi तू (very informal)
तुम tum
आप āp तुम लोग tum log आप लोग āp log
Icelandic þú / þig þér / yður (archaic) þið / ykkur þér / yður (archaic)
Ido tu vu vi vi
Indonesian kamu Anda kalian Anda or sometimes Anda sekalian
Interlingua tu vos vos vos
Italian tu Lei (or lei; archaic form: Ella)
voi (dated or Central and Southern Italian dialectal)
Loro (or loro; becoming rare)
Japanese お前, , あんた omae, kimi, anta (derogatory: きさま, てめぇ kisama, teme) (archaic: おぬし onushi) (directly addressing a person with an honorific suffix after his/her name or using his/her profession);

あなた anata (archaic, formal, to address someone below: , そち, そなた nanji, sochi, sonata)

お前たち, 君たち, あんたたち omae-tachi, kimi-tachi, anta-tachi (archaic: おぬしら onushi-ra) あなたたち, あなた方 anata-tachi, anata-gata (archaic, formal, to address someone below: 汝ら, そちども, そなたたち nanji-ra, sochi-domo, sonata-tachi)
Javanese kowe, awakmu panjenengan, sampeyan kowe kabeh panjenengan sedanten
Kannada ನೀನು niinnu ನೀವು niivu ನೀವು niivu ನೀವು niivu
Kazakh сен (sen) сіз (siz) сендер (sender) сіздер (sizder)
Korean neo 너 (directly addressing a person);

dangsin 당신 (addressing anonymous readers)

neohui 너의 (yeoreobun 여러분)
Kung-ekoka a i!a i!a i!a
Kurdish (North), Kurmanji تو (tu) هون (hûn), هنگۆ (hingo), تو (tu) هون (hûn), هنگۆ (hingo) هون (hûn), هنگۆ (hingo)
Kurdish (South), Sorani تۆ (to) ێوه (êwe), تۆ (to) ێوه (êwe) ێوه (êwe)
Kyrgyz сен (sen) сиз (siz) силер (siler) сиздер (sizder)
Ladino, see Spanish vos vozótros vozótros
Latvian tu / Tu (addressing person in correspondence) jūs / Jūs (addressing person in correspondence) jūs jūs
Lithuanian tu Ponas, Ponia, Jūs jūs Jūs
Lombard ti ; or lüü (male) or lée (female) viòltar viòltar; or ; or lur
Malay kamu (standard), engkau (regional Malay; common spoken short form is kau – when pronounced as "ko", is even more informal.), hang (northern dialect, but understood and accepted across Peninsula Malaysia), awak (is rude in all contexts except in very close relationships, e.g. friends [but not acquaintances]) anda (polite/friendly formal; found in formal documents and in all formal contexts, e.g. advertisements. "Anda" is almost never encountered in spoken Malay; instead, most Malaysians would address a respected person by his title or name), kamu (impolite/unfriendly formal; also found in formal documents and in all formal contexts, where the intention is to convey a forceful tone in writing – often seen in lawsuits and summonses). kau orang (when pronounced as "ko'rang" [equivalent to "you all" in parts of the U.S.] is slang and more informal), kau semua, hangpa (northern dialect), kalian (archaic) anda, kalian (archaic)
Malayalam nee thaankal ningal ningal
Macedonian ти (ti) Вие (Vie) вие (vie) вие (vie)
Maltese int, inti int, inti intom intom
Marathi तू तुम्ही tumhī (formal),
आपण Āpaṇ (official)
तुम्ही tumhī (formal),
आपण Āpaṇ (official)
तुम्ही tumhī (formal),
आपण Āpaṇ (official)
Mongolian чи (chi) та (ta) та нар (ta nar) та нар (ta nar)
Nepali तँ, तिमी (tã, timi) तपाईं (tapāī̃) तिमी(-हरू) (timi[-harū]) तपाईं(-हरू) (tapāī̃[-harū])
Norwegian (bokmål) du / deg De / Dem (archaic) dere / dere De / Dem (archaic)
Norwegian (nynorsk) du / deg De / Dykk (archaic) de / dykk De / Dykk (archaic)
Oriya tu/ tume aapano tumemane aapanomane
Persian تو to شما shomâ شما shomâ شما shomâ
Polish ty pani (to a woman)
pan (to a man)
(verbs following any of the above addresses are in the 3rd person singular form)
In the early period of the communist rule, a practice of using the second-person plural form wy as a formal way of referring to a single person was introduced (a calque from Russian) but it did not catch on.
wy państwo (general)
panie (to women)
panowie (to men)
(verbs following any of the above addresses are in the 3rd person plural form, although in many cases for państwo (general) the 2nd person plural form is also possible).
Portuguese in Europe, in Africa and in Asia. tu você; o senhor / a senhora, dona vocês os senhores / as senhoras
Portuguese in the northern, central and southeastern part of Brazil. você (and "te", oblique form of "tu" combined with "você", for a more familiar tone) o senhor/ a senhora; seu (from senhor) / dona vocês os senhores / as senhoras
Portuguese in the southern and northeastern Brazil, in the city of Santos and part of Rio de Janeiro, also in Uruguay . tu (however almost always conjugated as "você") você (equalizing, less pollite)

o senhor, a senhora (to a superior, more pollite)

vocês os senhores / as senhoras
Punjabi (Punjab) ਤੂੰ tū̃ ਤੁਸੀਂ tusī̃ ਤੁਸੀਂ tusī̃ ਤੁਸੀਂ tusī̃
Romanian tu dumneata (less formal) /
matale, mata (regional) /
dumneavoastră (formal)
voi dumneavoastră / domniile voastre (archaic)
Russian ты (ty) вы (vy) / Вы (Vy) (addressing officials in letters etc.) вы (vy) вы (vy)
Rusyn ты (tŷ) (Vŷ) вы (vŷ) вы (vŷ)
Scots thoo, mostly replaced by ye

[ðuː], Southern [ðʌu], Shetland [duː]

ye, you ye, you ye, you
Serbian ти (ti) Ви (Vi) ви (vi) ви (vi)
Slovak ty Vy vy vy
Slovene ti vi
Vi (protocolar)
vidva (dual)
vidve or vedve (dual – when addressing two women);
vi (plural)
ve (plural – when addressing only women)
vi (dual and plural)
Sorbian (Lower) ty Wy wej (dual), wy (plural) wy
Sorbian (Upper) ty Wy wój (dual), wy (plural) wy
Somali adi adiga idinka idinka
Spanish in Peninsular Spain, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco usted (formerly or literary vos, usía and vuecencia/vuecelencia among others) vosotros (masc.) vosotras (fem.) ustedes
Spanish in some parts of Andalusia and in the Canary Islands usted ustedes (in Andalusia sometimes it is heard an altered system: e.g.: ustedes estáis; the vosotros/as pronouns are increasingly popular and replacing this one) ustedes
Spanish of most of the Americas usted

Note: in Cuba, is generally used instead, even for someone one has just met.

ustedes ustedes (literary vosotros, vosotras, in poetry, anthems...)
Spanish in parts of the Americas, mainly in the Southern Cone and Central America vos usted ustedes ustedes (literary vosotros, vosotras, in poetry, anthems...)
Spanish in Costa Rica and in parts of Colombia usted ('el otro usted': for informal, horizontal communication) usted ustedes ustedes (literary vosotros, vosotras, in poetry, anthems...)
Swedish du ni or Ni (rarely used) ni ni or Ni (rarely used)
Tagalog ikáw
ka (postpositive only)
kayó kayó kayó
Tajik ту (tu) Шумо (Shumo) шумо (shumo) шумо (shumo) or шумоён (shumoyon)(the latter is used in Spoken Tajik only)
Tamil நீ (née) நீங்கள் (neengal) நீங்கள் (neengal) நீங்கள் (neengal)
Telugu నువ్వు (nuvvu) మీరు (meeru) మీరు (meeru) మీరు (meeru)
Turkish sen siz siz siz, sizler
Ubykh wæghʷa sʸæghʷaalha sʸæghʷaalha sʸæghʷaalha
Ukrainian ти (ty) ви (vy) / Ви (Vy) (addressing officials in letters etc.) ви (vy) ви (vy)
Urdu تو (very informal)
تم tum
آپ āp تم لوگ tum log آپ لوگ āp log
Uyghur سەن sen سىز siz or سىلى sili سىلەر siler سىزلەرsizler
Welsh ti or chdi chi or chwi chi or chwi chi or chwi
Yiddish דו (du) איר (ir) איר (ir)
עץ (ets) (regional)
איר (ir)

Dutch speaker (as identified by his or her accent).

