An important aspect of politeness in German is saying ‘please‘ and ‘thank you‘. Those words are among the first you should learn, so that you make friends easily.
When to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in German
‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are important German vocabulary. But you should know to use them right!
When to say ‘please’ in German
As you can see, the German word ‘bitte‘ has two meanings, depending on the context it is being used in: It can either mean ‘please‘ as in a question or a plea, or ‘you’re welcome‘.
‘Bitte‘ should be used frequently, whenever you’re requesting for something:
Kannst du mir bitte die Wasserflasche geben?
Could you please give me the bottle of water?
Ich möchte bitte Ihren Chef sprechen.
I would like to speak to your manager, please.
Möchtest du mit mir Essen gehen?
‘Bitte’ as ‘you’re welcome’
When somebody thanks you for something, you reply to them with ‘bitte‘ or other variations of ‘you’re welcome’, such as ‘bittesehr‘ or ‘bitteschön‘.
Instead of using those variations of ‘bitte’, there are also other ways to answer to ‘thank you’:
When to say ‘thank you’ in German
If in doubt whether it is appropriate to thank somebody for something, always do. That should be your rule of thumb when interacting with Germans.
Germans say ‘thank you’ a lot. Not saying thank you after being offered something counts as rude and should be avoided at all costs.
The German word for ‘thank you’ is ‘danke‘. While there are other, more formal ways to say ‘thank you’, ‘danke‘ is the most frequently used and is never too informal.
Here are other commonly used ways to say ‘thank you’ in German:
Thank you very much.
In formal situations or when you feel extremely grateful to someone you can use the following phrases, which are less commonly used among young Germans but work well with older generations:
(Vielen) herzlichen Dank.
(Many) sincere thanks.
Thanks a million.
Thank you very much.
In slightly informal situations, with somebody that you know well and feel comfortable with, you can also say ‘(Vielen) lieben Dank‘, which can roughly be translated as ‘(Many) dear thanks’.
If you would like to decline an offer but stay polite, you use the phrase ‘no, thanks‘, just like in English:
Politeness is part of German culture
The relevance of knowing polite phrases when interacting with Germans can’t be stressed enough. Politeness is a very important part of German culture, and you can seriously offend someone if you don’t follow German etiquette.