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German phrase of the day: Bescheid sagen

This handy German phrase is used often in everyday communication.

German phrase of the day: Bescheid sagen
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know it? 

It’s a quick and easy way to request that someone follow up with you, and vice versa. You’ll hear it all the time in spoken German, and text exchanges between friends and colleagues.

What does it mean?

Bescheid sagen, which sounds like this, can be a tricky phrase to understand when hearing it for the first time, but if you break it down, you’ll get a glimpse into the term’s meaning. Bescheid means “notification” or “answer” and sagen means “to tell”. Taken together, then, Bescheid sagen roughly translates as “to let someone know”.  

The origins of the phrase are unclear, but Bescheid itself comes from the verb bescheiden, which in old, bureaucratic German meant “to make a decision on someone else’s claim”. Bescheid as a noun emerged from this context to mean the written form of such a decision. For example, a Bussgeldbescheid is a notice of a fine.

When used in a sentence, Bescheid sagen is also accompanied by a pronoun to indicate the “someone” you are referring to. This pronoun will always be in the dative case. For example, you would say sag mir Bescheid to mean “let me know,” and sag ihm Bescheid to mean “let him know”.

But because you can usually infer who the person is based on the context, many people will often drop the pronoun and just ask you to, sag’ Bescheid if they want you to keep them posted.

Beyond using the phrase as a request for updates, you can also use it in a declarative way, as in ich sage (dir/ihr/ihm) Bescheid.-  “I’ll let (you/her/him) know”. 

You might also hear the phrase Bescheid geben used occasionally, as it has the same meaning as Bescheid sagen but is less common. If you want to say “let me know” in a more formal manner, try “lassen mich es wissen” or “teilen Sie mir mit”.

Use it like this: 

Sag (mir) Bescheid, wenn du fertig bist.

Let me know when you are done. 

Ich sage dir Bescheid, wenn ich Hilfe brauche.

I’ll let you know if I need help.

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For members


Do Austrians still use the formal ‘Sie’ in German?

In Austria, addressing people with "Sie" has been a tradition for quite some time. However, has this tradition become more relaxed in recent years? And if so, how?

Do Austrians still use the formal 'Sie' in German?

In Austria, people have been using “Sie” as a formal way of addressing each other for decades, if not centuries.

Using “Sie” is deeply integrated with Austrian culture and has been passed down through generations as a sign of respect and politeness.

But even if “Sie” is still commonly used in Austria today, younger generations tend to use it less frequently than older ones, and the more informal “Du” is increasing in popularity, Vienna’s IKI language academy told The Local.

The ‘du’ form has gained popularity

In general, using “du” is accepted in less formal settings or when you know someone well.

Over time, the use of “Sie” has decreased in informal and semi-official contexts in Austria, according to the IKI language academy.

The informal “du” form has gained popularity, especially among younger people and in digital communication. In social media, informal meetings, and among friends, the “du” form is more commonly used.

Heike Ziehr, Head of the German Language Department at Sprachenzentrum in Vienna, also agreed that “du” is gaining popularity but added that he does not think it’s appropriate in certain situations.

“‘Du’ is spreading, in social media, leisure time, or at workshops. In the mountains, people always use “du” above 2,000 meters. Occasionally, students address me informally at the university, then I point out to them that it is not appropriate. Sometimes there is a high level of familiarity between teachers and students, and then “du” is often used. I do not recommend it in a professional context”, he said.

READ NEXT: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Formal and official situations

How “Sie” is used among the different generations depends on the situation and who is involved in it.

“Sie” is mainly used in formal and official situations in Austria. You use “Sie” in conversations with strangers, in professional contexts, during official appointments, in stores, and generally in scenarios where respect and distance are expected to be maintained.

It is also common to address older people or those in higher positions with “Sie”, as a sign of respect and acknowledgement.

Some examples of situations where you are expected to use “Sie” include when you have a doctors appointment, in formal business settings such as meetings with customers, or in daily life situations where you engage with strangers, such as in restaurants or other service establishments, especially when speaking to staff members.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Austria wants to define its fundamental culture but what is it?