  • In Walloon, the use of which tends, in any case, to be restricted mostly to "familiar" contexts, vos (=vous) is the general usage and is considered informal and friendly. Ti (=tu), on the other hand, is considered vulgar, and its use can be taken as an expression of an aggressive attitude towards the person addressed. This influence from Walloon affects the usage of tu and vous in the French spoken in Belgium, though more so among people accustomed to using Walloon as their everyday language (a tiny minority, mostly in the countryside). The influence of Standard French, particularly as exercised through the mass media, is eroding this particularity amongst younger French-speakers.
North American French

North American dialects of French, including Quebec French and Acadian French as well as Louisiana Cajun and Creole French, permit and expect a far broader usage of the familiar tu than in Standard French. There are still circumstances in which it is appropriate to say vous: in a formal interview (notably for a job) or when addressing people of very high rank (such as judges or prime ministers), senior citizens, customers or new acquaintances in a formal setting. As acquaintances become familiar with one another, they may find vous to be unnecessarily formal and may agree to return to the tu with which they are generally more comfortable.

For a number of Francophones in Canada, vous sounds stilted or snobbish, and archaic. Tu is by no means restricted to intimates or social inferiors. There is however an important minority of people, often those who call for a use of standard French in Quebec, who prefer to be addressed as vous. At Radio-Canada (the public broadcaster, often considered as establishing the normative objectives of standard French in Canada), the use of vous is widespread even among colleagues.[citation needed]


Catalan uses the singular pronouns tu (informal) and vostè (formal), while vosaltres (informal) and vostès (formal) are used to refer to two or more addressees. The form vós, used instead of tu to address someone respectfully, follows the same concordance rules as the French vous (verbs in second person plural, adjectives in singular), and vostè follows the same concordance rules as the Spanish usted (verbs in 3rd person). Vostè originated from vostra mercè as a calque from Spanish, and replaced the original Catalan form vós.

In some dialects of Catalan, vós is no longer used. Other dialects have a three-way distinction tu/vós/vostè, where vós is used as a respectful form for elders and respected friends, and vostè for foreigners and people whom one does not know well. Vostè is more distant than vós.


In Spanish, the respectful form requires verbs to be conjugated in the third person singular; this is because the form usted evolved from the title vuestra merced (your grace) which naturally took the third person like the Portuguese você. In some cases, if a younger person speaks to someone who is relatively older, the younger of the pair will address the elder with usted, perhaps combining it with Don. However, an altered form of vuestra merced, su merced (which in colloquial language has been phonetically reduced to sumercé), has survived in the rural areas located in the plateau that surrounds Colombia's capital city, Bogotá.

In the plural, Spanish presents the T-form vosotros and the V-form ustedes , which use verbs in the second and third person plural, respectively. However, only mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands have retained this distinction, while in the Canaries and Latin America, ustedes is almost the only form used in all contexts. In Western Andalusia and parts of Extremadura, ustedes is frequently used as well, but combined with the verb forms corresponding to vosotros in standard European Spanish.

T–V merge

In just but a few dialects, close friends are still referred to as , and venerable old women are usted, but there is a wide grey area in the middle. Just within Mexico is tu widely used. All of Latin America uses vos instead.

T–V plural split

Traditionally in some parts of Andalusia and in all of the Canary Islands the second person plural pronoun has been ustedes both for respectful and familiar address. However this system is being replaced by the T–V distinction of peninsular Spain, i.e. vosotros and vosotras are increasingly being used for familiar address.

Vos and

In the Rioplatense Spanish variant used in most of Argentina and Uruguay the T-form is vos; in other parts, for example in Chile and Central America, vos is used in the spoken language and in print or formal contexts (although most formal contexts call for the respectful V-form, usted). The use of as the preferred T-form has its highest prevalence in Spain, as well as Mexico and Peru.

The history behind -vos-usted is that for a time all three forms existed in Spain including during the colonization of the Americas. In most of Spain the vos form died out and is now largely regarded as an archaic expression and this attitude has been adopted in most of Mexico, Peru, and other countries.


European Portuguese

In European Portuguese (as well as in Africa and Asia), tu (singular "you") is commonly used as the familiar addressing pronoun, while você is a general form of address; vocês (plural both of "tu" and "você") is used for both familiar and general. The forms o senhor and a senhora (plurals os senhores and as senhoras) are used for more formal situations (roughly equivalent to "Mr/Sir" and "Mrs/Madam".) Similarly to some Romance languages (e.g. Italian), "tu" can be omitted because the verb ending provides the necessary information. Not so much so with "você" or "o senhor" / "a senhora" because the verb ending is the same as for the third person (historically, você derives from vossa mercê ("your mercy" or "your grace") via the intermediate forms vossemecê and vosmecê). The second person plural pronoun vós, from Latin vos, is archaic in most of the Portuguese-speaking world, but can be heard in liturgy and has a limited regional use.

Brazilian Portuguese

In Brazilian Portuguese, você and vocês (singular and plural "you", respectively) are used informally, while o senhor and a senhora ("Mr"/"Sir" and "Mrs"/"Madam", plurals os senhores and as senhoras) are used in formal speech.

In many parts of the country (the state of Rio Grande do Sul, some parts of the City of Rio de Janeiro, and the northern and northeastern states and in the City of Santos (São Paulo)) tu (singular "you" or simply "thou") is used informally, but the plural form is always vocês. However, in colloquial conversation, the pronoun tu is commonly used with the verb conjugated as "você" (third-person singular).


In Italian the formal second-person singular pronoun is Lei which means "she", used with the third-person singular of the verb, as opposed to the informal tu, used with the second-person singular. For the background to the use of "she" as a polite pronoun, see the section "History" below.

It is also possible to use Ella as a very polite alternative, but this is perceived as archaic, since in spoken Italian the nominative forms of the personal pronouns egli ("he"), essi/esse ("they") and ella ("she") have fallen out of common use, being replaced by the accusative forms lui ("him"), loro ("them") and lei ("her").

Lei may be capitalized as a sign of respect, particularly in administrative or business correspondence; if the pronoun is capitalized, so are all its forms, including the enclitics: "...vorrei incontrarLa per parlarGliene" ("...I should like to meet you to talk to you about this").

Lei is nowadays generally concorded with the gender of the addressee; it might actually not be present in sentences as Italian is not subject-compulsory, and is then understood by the verb being conjugated in the third person.

  • "Have you ever been in Rome?"
    • "[Lei] è mai stato a Roma?" (-o: to a male)
    • "[Lei] è mai stata a Roma?" (-a: to a female; rarely to a male, in a literary or archaic style).

The polite plural form Loro ("they"), followed by a verb in the third-person plural, is rarely used nowadays. Voi ("you", plural) is normally used both in informal and formal contexts when addressing more than one person. A situation where Loro can still be heard is in restaurants, because many waiters still use this form to address customers. A waiter might even use as a more formal alternative to the pronoun Lei the terms il signore/la signora (the gentleman/the lady), and for the pronoun Loro the corresponding plurals i signori/le signore.

