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Almost every foreign text book I've seen mentions 您 as a polite or formal address to others, however I rarely hear it said and rarely see it written except when addressing customers and occasionally in toilets asking people to take a step closer.

Has this fallen out of use or is there a correct place that I should be using this to address others?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I've found when meeting people for the first time, they often ask '您贵姓' as opposed to '你叫什么' or whatever else. This is even in informal situations with friends of friends.

Also, when meeting older people, or friends relatives for the first time I would definitely go with 您 - you just want to show your polite character. I've noticed all my friends doing this so I'm not the only one.

Lastly, if you even meet anyone in a business context, then it pays to go with 您 from the outset, at least until you know them better. Just more polite really.

Hope that helps!

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It's just a matter of conveying respect to the other party (elders, superiors, customers, or potential clients).

您 is a Beijing honorific that made it into vernacular Chinese. 你 is a simplified form of 儞, which ultimately comes from 爾. 您 is indistinguishable from 你 in Cantonese.

The use of 您 in plural form, as in 您们, is usually incorrectly used. It should be 你们 instead.

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您两位 or 您几位 can be used as plural of 您. – fefe Jan 8 '12 at 9:22
您 is very widely used in Beijing, to the extent that it strikes outsiders who come here for the first time. – Bathrobe Jan 11 '12 at 21:30

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