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Tu vs Vous In French – A Tale of Two You’s

Want to know how to properly address someone else in French? Tu and Vous are the key here, but how do they differ from each other? Find out in our guide on Tu vs Vous in French to give your conversational skills an extra boost!

Ready to put an end to the Tu vs Vous French grammatical battle?

Why Are There 2 Ways To Say “You” Anyway?

That’s a valid question. Why should we complicate life with two versions of the same word when one can do just fine? The reason being is that the French are particular about their manners; there’s a “you” for formal situations and a “you” for informal ones. It’s a slightly more convoluted way to be polite and respectful with people than it is in English, although once you get the hang of it it’s pretty straightforward.

To recap, ‘Vous and ‘Tu’ are used depending on the relationship (sibling, grandparent, friend, boss, teacher etc) you have with the other person. Let’s dive into the finer details, shall we?

Tu vs Vous in French

Have a close look at the table below to have a clear understanding of when to use tu and vous and with whom.

Use of VousUse of Tu
With the those who are older than youWith those who are younger than you: kids, teens
Strangers you may meet such as shopkeepers, fruit sellers, vendors etcOn social media and internet forums
When speaking with a group of peopleWith those you are close with like parents, relatives, spouse, friends and colleagues

 

Now, let’s look at some example situations.

Imagine you’re at a market and you come across a stall selling freshly baked bread. The smell is too tempting, so you cave and decide to purchase some. Which “you” do you think would be appropriate for conversing with the vendor?

If you answered vous then you’re correct! -> Bonjour! Comment allez-vous? Pourrais-je acheter une miche de votre pain s’il vous plaît? (Hello! How are you? Could I buy a loaf of your bread please?)

Now, here’s another scenario; you really want to see the newest Marvel movie and you decide to book some tickets. You call your best friend to ask them if they’d like to come with you. Which “you” do you think applies here?

If you answered tu then you’re correct! -> Tu veux aller voir le nouveau film Marvel avec moi?  (Do you want to go and watch the new Marvel film with me?)

A few points to remember:

  1. When in doubt, always use ‘Vous’. Since it is considered as formal, it never hurts to consider someone in that sense rather than speak informally. The latter may come off as rude.
  2. A group must always be addressed as ‘ Vous ’ because the plural version of  ‘Tu‘ (You) is indeed ‘Vous’.

Watch the video below for a quick recap on Tu vs Vous in French

 

Tu vs Vous : Conjugation

Whenever vous is used, the verb is automatically conjugated in the vous form (2nd person plural) even if you are talking to one person.

For instance, the following is informal:

Bonjour! Comment tu t’appelles? (Informal: What is your name?) -> verb conjugated in the tu form

Whereas the example below is formal:

Bonjour! Comment vous appelez vous? (Formal: What is your name?) -> verb conjugated in the vous form

Tu vs Vous : Good To Know

Asking Permission to Use Tu

If you are becoming well-acquainted with someone or aren’t sure if it’s appropriate to call them by tu yet, have a look at the examples below to see how you can approach this situation.

Formal: Est-ce que je peux vous tutoyer?
(May we address each other in a less formal manner?)

Informal: On se tutoie?
(Do we use ‘tu’ with each other?)

Note: tutoie = call each other by tu, and vouvoie = call each other by vous

Vous ’ and ‘ Tu ’ in The Same Conversation?

You may notice that a conversation between an adult and kid/younger person features both tu and vous. Usually tu would be used by the adult to address the child, and vous would be used by the child/younger person to address the adult. This is totally normal and nothing out of the ordinary, the younger person has somewhat of an obligation to be formally polite to someone who’s older than them.

What Works Best on Social Media

Commonly, the preferred term on the net is Tu . However, you can be smart about it and have a look through any comment section on any platform to know which one is used the most often. Sometimes, the type of medium can also determine which would work best. Twitter can be more inclined towards using Tu while an official institution’s blog would make use of ‘ Vous ’more.

Is Vous always the safe option?

100% yes if you’re talking to a stranger/teacher/boss/person of importance/in formal situations. However, for the rest of the time gaging the situation can save you some trouble. For example, using ‘ Vous ’ when you don’t necessarily need to can create distance and make things impersonal. Or if you were to address a 25 year old when you’re an 18 year old yourself, using ‘ Vous ’ with them might make them feel old.

And on that note, our chapter on Tu vs Vous in French has come to an end!

See vous next lesson – and in the meantime, don’t forget to practice! If you need any help don’t hesitate to get into contact with one of our online French Tutors.

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