  • "What do you [plural] wish to eat?"
    • "Che cosa desiderate mangiare?" (voi is understood)
    • "Che cosa desiderano mangiare?" (Loro is understood)
    • "Che cosa desiderano mangiare i signori/le signore?" ("What do the gentlemen/ladies wish to eat?")

In administrative correspondence and on very formal invitations, la S.V. may be written instead of the pronoun Lei: "La S.V. è invitata...". The abbreviation stands for la Signoria Vostra "Your Lordship/Ladyship", which is the historical basis for the use of the third-person feminine pronoun (see also below).

Lei is normally used in formal settings, or with strangers, and it is used reciprocally between adults: the usage may not be reciprocal when young people address older strangers or otherwise respected people. Students are addressed with tu by their teachers until the end of high school with few exceptions, and usually with lei in universities. Students might use tu with their teachers in elementary school, but switch to lei from middle school.

Currently, people tend to address strangers of their own age using the informal tu until about thirty years of age. Tu is also the pronoun of first choice to address strangers on the Internet. In some professional circles (notably among journalists and lawyers), the tu-form is used immediately even on first meeting, as a sign of recognition of a colleague's status as a member of the same profession. In written correspondence, however, the pronoun will usually be capitalized (Tu) to express also respect towards somebody who is not a close friend.

Voi ("you", plural) may be used by some speakers instead of lei, especially in Southern Italy, but it sounds old-fashioned. When it is addressed respectfully to one person, the pronoun voi is used with singular adjectives and participles, concorded with the gender of the addressee, although the verbs are still in the second-person plural form; as with lei, it can be capitalized in writing. Some people might see this use of voi as reminiscent of the Fascist regime, since it imposed the use of voi instead of lei (see below); but the pronoun had been traditional for centuries, and was used for example by children to address parents, as it was less formal than lei. Voi can be found in instruction booklets, where it is more common than tu, lei or impersonal constructions, and sometimes in advertisements (together with tu, while lei would sound too distant); but in these settings it is often intended as a plural pronoun rather than a polite form.


At the beginning of its history, in the Middle Ages, the Italian language had a tu/voi distinction of formality, as with other Romance languages; in his Divine Comedy (begun in 1307), Dante normally uses tu when talking to the people he meets, but addresses them with voi when he means to show particular respect, for example to his former teacher: "Siete voi qui, ser Brunetto?" ("Are you here, sir Brunetto?").

During the Renaissance the use of Lei as a polite pronoun began, and subsequently spread with some influence from Spanish; the origin of this usage is due to expressions as "Your Lordship/Eminence/Majesty/Holiness/...", where all of these nouns were feminine in gender (Vostra Signoria/Eminenza/Maestà/Santità/...) and referred to in the third-person singular.

For a few centuries (possibly from the 16th century to the first half of the 20th century) there was a three-pronoun system in use, with tu/voi/lei employed with a growing degree of formality; this was very well exemplified in Manzoni's novel The Betrothed (written in 1840–42 and set in 1628–30), where the characters talk using all three pronouns: the usage was often not reciprocal, with several combinations based on age and social status.

In 1938, under Fascist rule, the use of lei as a polite pronoun was banned on nationalistic or puristic grounds, since the use of voi was thought of as "more Italian": the ban lasted only for a few years, until the end of World War II, and left little trace. In some parts of Italy, particularly in Southern Italy, voi had always been preferred as the polite form and continued to be used regionally, while lei definitely prevailed as the only standard V-form.[1]


Romanian dumneavoastră when used for the second-person singular formal takes plural verbs but singular adjectives, similar to French vous. It is used roughly in the same manner as in Continental French and shows no signs of disappearing. It is also used as a more formal voi. It originates from domnia voastră – your lordship. As happens with all subject pronouns, dumneavoastră is often omitted from sentences, its use being implied by verbs in the second person plural form.

The form dumneata (originating from domnia ta – thy lordship) is less distant than dumneavoastră and somewhat midway between tu and dumneavoastră. The verb is conjugated, as for tu, in the second person singular form. Older people towards younger people and peers favor Dumneata. Its use is gradually declining.

A more colloquial form of dumneata is mata or even matale or tălică. It is more familiar than tu and is used only in some regions of Romania. It is used only with immediate family members, and is spelled and pronounced the same in all cases, similar to dumneavoastră. It is conjugated in the second-person singular, like tu.

Hellenic languages

Ancient and Hellenistic or Koine Greek

In Ancient Greek, (σύ) was the singular, and hymeis (ὑμεῖς) the plural, with no distinction for honorific or familiar. Paul addresses King Agrippa II as (Acts 26:2).

Later, hymeís and hēmeís (ἡμεῖς) ("we") became too close in pronunciation, and a new plural seís or eseís (σεις/εσείς) was invented, the initial e (ε) being a euphonic prefix that was also extended to the singular (sý/esý).

Modern Greek

In Modern Greek, εσείς (eseís, second person plural) with second person plural verb conjugation is used as the formal counterpart of εσύ (esý, second person singular) when talking to strangers and elders, although in everyday life it is common to speak to strangers of your age or younger using the singular pronoun. In addition, the informal second person singular is used even with older people you are acquainted with, depending on the level of mutual familiarity.

Since the formal εσείς (eseís) starts getting less common outside schools and workplaces, many people often do not know which form to use (because using a formal version might sound too snobbish even to an elder and using the informal version might sound inappropriate to some strangers) and thus prefer to replace verbs with nouns (avoiding the dilemma) until enough information on the counterpart's intentions is gathered in order to choose between formal or informal second person pronoun and verb conjugation. A good rule of thumb is that singular accompanies first names and plural accompanies surnames with title (Mr, Mrs, etc.). Exceptions are rare, for example younger schoolchildren may address their teacher in the plural, title and first name, or an officer may address a soldier in the singular and surname. The faux pas sequence singular-title-surname can often indicate lack of education, of good manners, or of both.

The modern social custom when using the Greek language in Greece is to ask the other person "may we speak in the singular?" in which the other person is expected to answer "yes" and afterwards the discussion continues using the informal εσύ (esý); it is unthinkable for the other person to answer "no" or show preference for plural forms, and for this reason one should not even ask this question to a person of high status, such as a professional. Therefore, asking this question can itself be considered a form of disrespect in some social situations. Likewise, not asking this question and simply using the singular without prior explicit or implicit agreement would also be considered disrespectful in various social contingencies. In other cases, even using the formal plural (without a question) could also be considered offensive. A person being inappropriately addressed in the singular will often indicate their displeasure by insisting on responding in the plural, in a display of irony that may or may not be evident to the other party. A similar social custom exists with the words κύριε (Mr/Sir) and κυρία (Mrs/Madam) which can show both respect and a form of "mock respect" which essentially communicates disapproval, often depending on the voice intonation and the social situation. Overall, the distinction between formal and informal forms of address and when to use each can be quite subtle and not easily discernible by a non-native speaker.

Celtic languages

Scottish Gaelic

In Scottish Gaelic, the informal form of the second-person singular is thu/tu (emphatic: thusa/tusa), used when addressing a person the speaker knows well, or when addressing a person younger or relatively the same age as the speaker. When addressing a superior, an elder, or a stranger, or in conducting business, the form sibh (emphatic: sibhse) is used. (Sibh is also the second person plural). This distinction carries over into prepositional pronouns: for instance, agad and agaibh (at you), riut and ruibh (with you), umad and umaibh (about you), etc., and into possessive pronouns do and ur (your).


In Irish, the use of sibh as an address to one person has practically died out, and is preferred. In Ulster dialect, the priest is traditionally addressed as sibh.

Welsh, Cornish and Breton

Modern Welsh, Cornish and Breton all retain a T–V distinction to varying degrees.

In spoken Welsh, the plural pronoun chi is used when speaking to strangers, elders or superiors whilst ti (or chdi in some parts of the North) is used with friends, close family, animals and children. Ti is also the form used when addressing God. Chwi is an alternative to chi found in very formal literary language.

