How to Use Tu & Vous in French : The Ultimate Guide

How to use Tu & Vous in French ? What is the difference between Tu and Vous in French? Both mean youyet are used in different situations. This article will explain you how to use Tu & Vous in French in order to help you choose according to the situation. For English speakers, choosing between Tu and Vous may be totally baffling

Vous is used in the following situations

how to use Tu and Vous in FRench
how to use Tu and Vous in FRench

1. The other person is a stranger to you (sale-assitants, waiters, passers-by, etc).

2. Colleagues that you don’t know well (depending on your profession: the more conservative the sectors you work in, the more often you’ll use Vous, such as bank or law administrations...) on the other hand, in artistic professions, the medias or marketing, the use of Tu is common. 3.You wish to show respect to someone (boss/superior, teacher, customer, etc.) 4. You are using the plural: when referring to more than a person at a time (audiences, crowds, or more than one person, etc…) 5. The person your addressing is at least 15 years older than you 6. You are hesitant about whether or not you should use vous (if you have a doubt stick to vous and ask if you can switch to tu later)

So when do you really use Vous?

In any formal situation where you encounter a person or a group for the first time and wish to show hiearchic respect. Always keep in mind that many French are still quite conservative and hierarchic status still regulates social interactions. But thankfully, amongst the younger generations or in more «  relaxed » sectors such as the medias, new technologies, startups, the arts, vous is becoming more obsolete while tu more current.

Tu is used in the following situations

how to use Tu and Vous in French
how to use Tu and Vous in French

1.When talking to family members, lovers, friends or other people you know very well 2. (Usually) when talking to younger people, children or teenagers under 15. 3. When partaking in informal situations such as parties, dinners or lunches with friends, etc.

4. During business interactions with colleagues, as long as long as you are not talking to your boss (if the person is of superior hierarchy, wait for them to first use tu before you do) 5. When you are amongst peers such as friends, or when teens talk to kids...

6. If you’re talking to someone who starts using Tu with you and you don’t feel obliged to show him or her a certain respect, such as during business interactions (which wouldn’t be the case if you were conversing with a teacher, or someone at least 10 years older than you)

What kind of scenarios for Tu ? 

A lot of student around me feel ill at ease using Vous, as if Tu was more natural, spontaneous and user-friendly. This is both true and false. Remember that the French – from early childhood onwards – may spontanously use Vous with strangers. It’s natural thing for them. Furthermore, in extremelly rare situations such as the with the famous French couple: philosopher Bernard Henry- Levy and his actrice wife Arielle Dombasle, Vous is used in the relationship as a style effect!

When you don't know how to use Tu & Vous 

how to use tu and vous in french
how to use tu and vous in french

At a dinner recently, I was sitting next to a young seminarian – a quite unusual situation for me ! I could tell he was about 15 years younger than me. So no doubt about using Tu should have existed. And yet, finding it improper to use Tu with a future priest, I ended up using Vous. Curious about my dinning neighbours’ own attitudes, I asked them later how they had spoken to him. It was interesting to see that one of them had used Tu, the other Vous, whereas the third one being more hesitant, managed to avoided using either Tu or Vous!

I then concluded that as I often do, there’s always a grey area within language usage in which there is no black or white rule. In addition, all sorts of social codes echo with French administration, its laws and very complex network of cultural characteristics. That is why English pragmatism can be quite enviable at times !

If you hesitate between Tu and Vous, if you intuitively feel you can start using Tu in an informal and casual conversation, although you’re uncertain about it, be daring (e) and tactfully ask the person :

« Est-ce que je peux vous tutoyer ?» «  May I say tu to you ?» or « On peut peut-être se dire tu ? «  Maybe, we could say tu to each other ?» the given response will help you avoid un Faux pas.

Improve your knowledge of French cultural habits with French à La Carte

a french lesson in paris
a french lesson in paris

In addition to private personalised French courses adapted to your schedule, your level and linguistic aims, French à La Carte will help you understand the different uses and cultural French customs.

If you have any hesitation about using Tu or Vous in a particular social situation, don’t hesitate to share this with me, and I will try to guide you in a helpful way.

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*Litteraly, a Chineese brain-teaser.