An essential part of learning German is niceties: like most cultures, Germans, Austrians and the Swiss appreciate people who say please and thank you.
In this guide, I’ll go over the basics, namely how to say please, thanks and you’re welcome in German.
Thankfully, this isn’t too difficult in German.
You really only need to learn two words, a few modifiers and that’s it.
If you’d like to know more than just these fundamentals, though, I’ll also go over some other examples, as well as some sentences and phrases you can practice.
Let’s get cracking.
Saying please in German
We’ll kick off with please in German, which is done using the word bitte.
As in British English, this should be in any sentence where you ask for anything.
I really can’t emphasize this enough: if you ask for something in German, no matter if you’re ordering a coffee, asking for directions or requesting a favor, you need to say bitte.
Not doing so makes you seem like a boor, even among friends, so make sure to always use bitte when asking something.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
Ein Kaffee, bitte
This is a very simple sentence, but if you just want a coffee without putting your German skills under too much strain, it will do just fine.
Wo ist der Bahnhof, bitte?
The English translation of that sentence probably comes across as a little stiff, but that’s fairly normal in German.
You also use it with friends, like this:
Hast du bitte das Feuerzeug für mich?
Bitte can also be used as a reply, when you’re asked if you want something, like this:
Möchtest du einen Bier?
In this case, you can also use gerne (“gladly”) instead of bitte, but only in this specific case!
So far, so simple, however, German can do something English can’t and kick up the strength of bitte up a notch.
Let’s take a look at that now.
To do so, you need to add either schön (“beautiful”) or sehr (“very”) to the end of bitte.
Both these words in this context strengthen your request.
Of course, you probably won’t use this in everyday conversation, it’s a bit strong when you’re just ordering a cup of coffee.
However, if you’re trying to emphasize what you’re asking for, or even what a big favor it would be, it works great.
In this case, imagine you ordered already, and then while the waiter was away a friend joined you.
Noch ein Kaffee, bitte schön.
Because the added order made the server walk twice, it’s nice to say bitte schön.
It’s kind of hard to explain and the best way to learn how to use this construction is to just live for a while in a German-speaking country.
Try to think of it as a way to supercharge a request and you’ll be fine as a beginner, though.
Bitten: the verb
Before we move on, let me quickly touch on something that can throw beginning learners off.
The word bitte means please, but it’s derived from the verb bitten, which means “to ask for something” or even more strongly “to demand.”
These two look extremely similar — even exactly the same in some conjugations — so it’s something to keep in mind as you learn since it can be a little confusing.
Thanking people in German
With asking for something out of the way, let’s take a look at what to say when you receive things.
The German word for ‘thanks’ is danke.
You can use it in all situations, even formal ones and be just fine — though you can be properly formal, too, but more on that later.
So no matter if you’re getting a compliment from a friend or a beer from a bartender, danke will serve just fine.
However, it’s always fun to see if we can do a little more with our skills, so let’s see if danke can be made to do a little more.
Just like with bitte, if you want to strengthen danke to mean “thank you very much,” you can just add sehr or schön to it.
Danke schön für die Blumen!
I like how the words to “strengthen” both bitte and danke are the same, it makes things pretty easy.
If you’d like to be a bit more formal, you can also say vielen Dank.
As you can tell from the capital letter, this turns Dank into a noun, but other than that it behaves the same.
Vielen Dank für Ihnen Hilfe, herr Müller!
Note that you can’t append sehr or schön to this form as they won’t play nice with nouns.
Thanking people for something
You may have noticed in the examples above, just like in English you can thank people for something.
To do so, just use the German preposition für, which goes with the accusative.
Danke für die schöne Zeit!
One little tidbit is that if you have been visiting with people and want to thank them for their hospitality, you simply say:
Danke für Ihre
Germans are so hospitable that they can apparently leave that word off the sentence!
How to say “you’re welcome” in German
Finally, let’s get to the last bit of our little guide, how you tell people that they’re welcome after they’ve thanked you.
You’ll be happy to know that the basics are again very simple: just say bitte.
You can add schön or sehr to add some strength, but other than that it’s a lot like asking for something.
Danke schön für das Geschenk!
I know to English speakers it can seem a bit odd that “please” and “you’re welcome” are the same word, but it’s not that odd, actually:
Dutch does the same, as do Czech and Slovak.
Other ways to say “you’re welcome”
Then again, if you want to do something else than just boring old bitte, you have quite a few options here.
My favorite two are gern geschehen, which means something along the lines of “gladly given,” and nichts zu danken, which translates to “nothing to thank.”
Either of these are good in both formal and informal situations:
Danke schön für das Wasser
Both of these can be used interchangeably, so try them out the next time you speak to a German friend!
Learn to say please, thanks and you’re welcome in German
There’s a lot to cover when learning German but saying please, thank you and you’re welcome is one of the first skills you should learn.
If you’ve managed this, check out my other guides on German pleasantries, like asking how people are.
Have fun and good luck.