A similar distinction exists between Cornish singular ty / chy and plural hwy / hwei, but the formal use of the plural is dying out in the modern language.

In Breton second person plural c'hwi is used as a polite form when addressing a single person and the singular te is reserved for informal situations. However, in a large area of central Brittany the singular form has been entirely replaced by c'hwi, as in English.

Balto-Slavic languages


Russian distinguishes between familiar ty (ты) and respectful vy (вы) — which is also the plural of both forms, used to address a pair or group. (Respectful Vy may be capitalized, while plural vy is not.) Generally, ty is used among friends and relatives, but the usage depends not only on the closeness of the relationship but also on age and the formality of the situation (e.g., work meeting vs. a party). Children always use ty to address each other and are addressed in this way by adults but are taught to address adults with vy. Younger adults typically also address older adults outside the family as vy regardless of intimacy, and may be addressed as ty in return. When talking to each other young people often start with the formal vy but may transition to ty very quickly in an informal situation. Among older people, ty is often reserved for closer acquaintances. Unless there is a substantial difference in age, the choice of the form is symmetric: if A uses ty to address B, then B also uses ty to address A. While people may transition quickly from vy to ty, such transition presumes mutual agreement. Use of ty without consent of the other person is likely to be viewed as poor conduct or even as an insult (or, in the case of opposite-sexed people, overly flirtatious), particularly if the other party maintains using vy.

Historically, the rules have been in favor of more formal usage; as late as the 19th century, it was accepted in many circles (generally of a more refined culture) that vy is to be used between close friends, between husband and wife, and when addressing one's parents (but not one's children), all of which situations today would strongly call for using ty.

The choice between ty and vy is closely related, yet sometimes different, from the choice of the addressing format — that is, the selection from the first name, patronymics, last name, and the title to be used when addressing the person. Normally, ty is associated with the informal addressing by first name only (or, even more informally, by the last name only), whereas vy is associated with the more formal addressing format of using the first name together with patronymics (roughly analogous to "title followed by last name" in English) or the last name together with a title (the last name is almost never used together with either of the other two names to address someone, although such combinations are routinely used to introduce or mention someone).

Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian

In Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, use of ti is limited to friends and family, and used among children. In any formal use, vi is used only; ti can be used among peers in a workplace but rarely in official documents. It is a common misconception, even among native speakers, that vi is always capitalized when used in formal tone; Vi is capitalized only in direct personal correspondence between two persons.


Bulgarian distinguishes between familiar ti (ти) and respectful Vie (Вие), although both words literally mean "you". Basically, "ti" is singular and "vie" is plural, but there are some notable exceptions. Ti (pronounced as the "ti" in "timber", and spelled "ти") means singular "you" and implies that you know the individual personally. The word Vie (pronounced as "vie" in "Vietnam") has either plural or singular meaning, depending on context.

When referring to more than one person, the plural vie is used always. For example, "Вие двамата напуснете, моля!" means "You two leave, please!"), and here, although "ti" and "vie" both means "you", "ti" can not be used.

When addressing to one person, if the people talking each other are acquainted then singular "ti" is used, otherwise plural "Vie" should be used. This "singular plural" is usually hard to understand and often people start new acquaintance straight forward with singular "ti", but generally this is considered offensive, rude, or simply not polite. Children are taught to use always "ti" between themselves, unless addressing to more than one child or an unknown adult. One notable rule is that when a conversation between a teacher and a student takes place, then it is imperative the student uses the polite form, but this is not so in the opposite direction.

The grammatically correct spelling of the singular word "Vie" is always with capital "V", whether being the first word in a sentence or not. For example, the sentence "But you are wrong!", if spelled (in Bulgarian) "Но Вие грешите!" (the word "Вие" with capital "В"), it would convey that the speaker is addressing an individual person with a plural, because he/she wants to express a polite, official manner; if spelt "Но вие грешите!" (the second possible Bulgarian translation of "But you are wrong!"), it would then mean that someone is talking to several persons.

Generally, ti is used amongst friends and relatives. When talking to each other, young people often start with the formal vie but quickly transition to ti in an informal situation. Unless there is a substantial difference in social situation (e.g. a teacher and a student), the choice of the form is symmetric: if A. uses ti to address B., then B. also uses ti to address A.. While people may transition quickly from vie to ti, such transition presumes mutual agreement. There is a recent trend not to use the formal "Vie" at all (or mostly at all), but this can lead to awkward situations.


Macedonian distinguishes between familiar ti (ти) and respectful vie (вие) — which is also the plural of both forms, used to address a pair or group. (Respectful Vie may be capitalized, while plural vie is not.) Generally, ti is used among friends and relatives, but the usage depends not only on the closeness of the relationship but also on age and the formality of the situation (e.g., work meeting vs. a party). Children always use ti to address each other and are addressed in this way by adults but are taught to address adults with vie. Younger adults typically also address older adults outside the family as vie regardless of intimacy, and may be addressed as ti in return. When talking to each other young people often start with the formal vie when talking to each other but may transition to ti very quickly in an informal situation. Among older people, ti is often reserved for closer acquaintances. Unless there is a substantial difference in age, the choice of the form is symmetric: if A uses ti to address B, then B also uses ti to address A. While people may transition quickly from vie to ti, such transition presumes mutual agreement. Use of ti without consent of the other person is likely to be viewed as poor conduct or even as an insult, particularly if the other party maintains using vie.



Tombstone of Jožef Nahtigal in Dobrova with archaic Slovene onikanje in indirect reference. Literal translation "Here lie [počivajo] the honorable Jožef Nahtigal ... they were born [rojeni] ... they died [umerli] ... God grant them [jim] eternal peace and rest."

In Slovenian, although informal address using the 2nd person singular ti form (known as tikanje) is officially limited to friends and family, talk among children, and addressing animals, it is increasingly used instead of its polite or formal counterpart using the 2nd person plural vi form (known as vikanje).

There is an additional nonstandard but widespread use of a singular participle combined with a plural auxiliary verb (known as polvikanje) that also reveals the gender of the person and is used in somewhat less formal situations:

  • Vi ga niste videli. ('You did not see him': both the auxiliary verb niste and the participle videli are plural masculine.)
  • Vi ga niste videl/videla. ('You did not see him': the auxiliary verb niste is plural but the participle videl/videla is singular masculine/feminine.)

The use of the 3rd person plural oni form (known as onikanje in both direct address and indirect reference) as an ultra-polite form is now archaic or dialectal; it is associated with servant-master relationships in older literature, the child-parent relationship in certain conservative rural communities, and in general with relationships with people of highest respect (parents, clergy, royalty).


In Czech, there are three levels of formality. The most formal is using the plural verb forms with the surname or title of the addressed person, usual between strangers or people in a professional relationship. The second common form is made by using the singular verb forms together with the given name of the other person, used between friends and in certain social groups (students etc.). The third form, which is quite uncommon, is using the plural verb forms and the given name. It may be used by a teacher when addressing a student, or by a boss addressing his secretary, or in other relationships which are more familiar than between strangers but still not friendship. Please note that using the singular verb forms together with the surname or title is considered very rude. Where stranger introduces himself with title (like inženýr Novák, doktor Svoboda), it is considered more polite to address him with title with vy than with surname. However, with ty a title is considered very rude.

Traditionally, use of the informal form was limited for relatives, very close friends, and for children. During the second half of the 20th century, use of the informal form grew significantly among coworkers, youth and members of organisations and groups. The formal form is always used in official documents and when dealing with a stranger (especially an older one) as a sign of respect. 2nd-person pronouns (Ty, Tvůj, Vy, Váš) are often capitalized in letters, advertisement, etc. The capitalization is optional and is slowly becoming obsolete. A variant of the formal form modeled after German "Sie" (Oni/oni, Jejich/jejich, verb onikat) was frequently used during 19th century but disappeared. This form is also associated with Czech Jewish community before Second World War, and still appears very often in Jewish humour as sign of local colour. Sometimes it in used as irony.

