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Learn Russian | What’s the difference between “you” (ты) and “You” (Вы)?

Many people who started to learn Russian get confused in situations when you need to use “you” (ты) as an informal form of appeal or  “YOU” (Вы) as formal form of appeal.

Until 18th century, in Russian language, pronoun “you” was used without distinction of ages, estates and relations between people. After the reforms of Peter the Great, the German “You” (ВЫ) migrated to the Russian language, which was met disapprovingly. But over time, “you” (ВЫ) as a form of treatment has taken it’s place in Russian culture, like many other things that have come from the West, and became part of our culture.

Using pronoun “ you “(ты) brings together, erases the boundaries in communication between people.” However, the boundaries between people have always been and will be.

So, according to the rules of modern etiquette appeal “YOU”(ВЫ) is mandatory in the following cases:

1. When communicating with a person met for the first time.

2. Regardless of age and social origin — in an official environment and when contacting an unknown person.

3. During business communication if you don’t have informal relations with colleagues. 

4. When communicating with the patient, regardless of the circumstances.

5. Journalists during interviews even with well-known people.

6.When addressing students of high and university, which emphasizes a respectful attitude and notes the maturity of the individual.

7. When talking to older people

The appeal “you” (ты) is permissible:

1. Between family members.

2. Talking to a good friend, colleague, children.

3. At school when referring to a child under 9 years old.

  There are no strict rules regarding switching from “you” (ВЫ) to “you” (ты), but the practice of communicating with people has developed certain guidelines. So:

You can’t make decision to switch to “you,” (ты), always you have to ask another person if you can address him/her “you” (ты) especially with dependent person (lower in rank), as this can be perceived as familiarity. The elder may offer the younger to switch to “you,” (ты) but this does not in any way oblige the younger to agree to such a transition, despite the age difference. The transition to “you” (ты) with a person with whom there is a big difference in age and social status is unacceptable. In the relationship between a man and a woman, the proposal to switch to “you” should come exclusively from the woman. This communication rule is not so strictly observed in business relations.

  However, everyone makes a choice for himself, is guided in communication independently, especially since life situations are varied, and the rules of etiquette and politeness do not give answers to all questions. And at the same time, it should be remembered that etiquette as an element of external culture helps to solve many problems in everyday situations, often even stop them before they arise.

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