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The difference between French "tu" and "vous".


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There are two ways to say you in French language when you address French people: "tu" and "vous". There is no problem if you address several people - it’s always "vous". But what should you use if you address a single person?

French "Vous" is a formal, polite form. It demonstrates your respect to the person. Generally, you have to use it with:

  • a person that you don't know very well
  • an elder person, sometimes even if he/she says "tu" to you
  • a superior person like your boss or your teacher
  • a person you would call Monsieur (Mr.), Madame (Mrs., Ms.), or Mademoiselle (Miss)
  • an official (judge, policeman, lawyer)

French "Tu" is familiar and informal.
Generally you may use “tu” if you address:

  • your family member
  • a child (if there is no specific social barrier)
  • a person of the similar age and the same social status with you (if you are up to 30 years old)
  • your close friend
  • a participant in on-line forums, chats for fun etc.
  • your collegue if there is no big difference in hierarchy and the corporate environment (ethics) favors this form of communication
  • God
  • someone you don't know well, but want to abuse or emphasise your disrespect

Advice:

If you are not sure how to address your interlocutor use the more polite form of French "you" – "vous". If the person you address prefers more informal relationship he can tell you: "Tu peux (or vous pouvez) me tutoyer", that means "You can use "tu" when speaking to me".
If you feel that using "tu" is OK, you may ask: "Est-ce qu'on peut se tutoyer?" (Can we address each other as "tu"?) to be sure that your interlocutor doesn’t mind.

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