In the age internet, where people communicate under nicknames or pseudonymes and almost solely in informal way, capitalizing (ty/Ty mirroring English you/You) is used to emphasise respect, or simply presence of respect. (Ty = friends, honored acquaintance, strangers ty = basic form, vy/Vy = most formal, used to create distance or express contempt, very rude if not sufficiently advocated, often used as insult itself).[citation needed]

In grammar, plural forms are used in personal and possessive pronouns (vy – you, váš – your) and in verbs, but not in participles and adjectives, they are used in singular forms (when addressing a single person). This is a difference from some other Slavic languages (Slovak, Russian, etc.)

One person
One person
More people
(both formal
and informal)
ty děláš vy děláte vy děláte you do
dělal jsi dělal jste dělali jste you did
jsi hodný jste hodný jste hodní you are kind
byl jsi přijat byl jste přijat byli jste přijati you were accepted

Greetings are also connected with T–V distinction. Formal dobrý den (good day) and na shledanou (good-bye) are used with formal vy, while ahoj, nazdar, čau (meaning both hello, hi, and bye) are informal and used with ty.


In Lithuanian, historically, aside from familiar tu and respectful jūs or Jūs, also used to express plural, there was a special form tamsta, mostly referred to in third person singular (although referring in second person singular is also not uncommon). This form was used to communicate with a stranger who has not earned particular respect (a beggar, for example). Through the Soviet occupation period, however, this form was mostly replaced by standard neutral form drauge (the vocative form for draugas, "comrade", the latter being the standard formal form of addressing in all languages of the Soviet Union used in all situations, from "comrade Stalin" to "comrade student"), and by now tamsta is used sparsely. A common way of addressing people whom one don't know well is also Ponas (m) and Ponia (f), from Polish forms of address pan and pani, respectively.

Indic languages


In both versions of Hindi-Urdu or Hindustani language, there are three levels of honorifics:

  • आप آپ āp [aːp]: Formal and respectable form for you. Used in all formal settings and speaking to persons who are senior in job or age. No difference between the singular and the plural; plural reference can, however, be indicated by the use of "you people" (आप लोग آپ لوگ āp log) or "you all" (आप सब آپ سب āp sab).
  • तुम تُم tum [tʊm]: Informal form of you. Used in all informal settings and speaking to persons who are junior in job or age. No difference between the singular and the plural; plural reference can, however, be indicated by the use of "you people" (तुम लोग تُم لوگ tum log) or "you all" (तुम सब تُم سب tum sab).
  • तू تُو [tuː]: Extremely informal form of you. Strictly singular, its plural form would be तुम تُم tum. Inappropriate use of this form — i.e. other than in addressing children, very close friends, or in poetic language (either with God or with lovers) — risks being perceived as offensive in Pakistan or India.

In a similar way Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and other Dravidian tongues have honorifics and T–V distinctions, in all the persons.


Bengali has three levels of formality in its pronouns; the most neutral forms of address among closer members of a family are তুমি tumi and তোমরা tomra (plural). These two pronouns are also typically used when speaking to children, or to younger members of the extended family. তুমি tumi is also used when addressing God. When speaking with adults outside the family, or with senior members of the extended family, the pronouns আপনি apni and আপনারা apnara (plural) are used. This is also true in advertisements and public announcements. A third set of pronouns, তুই tui and তোরা tora (plural), is reserved for use between very close friends, and by extension, between relatives who share a bond not unlike a close friendship. It is also used when addressing people presumed to be of "inferior" social status; this latter use is occasionally used when speaking to housemaids, rickshaw-pullers, and other service workers, although this use is considered offensive.

The situations in which these different pronouns can be used vary considerably depending on many social factors. In some families, children may address their parents with আপনি apni and আপনারা apnara, although this is becoming increasingly rare. Some adults alternate between all three pronoun levels when speaking to children, normally choosing তুমি tumi and তোমরা tomra, but also often choosing তুই tui and তোরা tora to indicate closeness, or আপনি apni or আপনারা apnara in a joking manner. Additionally, Bengalis vary in which pronoun they use when addressing servants in the home; some may use আপনি apni and আপনারা apnara to indicate respect for an adult outside the family, while others may use তুমি tumi and তোমরা tomra to indicate either inclusion into the family or to indicate somewhat less honorable status. Others may even use তুই tui and তোরা tora to indicate inferior status.

Constructed languages


Esperanto is not a T–V-distinguishing language. Vi is the generic second person for both singular and plural, just like you in modern English. An informal second person singular pronoun, ci, does exist, but it is almost never used in practice. It is mainly intended to make the familiar/respectful distinction when translating (literature for example) from languages that do have the T–V-distinction.

Some have imagined ci as an archaic term that was used before and then fell out of common usage; however, this is not true. It has appeared only sometimes in experimental language. In standard Esperanto, vi has always been used since the beginning. For example, ci appears in neither the Fundamenta Gramatiko nor the Unua Libro.[2]


In Ido, in theory tu is limited to friends and family, whereas vu is used anywhere else. However, many users actually adapt the practice in their own mother tongue and use tu and vu accordingly. In the plural, though, the only form in use is vi, which does not distinguish between formal and informal address.

In all cases, an -n is added to the original pronoun to indicate a direct object that precedes its own verb: Me amoras tu (I love you) becomes Tun me amoras if the direct object takes the first place, for example for emphatic purposes.

Finno-Ugric languages


In Finnish, today the use of the informal singular form of address (sinä) is widespread in all social circles, even among strangers and in business situations. A counter-trend has been reported in recent years, whereby some people are choosing to use the formal form more often[citation needed]. It mostly occurs in addressing the elderly or in situations where strict adherence to form is expected, such as in the military. As the use of the form conveys formal recognition of the addressee's status and, more correctly, of polite social distance, the formal form might also occasionally be used jeeringly or to protest the addressee's snobbery. A native speaker may also switch to formal form when speaking in anger, as an attempt to remain civil. Advertisements, instructions and other formal messages are mostly in informal singular form (sinä and its conjugations), but the use of formal forms has increased in recent years. For example, as the tax authorities tend to become more informal, in contrast the social security system is reverting to using the formal form.

The same forms, such as the pronoun te, are used for formal singular and for both formal and informal plural. Occasionally in written language the formal singular pronoun capitalized (Te) to distinguish it from a plural (te).

In Finnish the number is expressed in pronouns (sinä or for second person singular, or te for second person plural), verb inflections, and possessive suffixes. Almost all of these elements follow the grammar of the second person plural also in the formal singular form. For example, polite Voisitteko te siirtää autonne vs. informal Voisitko (sinä) siirtää autosi, "Could you move your car, (please)?". Each of the person markers are modified: -t- to -tte- (verb person), sinä to te (pronoun), -si to -nne (possessive suffix).

As a few examples of this could be mentioned the way imperatives are expressed: Menkää! "Go!" (plural), vs. Mene! "Go!" (singular), and the usage of the plural suffix -nne "your" instead of the singular -si "your".

There is number agreement in Finnish, thus you say sinä olet "you are" (singular), but te olette "you are" (plural). However, this does not extend to words describing the addressee, which are in the singular, e.g. oletteko te lääkäri? "are you doctor?" (plural,plural,singular)

A common error, nowadays often made even by native speakers unused to the formal forms, is to use the plural form of the main verb in the perfect and pluperfect constructions. The main verb should be in the singular when addressing one person in the formal plural: Oletteko kuullut? instead of *Oletteko kuulleet? "Have you heard?"

Sometimes the third person is used as a polite form of address, after the Swedish model: Mitä rouvalle saisi olla? "What would madam like to have?" This is far less common in the Eastern parts of Finland, influenced less by the Swedish language and all in all a declining habit. The passive voice may be used to circumvent the choice of the correct form of address. In another meaning, the passive voice is also the equivalent of the English patronizing we as in Kuinkas tänään voidaan? "How are we feeling today?"

