Tu or Vous? 5 Rules to Help You Choose

Salut,

Tu or Vous?
That’s a big question in France.

Say you’re greeting a friend’s sister you’ve already met.
You may be thinking, « Should I kiss her or shake her hand? ».

Choosing tu or vous can feel the same way.
In this episode of “Comme une Française TV,” I’ll give you some guidelines on how to figure it out.


Click to watch « Tu or vous? 5 rules to help you choose »:

Et toi ?

Did you already know these rules?
Have you ever been unsure of whether to use « tu » or « vous » in French?
Which did you choose?

The comment section is the best area to start discussions and ask questions!

A bientôt !

Géraldine

PS: Do you think this video could help a friend? Share it with her!

Join the conversation!

  • Merci pour le leçon tu où vous. C’est important pour mois. Je suis soixante sept ans et j’habite en France. pour amélioré mon français j’aide les français apprendre l’anglais. Mais c’est difficile à décidé quand a dit tu avec mon nouveau amis. Est-ce qu moi qui demande de tutoyer ou leurs?

    • Bonjour Patricia,

      C’est possible que tes amis te vouvoient toute leur vie, ne t’inquiète pas.
      Ils te proposeront de passer à “tu”, mais tu peux leur proposer si tu veux ! 🙂

  • Merci Géraldine pour ces vidéos, c’est aussi un excellent moyen de travailler son anglais pour un francophone comme moi. Russell

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  • Thank you so much for this video! I lived in France for an entire year and still never quite figured this out. Now I’ll have this in my tool belt for next time!

  • I have been taking French lessons via Skype recently. I am a 53 year old male from the US and my teacher is a 28 year old female originally from Paris. When I contacted her via email to set up the lessons and explain my background, I addressed her as “vous.” In her email response to me, she addressed me as “tu.” However, when we had our first Skype lesson, she addressed me as “vous.” At some point, we discussed the subject of tutoyer/vouvoyer and I asked why she tended to revert to “vous” when she addressed me. She said it was just more natural because of our age difference. At that point, we agreed to “tutoyer.” Since then, she still reverts back to “vous” at some point during each lesson, even though we’ve previously agreed to tutoyer and seem comfortable with each other. I am confused by this and don’t know whether I should switch back to “vous” when she does. I think she just forgets from lesson to lesson, but I don’t want to be overly familiar if she’d really prefer to vouvoyer. I’d appreciate some guidance on this situation and what to do in general when a person switches to vouvoyer when you’ve agreed to tutoyer. Thanks in advance.

  • Pour moi, contrairement aux anglophones, ce n’est pas si difficile, parce qu’ il y a une différence entre le singulier et le pluriel dans ma langue maternelle, le grec. (ll faut avouer quand même qu’en Grèce on passe beaucoup plus facilement au tutoiement, on y va même directement dans plusieurs cas.) Cependant, ce qui me paraît étonnant en France, parce que ça ne se fait pas chez nous, c’est de vouvoyer quelqu’un et en même temps de l’appeler de son prénom, sans utiliser monsieur ou madame (mots qui ne s’utilisent d’ailleurs qu’avec un nom et pas un prénom en français !).

  • Hello to all readers

    For French, it is not a method, it is not confusing, it’s not complicated.

    For French, the “tu” or “vous” is simply a choice to speak to someone. This is absolutely brilliant because, dice the first sentence of a casual conversation, everyone instantly knows you want.

    This is a choice based on a context and a sensitivity. (Variability in feeling)
    This is simply to choose, to more or less, a distance with an unknown person. (Meeting at the restaurant, at the museum, in a garden or a park)
    This is simply to choose if you want to be, more or less, a person familiar with your surroundings. (Family, friends, neighbor, colleague)
    Is to choose, in certain circumstances, to more or less respect for a speaker. (A teacher, a doctor, a scientist, a hero, an artist)

    For me it is absolutely wonderful to express subtle, my emotional state, to someone so easily, without offense and without justifying myself.

    Saying “tu” or “vous” has a boss depends on the proximity or distance of the relationship. It was a question not of power or social status.

    A child needs an adult to evolve and the “tu” familiar, is used by the adult and the child, and corresponds to adopt an attitude, maternal and comforting for the child.

    By default, you must, absolutely, use the “vous” respectful and distant, for a teenager or an adult, during a first contact. By convention, the oldest that invites to say “you” friendly for conversations. The youngest can accept or refuse without causing problems. but generally it accepts politeness.

