Mi scusi? O scusa?

Hello everyone, today I would like to write about the polite forms we use when we talk to people. I am talking about the formal and the informal ways that we use during conversations.

In Italian we have the “you” form and the “lei” form, what do I mean by these?

I mean that if we talk with someone we know or we are related to, we use the “you” form; while if we talk to someone we don’t know, an older person or an authority, then we use the “lei” form, which is considered also a form of respect:

Formal: Mi scusi, lei sa che ore sono?

Excuse me, do you know what time is it?

Informal: Come stai?

How are you?


Let’s see how it works in the other four languages I know. In Spanish they have the “” form and the “usted” form and they use them exactly as the Italians:

Formal: Usted sabe dónde se encuentra la farmacia?

Do you know where the pharmacy is?

Informal: Sabes tú que hicieron ayer?

Do you know what they did yesterday?


Let’s move to the Portuguese and we see that also here they use the “tu” form and the “você” form in Portugal, while in Brasil they use just the “você” form:

Informal: Te quero

I love you

Formal: Quero você

I love you


But what about English? They just have the “you” form and they had a “thee” form but it dates back to the Early Modern English. They used “thou” for the subject, “thee” for the object and “thy/thine” for the possessive and today even if they use “you” for everybody, they add “Madam” or “Sir” just to delineate a polite form:

Formal: I love thee (very old form)

Informal: I love you

Formal: Thou worked all day long (very old form)

Informal: You worked all day long

Formal: Thine dog is smart (very old form)

Informal: Your dog is smart

Today: How are you, Sir?/ How are you my friend? (Do you see the difference?)


Finally we have Norwegian, which, has just the “du” form and seventy years ago it had the “de” form. Norwegians used Herr (Mr.), Frøken/fru (Miss/Mrs.), but they don’t do it anymore or if they do is with the Royal family. Today they just use name and last name at the first meeting and then just the name in the following times, as I read somewhere:

Formal: De er vakker fru Hanne (old form)

Informal: Du er vakker Hanne (today)

At the end I would like to add that it is important to know all this, especially when I have to work with Norwegian-Italian interpretation or to speak Italian/Spanish/Portuguese for example. It is hard to remember that I have to distinguish both forms, because in Norwegian is always “you” but not in Italian: if I have the chance to work for an Italian client who is having a conversation with a Norwegian professional, I have to use the “lei” form. So I have to be good doing my job and use the formal way with the Italian customer, while with the Norwegian person, we already know that the “you” form is ok.

Curious eh?


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