Finnish language includes the verbs for calling one with informal singular or formal plural: sinutella, teititellä, respectively.

In the Bible and in the Kalevala, only the "informal" singular is used in all cases.


Estonian is a language with T–V distinction, second person plural (teie) is used instead of second person singular (sina) as a means of expressing politeness or formal speech. Sina is the familiar form of address used with family, friends, and minors. The distinction is still much more widely used and more rigid than in closely related Finnish language.

Similar to the French language vouvoyer, the verb teietama is used, and teie is used when addressing a (new) customer or a patient, or when talking to a person in his/her function. In hierarchical organizations, like large businesses or armies, sina is used between members of a same rank/level while teie is used between members of different ranks. Sina (the verb sinatama is also used) is used with relatives, friends, when addressing children and with close colleagues. Borderline situations, such as distant relatives, young adults, customers in rental shops or new colleagues, sometimes still present difficulties.


Hungarian provides numerous, often subtle means of T–V distinction:

The use of the second-person conjugation with the pronoun te (plural ti) is the most informal mode. As in many other European languages, it is used within families, among children, lovers, close friends, (nowadays often) among coworkers, and in some communities, suggesting an idea of brotherhood. Adults unilaterally address children this way, and it is the form used in addressing God and other Christian figures (such as Jesus Christ or the Blessed Virgin), animals, and objects or ideas. Sociologically, the use of this form is widening. Whereas traditionally the switch to te is often a symbolic milestone between people, sometimes sealed by drinking a glass of wine together ("pertu"), today people under the age of about thirty will often mutually adopt te automatically in informal situations. A notable example is the Internet: strangers meeting online use the informal forms of address virtually exclusively, regardless of age or status differences; even Ferenc Gyurcsány as a Prime Minister in office encouraged[3] people in his blog to use te mutually when asking him. IKEA (or rather, its Hungarian team) was noted and practically unique in its choice of this way of addressing people in Hungary in its brochures; reactions were mixed.

Nevertheless, formal forms of address are alive and well in Hungarian:

  • The third-person verb conjugation is the primary basis of formal address. The choice of which pronoun to use, however, is fraught with difficulty (and indeed a common solution when in doubt is to simply avoid using any pronoun at all, using the addressee's name or title instead).
    • The pronoun maga (plural maguk), for instance, is considered the basic formal equivalent of "you", but may not be used indiscriminately, as it tends to imply an existing or desired personal acquaintance. (It would not, for instance, ordinarily be used in a conversation where the relative social roles are predominantly important – say, between professor and student.) Typical situations where maga might be used are, e.g., distant relatives, neighbours, fellow travellers on the train, or at the hairdresser's. If one already knows these people, they may even take offence if one were to address them more formally. On the other hand, some urbanites tend to avoid maga, finding it too rural, old-fashioned, offensive or even intimate. – Note that maga coincides with the reflexive pronoun (cf. him/herself), so e.g. the sentence Megütötte magát? can have three meanings: "Did he hit himself?", "Did he hit you?" or "Did you hit yourself?". (For the second meaning, probably ön would be used to avoid ambiguity.)
    • Ön (plural önök) is the formal, official and impersonal "you". It is the form used when people take part in a situation merely as representatives of social roles, where personal acquaintance is not a factor. It is thus used in institutions, business, bureaucracy, advertisements, by broadcasters, by shopkeepers to their customers, and whenever one wishes to maintain one's distance. It is less typical of rural areas or small towns, more typical of cities. It's often capitalized in letters.
    • Other pronouns are nowadays rare, restricted to rural, jocular, dialect, or old-fashioned speech. Such are, for instance, kend and kegyed.
    • There is a wide spectrum of third-person address that avoids the above pronouns entirely; preferring to substitute various combinations of the addressee’s names and/or titles. Thus, for instance, a university student might ask mit gondol X. tanár úr? ("What does Professor X. think?", meant for the addressee) rather than using the insufficiently formal maga or the overly impersonal ön. If the difference in rank is not to be emphasized, it is perfectly acceptable to use the addressed person's first name instead of a second-person pronoun, e.g. Megkérném arra Pétert, hogy… ("I'd like to ask [you,] Peter to…"). (Note that these are possible because the formal second-person conjugation of verbs is the same as the third-person conjugation.)
  • Finally, the auxiliary verb tetszik (lit. "it pleases [you]") is an indirect alternative (or, perhaps, supplement) to direct address with the third or even second person. In terms of grammar, it can only be applied if the addressed person is mentioned in the nominative, otherwise it is replaced by forms with the name or maga. It is very polite (sometimes seen as over-polite) and not as formal as the Ön form. Children usually address adults outside their family this way. Adults may address more distant relatives, housekeepers and older persons using this form, and some men habitually address older or younger women this way (this is slightly old-fashioned).

It is important to keep in mind that formal conjugation doesn't automatically imply politeness or vice versa; these factors are independent of each other. For example, Mit parancsolsz? "What would you like to have?" (literally, "What do you command?") is in the informal conjugation, while it can be extremely polite, making it possible to express one's honour towards people one has previously established a friendly relationship with. On the other hand, Mit akar? "What do you want?" is expressed with the formal conjugation, nevertheless it may sound rude and aggressive; the formal conjugation does not soften this tone in any way.

Example: "you" in the nominative
"Will you be leaving tomorrow?"
Example: "you" in the accusative
"I saw you yesterday on the television."
Te (Te) holnap utazol el? Láttalak tegnap a tévében.
Maga (Maga) holnap utazik el? Láttam magát tegnap a tévében.
Ön (Ön) önt
<title or first name> (A) tanár úr*
(a) tanár urat*
Tetszik Holnap tetszik elutazni? <The name or maga is used instead>
Láttam tegnap Mari nénit** a tévében.
OR Láttam tegnap magát a tévében.
* "tanár úr" is a form of addressing for professors (cf. "Sir"); "tanár urat" is the accusative. Other forms of addressing are also possible, to avoid specifying the maga and ön pronouns.
** "Mari nénit" is an example name in the accusative (cf. "Aunt Mary").

Turkic languages


In contemporary Turkish, the T–V distinction is strong. Family members and friends speak to one another using the second-person singular sen, and adults use sen to address minors. In formal situations (business, customer-clerk, and colleague relationships, or meeting people for the first time) the plural second-person siz is used almost exclusively. In very formal situations, the double plural second-person sizler may be used to refer to a much-respected person. Rarely, the third-person plural form of the verb (but not the pronoun) may be used to emphasize utmost respect. In the imperative, there are three forms: second person singular for informal, second person plural for formal, and second person double plural for very formal situations: gel (second person singular, informal), gelin (second person plural, formal), and geliniz (double second person plural, very formal). The very formal forms are not frequently used.


Uyghur is notable for using four different forms, to distinguish both singular and plural in both formal and informal registers. The informal plural silär originated as a contraction of sizlär, which uses a regular plural ending. In Old Turkic, as still in modern Turkish, siz was the original second-person plural. However, in modern Uyghur siz has become restricted to the formal singular, requiring the plural suffix -lär for the plurals.

Siz as the formal singular pronoun is characteristic of Ürümchi dialect, which is the Uyghur literary standard. In Turfan they say sili and in Kashgar dialect, özlär. Sili is also used in other areas sometimes, while in literary Uyghur özlär as a singular pronoun is considered a "hyperdeferential" level of respect; the deferential plural form is härqaysiliri.

Northwest Caucasian languages


In the extinct Ubykh language, the T–V distinction was most notable between a man and his mother-in-law, where the plural form sʸæghʷa supplanted the singular wæghʷa very frequently, possibly under the influence of Turkish. The distinction was upheld less frequently in other relationships, but did still occur.