    My wife and I use “tu” familiar during the work week, and used the “vous” respectful during the weekend. It creates a relationship expansion in the couple, another way to enjoy the right time, is wealth. It is not relaxed or snobbish. Only an additional choice.

    Cordially

  • Good morning everyone. Geraldine, I really enjoy your lessons. And I’m not sure I always get tu and vous quite right, even after two years living here. In my little town in the Cevennes, people generally me tutoient quite quickly, which I like, and of course I reciprocate. Now I’m giving English conversation lessons to the recently retired doctor and his wife. They’re friendly and jovial, and the same age as me (62), and we drink coffee together afterwards and switch to French. For quite a long time they continued to me vousvoyer (and so I them). Perhaps this was because I was “the teacher”, despite the informal atmosphere. Recently I accidentally used tu (to him), and corrected myself rather hesitantly, whereupon we agreed it was time to se tutoyer. Subtle stuff indeed!

    • Bonjour Roger,

      That the rule of “respectful friends”. Some friends who’ve met after a certain age (not teenagers) keep “vous” all their life.
      It’s not a fear of being close or anything, it’s just how it is. 🙂

      Yes, it’s very subtle.

  • Thanks for this advice! As a new priest in La Mure (very near Grenoble!), parishioners would address me with “vous” out of respect, but it’s confusing for me because they would also insist that I use “tu” with them!

  • Un problème – je prends des cours de conversation français pendant trois ans. Mon professeur est plus jeune que moi, mais je utilise toujours «vous» pour montrer son respect. La plupart des autres membres du groupe utilisent «tu» quand ils lui parlent . Est-ce qu’elle pense que je suis hostile? Elle ne m’a pas demandé de «tutoyer».

    • Bonjour Penny,
      Je pense que ton professeur voit que tu lui montres du respect.
      Continue à utiliser “vous” si tu te sens plus à l’aise avec.

      Ne t’inquiète pas, elle ne pas penser que tu es hostile. 🙂

  • Bonjour à tous! Géraldine, I really love your series; I often share it with my students. My experience with tutoiement inapproprié happened in Montpellier, when I was 21, an American teaching English in a collège. I was conversing with a 50-something male colleague and asked him how his weekend was: “Tu as passé un bon week-end?”, thinking since we were colleagues it would be acceptable to tutoie him. He blanched and said (quite stridently): “MA FEMME et MES ENFANTS et moi avons passé le week-end chez nous.” Lesson learned!

  • Bonjour! Je suis vraie fan de ton blog (que j’ai decouvert recemment! Aux Etats Unis, il y a des situations semblables. Quand j’etais petite, je disais toujours monsieur et madame. Maintenant, j’ai un choix et dire leur prenom est de plus en plus normal. Il y a aussi des americains qui adorent s’embrasser, mais de temps en temps il est trop familier.

  • Salut Geraldine! Merci pour toutes les emissions, elles sont formidable. J’ai donne ton site a un ami. Je suis presse pour la prochaine emission. Merci! Gwen

  • I live in Texas where we refer to the collective vous as “y’all”. It is an expression that is very familiar. So, I have the tendency to tutoyer everyone. This is a great reminder that in general, it is better to be more formal and be invited to tutoyer quel qu’un. Merci Geraldine! “I hope y’all keep on making these fantastic videos!”

  • Oui,
    J’ai su la différence entre tu et vous. Un fois une femme était chez moi, une invitée, avec deux autre femmes…la même âge. Pendant la conversion, elle a dit,”Je utile tu avec ma famille seulement, jamais avec mes amis ou mes amies. C’était la dernière fois que nous avons parle.
    Que pensez-vous?

    • Bonjour Barbara,

      L’utilisation de vous/tu est parfois très liée à la personnalité des gens : la preuve, il y a même des couples qui se vouvoient !
      Si cette personne préfère utiliser “vous” avec ses amis, pourquoi pas. 🙂

  • When you are addressing a couple, even though they are close friends, you cannot us ‘tu’ but we would address them as ‘you’ as a couple in Englaish for example “are you (both) coming for dinner?” Do you use ‘vous’ then?

    • Bonjour Jackie,

      To talk to 2 people at once, there’s no choice but to use “vous”, absolutely.
      “Vous venez dîner ce soir ?”

  • L’exemple que Géraldine donne dans la vidéo est drôle : savoir si on donne une bise ou serre la main de la sœur d’un ami qu’on a déjà rencontrée. En effet, un anglophone n’aurait pas besoin de se poser la question–la bise est un truc français. On comprend à quel point qu’il est difficile de proposer un exemple d’une hésitation fondée sur la bienséance qui s’applique à culture autre que la sienne!

