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Honorifics are words that connote esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. In the German language, honorifics distinguish people by age, sex, profession, academic achievement, and rank. In the past, a distinction was also made between married and unmarried women.
Sex and age
- for men (equivalent to Mister in English). Note that this word also means "master, owner, ruler" (pl., Herren) and is also a form of address for the Christian god (English equivalent: Lord).
- for women (equivalent to Ms. in English). Note that this word also means "woman" (pl., Frauen) and "wife."
- for unmarried women (like Miss in English). Fräulein is now deprecated and may be considered condescending.
- Unlike the British "Dame," the German word "Dame" is not a title of nobility, but just a polite word for "woman." The English phrase "Ladies and Gentlemen" is translated into German as "meine Damen und Herren" (in letters and e-mails: "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren").
Like many languages, German has pronouns for both familiar (used with family members, intimate friends, and children) and polite forms of address. The polite equivalent of "you" is "Sie." Grammatically speaking, this is the 3rd-person-plural form, and, as a subject of a sentence, it always takes the 3rd-person-plural forms of verbs and possessive adjective/ pronouns, even when talking to only one person. (Familiar pronouns have singular and plural forms.) Honorific pronouns are always capitalized except for the polite reflexive pronoun "sich." In letters, e-mails, and other texts in which the reader is directly addressed, familiar pronouns may be capitalized or not. In schoolbooks, the pronouns usually remain lowercased.
Declension of the polite personal pronoun "Sie":
Nominative case (= Accusative case): Sie
Genitive case: Ihrer
Dative case: Ihnen
Declension of polite possessive adjectives:
|Masculine||Feminine||Neuter||All three genders|
Obsolete forms of honorific addresses:
In former times, the 2nd person plural ("Ihr" ; like the French « vous ») or the 3rd person singular ("Er" He, "Sie" She) and their corresponding possesive adjectives and verb forms were used. The 3rd person plural as polite form of address as it is used today became standard during the 19th and 20th centuries.
For more details about German grammar, see the entries about the German language.
Profession and academics
- As with the title of Doctor in English, Doktor applies both to medical doctors and those who hold a doctorate. Unlike the English-language usage, Doktor may be repeated for double doctorates (Doktor Doktor). It can also be combined with other honorifics (Herr Doktor or Frau Doktor Doktor).
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