Semitic languages


Modern Standard Arabic uses the majestic plural form of the second person (أنتم 'antum') to respectfully refer to the addressee. It is restricted to highly formal contexts, generally relating to politics and government. However, several varieties of Arabic have a clearer T–V distinction. The most developed is in Egyptian Arabic, which uses حضرتك ḥaḍritak (literally, "Your Grace"), ساعدتك sa`adtak and سيادتتك siyadtak (literally, "Your Lordship") as the "V" terms, depending on context, while انت inta is the "T" term. Ḥaḍritak is the most usual "V" term, with sa`adtak and siyadtak being reserved for situations where the addressee is of very high social standing (e.g. a high-ranking government official or a powerful businessman). Finally, the "V" term is used only with social superiors (including elders); unfamiliar people perceived to be of similar or lower social standing to the speaker are addressed with the T term inta.


In modern Hebrew, there is a T–V distinction used in a set of very formal occasions, for example, a lawyer addressing a judge, or when speaking to rabbis. The second person singular "אתה" (ata, masculine) or "את" (at, feminine) are the usual form of address in all other situations, i.e. when addressing ministers or members of the Knesset.

The formal form of address when speaking to a person of higher authority is the third person singular using the person's title without the use of the pronoun. Thus, a rabbi could be asked: "כבוד הרב ירצה לאכול?" (kevod ha-rav yirtze le-ekhol, "would the honorable rabbi like to eat?") or a judge told: "כבודו דן בבקשתי" (kevodo dan be-bakashati, "his honour is considering my request").

Other persons of authority are normally addressed by their title only, rather than by name, using the second person singular. For example, officers and commanders in the army are addressed as "המפקד" (hamfaked, "the commander") by troops.

In non-Hebrew-speaking Jewish culture, the second-person form of address is similarly avoided in cases of higher authority (e.g., a student in a yeshiva would be far more likely to say in a classroom discussion "yesterday the rabbi told us..." than "yesterday you told us..."). However, this usage is limited to more conservative (i.e. Orthodox) circles.[4]

Sino-Tibetan languages

Mandarin Chinese

Historically, Mandarin Chinese has upheld its T–V distinction rigorously in speech as well as in writing. This is particularly evident in Beijing, whose dialect formed the basis for Standard Chinese. Written Chinese, which generally strives for a more formal, or even semi-archaic tone, consistently makes the T–V distinction, sometimes even going so far as to employ archaic forms no longer used in speech such as 閣下 (阁下), géxià, literally, from below the pagoda, meaning basically "Your Excellency", used in extremely formal situations in Imperial China. Although rarely, 前辈 (前輩 trad. characters, pronounced qiánbèi), character-wise literally "older generation", meaning "Elder(s)", is still sometimes used in very formal settings when there is a very large age gap between the speaker and the listener.

In contrast to many European languages, the T–V distinction in formal Mandarin is predicated much more on the chronological age of the speakers than on their social positions. A possible exception is if there is a very large gap in the social status/standing within an exchange. For example, formality may be used when one is addressing one's superior in the workplace, or when a servant is addressing an employer, or when a waiter at a restaurant is addressing a customer. People of a similar age who are not acquainted with each other will generally address each other using the informal 你 (nǐ). The formal variant of 你 (nǐ) is 您 (nín), and the character 您 is composed of 你 with the element of the heart, 心 (xīn heart), added below it. Among its uses, one addresses older people using 您 (nín). As shown by presence of the element of the heart in the character, the word is also used to indicate affection expressed in a formal way. This includes addressing one's parents using 您 (nín). Situations where two people address each other using 您 are relatively rare, unless expressing such formal affection is the intent of both parties. 您 may thus, for example, be used among close family members, or in formal discourse between heads of state. It is worth noticing that unlike a TV-distinction like the one followed in modern French with the word "vous", using 您 in this way in Mandarin Chinese does not carry any implication of distance or a lack of intimacy.

In southern China when using either local dialect or informal Mandarin, there is no T–V distinction made at all. Formality in these languages is indicated by use of different kinship terms only, much like other Asian languages (such as Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese). Because of this, most southern Chinese find it irrelevant, unnecessary, and sometimes difficult to make the distinction.

Although the plural forms of personal pronouns in Mandarin are typically formed by adding the suffix -們 (-men) (们 = simplified character) to their singular counterparts, the construction of 您們 is quite rare in Standard Chinese; indirect constructions such as 大家 (dàjiā, everyone) or 諸位 (zhū wèi, written language) resp. 各位 (gèwèi, polite/formal) are preferred when addressing a crowd. The reason may be due to the etymology of 您, which was itself a contraction of the plural second person pronoun 你們 (nimen -> *nim -> nin). A now extinct honorific form 怹 for the third person was formed in a similar way (他們 tamen->*tam->tan). The use of 您們 remains extant in the Beijing dialect[citation needed], however, which retains a number of distinctions lost in Standard Chinese. Examples of its use include situations where a small number of older people with whom one is relatively familiar is directly addressed, making 大家 (dàjiā) awkward. In Taiwanese Mandarin, 您們 is still encountered as an address in the service industry, spoken as well as written, for two or more customers.

Japonic languages


In Japanese, as in Vietnamese, kinship terms, titles, or names are commonly used instead of first-, second- or third-person pronouns; real personal pronouns do not exist in the language, and the words most closely corresponding to them are grammatically nouns. As in Korean, there are several levels of politeness regarding social hierarchy, and polite language encompasses not only pronouns but also verb endings and vocabulary as well. (See the articles Japanese pronouns and Honorific speech in Japanese for more information.)

Austro-Asiatic languages


Vietnamese does not have a clear concept of pronouns. Any noun can be used to refer to people, especially kinship terms. Pronouns are sometimes not needed in a normal conversation, as the speaker can always refer to him/herself, the audience, and others directly by name, which might seem strange to English speakers. The nouns used to refer to people can reveal not only the level of formality but also the social relationship between the speaker and the person being referred to, differences in age, and even the attitude of the speaker toward the person whom is being referred.

There is an informal second-person pronoun: mày. This term is always condescending and should be used only with someone who is both familiar with and subordinate to the speaker. Young people also utilize it frequently.

Tai-Kadai languages


In Thai, first, second, and third person pronouns vary in formality according to the social standing of the speaker and the referent and the relationship between them. For a non-exhaustive list of Thai second person pronouns, see http://www.into-asia.com/thai_language/grammar/you.php.

Austronesian languages


In Tagalog, the familiar second person is 'ikáw' (in the nominative case). This is replaced by 'kayó' (which is actually the second person plural) when the situation calls for a more polite tone. The pronoun 'kayó' is accompanied by the particle 'pô'. This form is generally used to show respect to close, older relatives. This is also the form expected when talking with friends of parents or grandparents.

However, when formality is required, the third person plural ('silá') is used instead. This form is used when talking with complete strangers or people with high ranks, such as government officials.

  1. Sino ka? (Who are you?) [Used to ask for the identity of a person of equal rank, such as a student to a fellow student. However, this question sounds impolite.]
  2. Sino pô kayó? (Who are you?) [This form implies that the speaker believes the person addressed is related to them or a relative, and just wants to confirm the relationship.]
  3. Sino pô silá? (Who are you, Sir/Ma'am?) [Though 'pô' does not really translate as 'Sir' or 'Ma'am', the question gives us an idea that the person addressed is a complete stranger and the speaker has no idea who they are.]

Younger generations who are basically ignorant of proper Tagalog grammar usually confuse these forms of address, thus may ask someone Sino ka pô ba? in an attempt to sound polite towards a total stranger. This and other ungrammatical variants are very widespead especially in Metro Manila and surrounding suburbs.

Other languages


The Korean language has historically used several complex gradations. There are at least seven honorific speech levels, each with a singular and plural distinction, creating 14 basic verb stems. However most levels are now redundant in modern Korean. Basic distinctions are made between simplified plain and polite conjugations of verbs and adjectives.

