According to legend, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl once said “You can say ‘you’ to me” during a conversation in English…

Whether this is true or not is a matter of debate, but German speakers often see you as too familiar and sometimes don’t feel comfortable about using it with people they don’t know.

In German, there are two ‘you’ forms. Sie, the polite form, is used to show distance or respect – when speaking to strangers, customers or the police, for example – and du (plural ihr), the familiar form, is used to speak to friends, family or children.

In English, we only have one form – you – but it hasn’t always been this way. Thou, and it’s related forms thee, thy and thine aren’t used in modern English, but you can still find them in the Bible and Shakespeare. It surprises many to hear that thou was the familiar form and you was, in fact, the polite form.

Today, you is used when speaking to one person or more than one person. In some dialects, there is a plural form of you. In the southern part of the US, you’ll hear y’all (you all), many Americans use you guys and the British sometimes use you lot. In some parts of the UK, as well as in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, you’ll also hear youse.

You is also used for the third person when speaking generally. ‘You have to work hard’ can have the same meaning as ‘one has to work hard’.

So, you don’t need to feel bad! You isn’t as familiar as you thought!

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