Which “You” to Use?

Along with the distinction between “friends” and “acquaintances” in Lithuania, the Lithuanian language (like many others) has both an informal and formal form of “you.”  In general, this means that one uses the formal “you” (jus) with everyone except those one knows well (tu).  If only it were that simple.  In practice, it seems a bit random.  People whom I’ve known for several years and have a somewhat personal relationship will still use the formal “you” with me, while other people use the informal “you” from the moment we meet.  I always start with jus and only switch to tu when it is clear that the other person is using the informal — unless I am talking to a child.  It gets really confusing when I am in a conversation with several people and I am using the informal with one person and the formal with another person.  Unless, of course, I am talking to all of them at once — then I use jus because it is also the plural form.

Note: English used to have formal and informal forms.  You was the formal and plural form of the second person pronoun and thee was the informal second person pronoun.  So when the King James Version of the Bible refers to God as thee, it is actually using the informal form — although to us today it sounds old-fashioned and formal.  And, of course, those of us from the South have a plural form for you — that would be y’all.


About amanda

Creating academic and public environments for the humanities to flourish Researching Soviet and Eastern European history Engaging people and ideas as a writer and interviewer Traveling as much as possible View all posts by amanda

2 responses to “Which “You” to Use?

  • Lauryna

    Even I get confused sometimes weather to use “Jūs” or “tu” 🙂 We use the formal “you” mostly with older people than yourself, if it’s the first time meeting them, and with elders in general. The former situation often transforms into one when we’re using informal “you” at some point. But figuring out the timing is the tricky part 🙂

  • Ken Virta

    When I lived in Germany, I lived in terror of talking to certain people at work. My boss addressed me in the familiar, but I found it inexplicably hard to reciprocate. However, people could communicate a great deal, a blend of warmth and concern, by starting a sentence with “du.” In retrospect, I think that American youth merely added a couple letters to get “dude.”

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