Plain forms are used when speaking to family, close friends and social inferiors. If Koreans are unsure about their social superiority, they will always use polite forms until it is determined who is socially inferior. When they wish to use plain form, Koreans use 말을 놓다 mareul nota (literally “to release language”) for permission to converse in basic forms. Respectful polite forms are known as존댓말 jondaenmal and neutral plain forms are 예사말 yesanmal. The plainest forms are known as 반말 banmal (literally “half speech”) which are spoken among close friends or to social inferiors. But these forms become derogatory and provocative when directed at those who should be addressed in a polite manner.

Honorific speech triggered by the subject of the sentence is called 높임말 nopimmal and is used independently of the speaker's social level. For example a speaker who uses -하십니다 -hasimnida which means “do(es) …”, adds the infix -시 -si- to honour the sentence's subject and the suffix -ㅂ니다 -mnida to express courtesy or politeness (or simply their distance) towards those listening. Polite and plain forms maybe mixed in 높임말 nopimmal as the subject of the sentence and those spoken to, do not have to be the same people. The speaker can also honour a higher person with the infix -시 -si- while talking to a friend using only 반말 banmal plain forms.

Korean has two second-person singular pronouns, 당신 ("dangshin") and 너 ("neo"). 당신 is the more formal of the two, but it does not correspond to the formal second-person singular found in many European languages. The use of 당신 is highly curtailed, with usage only suitable in a small number of situations: between married, engaged or romantically committed partners (although this usage is becoming seen as somewhat old-fashioned), while praying to a God or higher power, or when the use of a personal pronoun is absolutely unavoidable in formal situations. To use 당신 while conversing with a shopkeeper or colleague, for example, would be considered extremely impolite. 너, with the variant 니 ("ni"), is only appropriately used between close personal friends of the same birth year or when an older person is speaking to a close younger acquaintance. In other situations, Koreans will use a third-person noun in place of a second-person pronoun. Teenagers may be addressed as 학생 ("haksaeng", student); men of about 20 or older may be addressed as 아저씨 ("ajeosshi", uncle) while unmarried women may be addressed as "아가씨" ("agasshi") and married women as "아줌마" ("ajumma"). Colleagues will often use each other's job titles - "director", "vice-principal", etc - while customers of a business will often be addressed as "손님" ("sonnim", guest).


Basque has three levels of formality: hi, zu and berori.

The most neutral is zu, that is considered the formal one. The informal one is hi and its use is limited to some specific situations: among friends, parents to address their children (never otherwise, neither the spouses among them), to children and to pets.

Unlike "zu", "hi" makes a distinction whether the addressed one is a male or a female (for example: duk (you, male, have) and dun (you, female, have)); also obligates the speaker to change any other verb forms to mark this distinction about the addressed one, even in 3rd and 1st person verbs. This is called hitano (for example: du (s/he has, neutral form); dik (s/he has, male you) and din (s/he has, female you)).

The third form, berori, is a very strongly formal pronoun hardly used nowadays, used to address priests, judges and nobility. It uses the 3rd form verbs.

The plural form used to be "zu", but since it was adopted as a neutral form for the singular, a pluralized version was made up: zuek, for both respectful and familiar relationships.

Related verbs, nouns and pronouns

Some languages have a verb to describe the fact of using either a T or a V form. Some also have a related noun or pronoun. In English the analogous distinction may be expressed as "to use first names" or "to be on a first-name basis (with someone)".

T verb V verb T noun V noun
Basque hika (aritu/hitz egin)(very close) zuka (aritu/hitz egin) (neuter/formal)
berorika (aritu/hitz egin) (very formal)
Breton teal/mont dre te/komz dre te c'hwial/mont dre c'hwi/komz dre c'hwi    
Bulgarian (говоря/съм)на "ти" (govorya/sam)na "ti" (говоря/съм)на "Вие" (govorya/sam)na "Vie" на "ти" na "ti"(more like adverb) на "Вие" na "Vie"(more like adverb)
Catalan tutejar/tractar de tú/vós tractar de vostè
Chinese 稱呼你 (chēnghū nǐ) 稱呼您 (chēnghū nín)
Czech tykat vykat tykání vykání
Danish dutte, at være dus at være Des
Dutch tutoyeren, jijjouwen (used very rarely) vouvoyeren tutoyeren vouvoyeren
English to thou thouing
Esperanto cidiri vidiri cidiro vidiro
Estonian sinatama teietama sinatamine teietamine
Finnish sinutella teititellä sinuttelu teitittely
French tutoyer vouvoyer/vousoyer/voussoyer (the last two forms are used very rarely) tutoiement vouvoiement/vousoiement/voussoiement (the last two forms are used very rarely)
Frisian (West) dookje jookje dookjen jookjen
German duzen siezen Duzen Siezen
Hungarian tegez magáz tegezés magázás
Icelandic þúa þéra þúun þérun
Italian dare del tu dare del Lei
Korean 말을 놓다(mareul nota); 반말하다(banmalhada) 말을 높이다(mareul nophida); 높인 말(nopphin mal)
Lithuanian tujinti tujinimas
Polish mówić per ty
tykać (humorous)
mówić per pan/pani mówienie per ty mówienie per pan/pani
Portuguese tratar por tu, você; chamar de você, tu tratar por senhor / senhora; chamar de senhor / senhora o senhor / a senhora
Romanian a tutui a spune „dumneavoastră” tutuire plural de politeţe
Russian тыкать (tykat') выкать (vykat') тыканье (tykanie) выканье (vykanie)
Serbian не персирати (ne persirati),
бити на ти (biti na ti),
тикати (tikati)
персирати (persirati),
бити на ви (biti na vi),
викати (vikati)
неперсирање (nepersiranje),
тикање (tikanje)
персирање (persiranje),
викање (vikanje)
Slovak tykať vykať tykanie vykanie
Slovene tikati vikati tikanje vikanje
Sorbian (Upper-) ty prajić, tykać wy rěkać/prajić, wykać tykanje wykanje
Sorbian (Lower-) ty groniś, tykaś (se) {lit.} wy groniś, wykaś {lit} ty gronjenje, tykanje wy gronjenje, wykanje
Spanish tutear, vosear ustedear; tratar de usted tuteo, voseo ustedeo[5]
Swedish dua nia duande niande
Turkish senli benli olmak/konuşmak sizli bizli olmak/konuşmak senli benli olmak/konuşmak) sizli bizli olma/konuşmak
Ukrainian тикати (tykaty),
казати "ти" (kazaty "ty")
викати (vykaty),
казати "ви" (kazaty "vy")
тикання (tykannia),
звертання на ти (zvertannia na ty)
викання (vykannia),
звертання на ви (zvertannia na vy)
Welsh tydïo tydïo
Yiddish דוצן (dutsn)
זײַן אױף דו (zayn af du)
אירצן (irtsn)
זײַן אױף איר (zayn af ir)

See also



  • Brown, Roger / Gilman, Albert (1960) "The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity" in American Anthropologist 4 (6): 24–39. Also found in Language and Social Context: Selected Readings, ed. by P. Giglioli (1972), ISBN 0-140-13303-8, pp. 252–282.
  • Cook, Manuela (2000) "Power and Solidarity Revisited", 28th Romance Linguistics Seminar Meeting, Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge.
  • (Spanish) Cook, Manuela (1997) "Forms of Address" ("Uma Teoria de Interpretação das Formas de Tratamento na Língua Portuguesa"), Hispania 80.3.
  • (French) Chatelain, E. (1880) "Du pluriel de respect en latin", Revue de Philologie IV (April 1880): 129–139.
  • Helmbrecht, Johannes (2005), "Politeness Distinctions in Pronouns", in. Haspelmath, Martin et al. (eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 186-190.
  • Jucker, Andreas / Taavitsainen, Irma (eds.) (2003), Diachronic Perspectives on Address Term Systems, Amsterdam: Benjamins
  • On-line Middle English grammar (PDF file)
  • Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, The. New York, Oxford University Press, 1971.

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