To be formal or informal


In our last blog post we explored why there’s an important choice for our translators to make when translating form of address from English into other languages. In this post we give you some more examples illustrating the importance of native translators knowing the nuances, conventions and preferences of the languages they’re translating into.


Thinking back to our French example in the first post in this series, Italy has had a similar past with its mode of address. In 1938, Mussolini banned the everyday use of the informal form of address ‘lei’ and ordered the return of the formal ‘voi’ in everyday communication.

Nowadays the usual form of address used by Italians is ‘tu’, a friendly and informal greeting. ‘Lei’ is used as a more formal greeting and ‘voi’ is used very rarely. The exception is southern Italy, where it is still very common to speak formally using ‘voi’, but this is more a mark of dialect and respect for elders. As all forms of address are still used to some degree, it’s important to use a mother-tongue translator who will have native level knowledge of nuances like this. However, that’s not always enough as you’ll read below. Rest assured this would never happen to a qualified linguist!


A great example of the embarrassment that qualified translators can help you avoid, this anecdote can be laughed at in hindsight… A Danish journalist was put in his place by the Danish Queen when he chose the wrong mode of address when speaking to her.

Apart from her sons, the Queen is the only person in the country who you have to address in the most formal of ways ‘De og Deres‘, roughly translated as ‘You and Yours’, unless you choose to address her as ‘Hendes Majestæt, Dronningen, or Deres Kongelige Højhed’ the Danish equivalents of ‘Your Majesty’, ‘Queen’ or ‘Your Royal Highness.

Although he had prepared himself for using these unusual forms of address, when in front of the Queen, the reporter completely forgot himself when he began to ask her questions. She embarrassed him as she reminded him frankly it was not the correct way for him to address her, stating ‘I do not think we went to school together, so I don’t think we are that familiar.’


In Germany, form of address is very important and using the proper and formal form of address is most common. Germans will often even address each other by their last names, even in work situations, until they consider themselves to be very good friends who can address each other on a first name basis.

As in France, there are different degrees of formality when addressing someone as ‘you. In Berlin, in particular, this has caused some confusion for those visiting from other areas as the more informal ‘du’ has seen an increase in use over the more formal and previously universally-used ‘Sie’.

However, it is still important to use qualified translators who have up-to-date local knowledge of their language and your target audience. Whilst the rise of the informal ‘du’ started in Berlin it is also thought to have come from more relaxed industries such as sport and media, whereas the finance industry is very formal so would still address each other with ‘Sie’.

In other locations the rules can also change, such as when business associates meet to play golf. Some have introduced a ‘multi-you’ where they address each other informally with ‘du’ whilst on the golf course and then revert back to ‘Sie’ when in business environments.

Never left behind

From our examples it is clear to see that, aside from the English language, form of address can be a minefield unless tackled by a qualified, mother-tongue translator. At The Language Factory not only do our translators meet these requirements, they are all also members of recognised governing bodies. This ensures they keep their native knowledge up-to-date so, whatever their speciality, they can always offer the best quality translations.

Want some advice on an upcoming project? Call us on +44 1727 862722 or email us at to chat to a member of our friendly team.


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