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Having studied French, I'm aware of the subtle social intricacies of the formal vs. informal "you." I figured Chinese was at least similar, i.e., informal for people of your generation, people you know well, your parents, etc.; formal for people you don't know yet or don't know well, in a formal situation such as a gala dinner, older people, etc.

I was reading a dialogue today in which a girl said, “妈妈好。您好吗?” I was stunned; I had assumed one would definitely use 你 with their parents.

Do you always say 您 to your parents, or was this a girl with particularly strict parents? Is it a cultural thing?

In your answer, please feel free to also go into the particulars of 您 vs 你, though I'm sure they're complex and subtle. A rough overview might give context.

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As a native speaker from mainland China, I've never heard someone would call their parents 您. It sounds like talking to a stranger, quite 见外. –  Stan Sep 19 '13 at 14:58
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@Stan I was born and raised in Beijing. Almost all of my schoolmates who has been in Beijing for more than 2 generations have been using 您 to call their parents even at home, even now the children are in their 30's. It's just a data point for you, I have no clue if this is a Northern/Southern thing, a city/country thing or a Beijing specific thing. –  NS.X. Sep 19 '13 at 18:38
    
@NS.X. Very interesting information. I don't know that before. –  Stan Sep 20 '13 at 3:17
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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As you mention this is complex and subtle and likely depends on upbringing and which area you come from.

I have heard my wife use 您 when talking to her mother, but not this is not a regular thing. From the conversations I remember, this is usually at times when my wife wants to discuss something difficult with her mother or when she is asking her to look after herself. So she is using it in a way to sound respectful to get my mother in law to listen to her opinion.

I also just searched for 您 in my wife's email account and the conversations are similar to what I mentioned above. I noticed that either 你 or 您 are used consistently, either one or the other throughout the email depending on the tone of what is being discussed.

As I have young children I also have plenty of Chinese children's books and I have seen 您好 used plenty of times for younger characters greeting their parents.

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usually, a Chinese won't use 您 to his parents. it's used only for a non-closed friend, a business member for example. Using an appellation with 你 instead. for example:

妈妈,你坐。

is better than

妈妈,您坐。

except that women is not your mother but your wife's.

BTW, 您 don't have a plural form, turns to 你们 instead.

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+1 for the note about the plural form. I didn't know it turned into 你们. –  nickcoxdotme Sep 21 '13 at 20:57
    
@nickcoxdotme That's not accurate. 1) It's controversial among professional linguists, see this link. 2) There is a lot of usage and guidance on it, see this link. –  NS.X. Sep 22 '13 at 8:34
    
There is some argue about 您们 and may continue for a long time. Avoiding use this or using some instead may be a better way. –  Allen St.Clair Sep 24 '13 at 17:21
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I second what Stan said; I've never heard anyone call their parents by 您.

Usually, if it is a friend, co worker, family member, 你 is usually fine

您 is a respectful/formal way to address elders, guests, people of distinction (addressing a professor).

Keep in mind, in both formal and informal situations, I hardly have heard people speak 您好。 I usually see 您 in written form accompanied by other formalities such as 敬上 Jìng shàng ... your name

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