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I am a German student at a German university. I and everyone I know usually addresses my professors with "Herr Lastname" or "Frau Lastname". Sometimes I wonder whether they would prefer if I addressed them as "Professor Lastname".

On the one hand it sounds way too formal, especially after I heard them addressing each other using their first name only. On the other hand I sometimes feel like I am not showing them enough respect. I would like to hear some personal opinions of actual professors teaching in Germany:

  • Would you prefer being called "Professor LASTNAME"? Please differentiate between normal and written conversation.
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I am not a professor myself, but I am going to report my observations from CS in Germany as a native speaker:

Basically, this depends on personal preference. However, there are some more and some less frequently accepted ways of addressing, so I'll compile a little list of options (centering around a fictional person named Thomas Müller):

  • Herr Professor Doktor Müller: While formally correct for most professors, this is rarely used in spoken language and should be reserved to written letters - and even to the more formal ones among these.
  • Herr Professor Müller: Usually acceptable. It's the default way of addressing a professor, and even if the professor might not prefer it, it's a safe way that won't offend anyone.
  • Professor Müller: This is not a typical (I would even say: correct) way to address someone in German. Titles such as Herr and Frau (Mr./Mrs.) are used even when the degree (or position) is indicated - the addresses Captain Meier, President Schmidt, and Doctor Huber translate to Herr Kapitän Meier, Frau Präsidentin Schmidt, and Herr Doktor Huber, respectively. (Only when talking about oneself, such as on one's academic website, Herr and Frau are dropped.)
  • Herr Doktor Müller: I have never heard about addressing a professor "only" as a doctor. The higher title always supersedes the lower one, and in this respect, Professor is definitely considered higher. Calling a professor doctor would seem quite odd to me, maybe comparable to addressing an M.Sc. holder as a B.Sc. (even though they have an M.Sc. in the same field as the B.Sc. as a direct follow-up). It feels like ignoring/neglecting some of the progress they have made in their career.
  • Herr Müller: This is very commonly used, and quite some professors seem to prefer it. I have heard various justifications, such as avoiding overly long titles, and professor being merely the position, not a part of the name. Some professors also prefer being addressed like this by their/other university staff (post-docs, doctoral candidates, ...), while expecting to be addressed as Herr Professor Müller by students.
  • Thomas Müller: Using the full name (given name + surname) is not a usual way of addressing people in German.
  • Thomas: It is rare for professors to allow this form of addressing to students, though within their own institute, first-name policies are not uncommon, especially with younger professors.

Note that for female professors, you can also use the female forms Professorin and Doktorin, although this might make your words sound even a bit more formal (as in writing).

EDIT: As correctly guessed by Massimo Ortolano, the name can be skipped in Herr Professor, although for some reason, this sounds quite old-fashioned to me. Probably, you would just say "Entschuldigung" (Excuse me) to call for attention, rather than directly addressing the professor nowadays.

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    As a native i use for femals "Frau Professor Müller" instead of "Frau Professorin Müller". Not sure if its correct and i expect that there are people who insist to gender the title correctly. Anyhow my form sounds more fluent and natural to me. – BerndGit Jun 9 '16 at 20:27
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    Out of curiosity: would calling someone Herr Professor, without the name, be correct, or in German you always have to end with the name? – Massimo Ortolano Jun 9 '16 at 21:04
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    @MassimoOrtolano: You're right, that is possible - I have added a remark at the end of my answer. – O. R. Mapper Jun 9 '16 at 21:27
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    ... what? Other people in certain professions are also sometimes addressed by mentioning their profession, as I illustrated in the examples above - notably people in certain political offices. I do think that in the examples you mention in the comment, referring to a professor as Dr. would leave me with the impression that you are misinformed about the person's academic position. – O. R. Mapper Jun 10 '16 at 17:58
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    Regarding your comments: It all depends on the context. If I am dealing with someone in my (or their) capacity as a member of the university, "Prof. Dr." is the right address (at least initially; it's also custom for colleagues not to use titles at all, unless you want to put extra distance between you). (Naturally, that would be virtually the only situation a student might be in.) On the other hand, if I met them on the street, it'd be "Frau X" and "Herr Clason", same as anybody else. – Christian Clason Jun 11 '16 at 15:11
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I am a professor in Germany and in normal coversations I prefer to be called "Herr Lastname" instead of "Professor Lastname" (well Lastname is in fact not my lastname but you get the point…). "Herr Professor Lastname" sounds too formal to me and is (at least spoken) worse than the first two options (well, it's close to "Professor Lastname"–but in any case I would not be anrgy or disgruntled by any means).

