This post shares a simple explanation on the hindi pronoun, “you”. In Hindi this pronoun takes on 3 forms which can be confusing to a native English speaker who is accustomed to only one form of “you”….you.
In English there is 1 pronoun called, you. We say, “how are you?” whether we’re talking to someone who is younger, the same age or older than us. But in Hindi this pronoun has 3 forms. There’s intimate, familiar and formal. What that means is, in Hindi there’s a distinction in how to address people based on your relationship with others and your relationship relative to others.
What Are The Forms of The Pronoun You in Hindi?
Used with those whom you are closest to, such as your family and your bestie.
Used for people whom you are acquainted with as well as people your age.
Traditionally reserved for elders and strangers but ok to use with everyone.
More About The ‘Tu’ Form of You. In some relationships using “tu” is a form of endearment that demonstrates closeness in the relationship. But it can also be considered rude and demeaning – as a form of condescension, so one must be careful while using it. To say, “how are you?” would be kaise hai tu?
This form of “you” is dying out in India. And for my use case, students who have never lived in India and probably never will, I don’t teach this form of you.
More About The “Tum” Form of You. Tum is a more respectful way (compared to tu) to address someone whom you are close to or someone the same age as you.
More About The “Aap” Form of You. Aap is the respectful form of you. It’s the “you” used in professional settings, while communicating with elders and strangers. This is the only form of “you” that I teach my students – at first. I tell them to use “Aap” while talking to everyone, regardless of age or how familiar they are with someone. When they get more advanced in their Hindi studies then I teach them about these other forms of you.
Adding these other forms of “you” into my lessons would only confuse them. The Indian societal norms and cultural implications are something South Asian kids growing up outside of India don’t relate to.
Why Are There Different Forms of ‘You’ in Hindi?
The reason for 3 different forms of ‘you’ in Hindi derives directly from Indian culture.
Indian society revolves around families and communities. And actually, this is true for many Eastern cultures. Indian culture makes clear distinctions between people that are younger than you, people that are the same age as you, and people that are older than you, in addition to people that you know well vs. acquaintances and strangers. That means there are societal expectations and norms around how to talk to elders, friends, family members and strangers.
And they vary. For those one is close to and familiar with, one can communicate informally and less so with acquaintances. And with elders and strangers one would communicate in a formal manner.
How Do You Know Which Form of “You” To Use?
One’s relationship with someone and relative to someone dictate the appropriate form of “you” to use. The relationship with someone means how close two people are to each other. The relationship relative to someone refers to the age difference between two people. Indian culture is one where elders are treated with respect.
So that means the appropriate form of you varies for every person whom one interacts with! That sounds like a lot of cognitive load!
Which one has more weight? Closeness vs. Age? Between the two factors: closeness and the age difference, closeness trumps age. Every person, every family, every relationship is unique and each has their own norms.
Don’t Overcomplicate Learning Hindi
This aspect of Indian culture and Hindi is very interesting but it’s also kind of complicated for someone that’s just starting to learn Hindi, to understand. And for someone who is not growing up in India, that doesn’t relate to the cultural nuance, there are limited use cases for these various forms of ‘you’.
For my students, who are all growing up outside of India, in the US, Canada, UK, Australia etc. the primary use case is to learn their heritage and be able talk to relatives. So, for my beginners students I teach one form of ‘you’ only – the formal you, which is aap.
Aap is universal – it’s respectful and formal. You’ll never go wrong with, ‘aap’ whether you’re addressing someone older, younger, a friend or a new acquaintance. So I prefer to teach the formal you only, at first, and as my students get more advanced I teach them the other forms of you in Hindi.
Summary and Takeaways
The Hindi Pronoun “You” has 3 forms: intimate, familiar and formal.
- Intimate = “tu”
- Familiar = “Tum”
- Formal = “Aap”
Each form has a unique use case that is based on Indian societal and cultural norms. In Indian culture one’s relationship with someone and relative to someone dictate the appropriate form of “you” to use.
For children growing up outside of India, this can be confusing and difficult to relate to. As such, I tend to stay away from teaching all 3 forms of you for beginners students and only teach the formal form of you, “aap”.