In written communication I am happy with all three forms and in fact I do not really care too much. The rest of the email/letter is much more important. Does it has a sign-off with a full name? Does it address all issues clearly and provides all necessary data? (Not like "When do you upload your lecture notes? CU") Are there full sentences with correct punctuation? [Note that I do not care too much about typos as I myself produce a lot of them myself…]

With colleagues it really depends but usually we do not call each other "Professor …" but "Herr …" if we say "Sie" and use the first name if we say "du".

Oh I forgot the "Dr. Lastname" case… Basically, I am never called like that in conversations, emails or letters and I am fine with that. Sometimes I read "Herr Professor Doktor Lastname" or (more often) "Herr Prof. Dr. Lastname". It's correct and ok, but "Herr Lastname" would be equally ok.

Things are a bit more formal when communicating with higher levels of administration and e.g. with the (vice-)presidents and her/his staff. There titles are regularly used and German presidents sometimes like to be called "Magnifizenz" and some Deans like "Spektabilität" in formal contexts.

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    Actually, there are some situations where I am called "Dr. Lastname" even though I am a professor (e.g., Oberwolfach invitations, if I recall correctly); the rationale is that "Dr." is actually my highest academic degree, while Professor is my academic title, and that they are addressing me purely in my capacity as a researcher, not as a member of staff of a university. This is also limited to rather traditional people or institutions who relish using the full range of available registers (which is pretty large in German). – Christian Clason Jun 10 '16 at 16:11
  • In fact, thinking about it, this is why it always rings false to me when someone refers in a talk to "Professor X's result" or "Professor Y's previous talk": Their job should make no difference to the relevance, worth or correctness of their results. – Christian Clason Jun 10 '16 at 16:14
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Being a German professor I would say that anything but Herr/Frau Lastname is uncommon, unless you are writing an e-mail to someone you do not know personally. In the latter case you might include titles, because you never know whether the other person is touchy, and you might want to be on the safe side. Looking at the answer will usually tell you that using the title was not necessary, i.e. your e-mail "Dear Prof. X, ... Yours Y" will be answered by "Dear Y, ... Yours X".

However, I heard rumours that law and medicine are governed by rules different from sciences and humanities.

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I am not a German professor, but when I studied German my (female) professors always preferred "Frau Lastname" for both oral and written communication.

The preference will vary from person to person but the generalization you made appears to be the most common preference.

Hopefully a German professor will appear to give us a more thorough explanation and context for that preference.

"In Germany, the most common doctoral degrees are Dr. med. (medicine), Dr. med. dent. (dentistry), Dr. med. vet. (veterinary medicine), Dr. rer. nat. (natural sciences), Dr. phil. (humanities), Dr. iur. (law), Dr. rer. pol. (economic and political sciences, also as Dr. rer. oec. in Switzerland), Dr.-Ing. (engineering), and Dr. theol. (theology). All holders of doctoral degrees are appropriately addressed as "Herr/Frau Dr. _____" in all social situations."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_(title)

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    "in all social situations" I do not agree tbh. I feel funny calling my doctor "Herr Dr. __", too. When I say it out loud I imagine a women of age 50+ saying: "Oh Herr Dr. Schmidt, mein Zahnweh raubt mir den Schlaf!". But just as with professors I am unsure how to call medical doctors when being treated by them. – problemofficer Jun 9 '16 at 18:38
  • The first (professor-related) and the second (doctor-related) parts of this answer seem oddly divergent. They are both somehow correct, but assume a totally different context in my opinion. If one assumes a holder of a doctoral degree always needs to be addressed with said degree, this is doubly true for professors. On the other hand, when taking into account professors who do not want to be called Professor X, then doctors who do not want to be called Doctor X are at least just as likely. – O. R. Mapper Jun 9 '16 at 19:02
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Adding a few aspects to the very good responses above:

I'm a German professor in CS and I prefer "Herr xxx" as well. In fact I'm becoming suspicious if a student adresses me with "Professor xxx" in spoken conversation ;-). For written conversation of unknown students, it would be ok. It doesn't matter to me if it's "Sehr geehrter Herr Prof. xxx" or "Sehr geehrter Prof xxx".

But this is me and it is CS! I assume, that professors who are active in SE are more open-minded then others, so answers here might be biased.

The answer is completely different, when you are talking about law, economics or medicine. Here it is much more likely to find professors who are really obsessed about titles and it would be a huge no-go not to use all available titles in written conversation. Better check their website in advance. Really.

In the medical field, "Herr Professor" without last name is quite common, even in spoken conversation.

Fun fact: You can have your "Dr." title in your passport, but not the "Prof" title, so my passport says "Dr. XXX".

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