  • Hi Geraldine, I have been using a hair stylist here in New York for over three years now. We have become very close friends. Just recently she used ‘tu’ when speaking with me. In case I’d misunderstood I asked if she’d just tutoyer’ed me. She responded “yes, of course.”
    I was so flattered and excited!
    I’ve been trying to learn French on and off for several years and with all the French persons I’ve become familiar with this was my first.
    I feel like I just arrived.
    Many thanks for today’s clarification.

    Susan

  • Love this episode! I’m living in the South of France and recently joined a chorale populated mostly by retired people. As a 40-something, of course I used “vous”. Then someone pulled me aside and told me that dans une association ici (Languedoc-Rousillon), tout le monde se tutoyer. Mais c’est pas vrai à Paris, òu tout le monde se vouvoyer. I think it’s analogous to the Southern U.S., where people “honey” and “sugar” everyone.

  • J’ai été héroïne d’une situation gênante concernant l’emploi de “tu” et “vous”. 🙁 Une fois une très gentille Française m’a aidée en corrigeant mon devoir. Je lui étais vraiment reconnaissante et je le lui ai écrit en la tutoyant. Puis j’ai appris qu’elle avait 54 ans. Je me sentais mal à l’aise avec mon comportement inapproprié, mais d’autre part j’ai constaté que ce serait ridicule de changer “tu” pour “vous”. Je lui ai donc envoyé un message privé où j’ai demandé si le fait que je la tutoyais ne lui dérangeait pas, vu la différence assez grande entre nos âges… La Française n’a pas répondu à cette question mais il paraît qu’elle n’est pas fâchée contre moi (malgré tout).
    En effet, j’ai l’habitude de tutoyer tout le monde via Internet (sans vouloir offenser personne), ce dont tu as pu te rendre compte, Géraldine. 🙂

    • Bonjour Madeleine,

      Oui, ce n’est pas grave du tout d’avoir tutoyé spontanément ta correspondante.
      Au contraire, ça montre que vous êtes proches!

      D’ailleurs, quelque chose dont je n’ai pas parlé c’est que le tutoiement réduit la différence d’âge : je tutoie souvent des personnes bien plus âgées que moi dans des situations informelles pour qu’elles se sentent proches de moi. Les vouvoyer serait souligner la différence et peut être insultant.

      Par exemple, quand des “jeunes” de 20 ans me vouvoient même après que je leur ai demandé de me tutoyer, je me sens insultée car ils me donnent l’impression d’être vieille.

      Tu peux utiliser “tu” avec moi, Madeleine. 🙂

  • When I lived in France, this was always an awkward question for me! However, I found that as time went on, it became more natural to want to switch to “tu” at a certain point. I could pick up when it would have been better to use “tu” v. “vous” and then do a better job from there!

  • Way back when I was in college, my French profs told us to just use vous unless the French person told us otherwise. I think things were even more formal then. I followed that advice when in France then and again a few months ago when my husband and I spent a month with a French friend in Bretagne. Tu, of course, with our French friend. Vous with everyone else. I was pleasantly surprised when her neighbors, older than us all, who also took us on wonderful excursions around the area (including my favorite, Locronan, where he was born) invited me to tutoye. It felt like a warm and wonderful acceptance into their lives as friends.

  • For me, it’s easier to know which to use than to remember to use it when I’m trying to translate the rest of my thought into French! I have some much younger friends who enjoy teasing me when I “vous” them.

  • I met a friend of a friend a couple of times and we were getting on very well. She is a few years older than me but as we were conversing quite freely and not formally, I asked if I could tutoyer her. Unfortunately I got it wrong and instead asked if I could kill her!! We laughed a lot and now always use tu!

  • Thanks this is very helpful! In particular the last point with different forms of asking the tutoyer question – this has often confused me, but got it now! 😉

  • Un journaliste (30 ans) faisait partie de l’équipe qui suivait Mitterand. Au bout de 15 jours:

    Pigiste: On se tutoie, non?
    Le Président: Comme vous voulez.

  • Bonjour Geraldine, Merci à toi pour tout ca! C’est compliqué? Oui, maintenant je le comprends mieux mais cela prends du temps aussi, c’est très subtile. On n’a pas l’equivalent en anglais de tu et vous.
    Bravo pour cet emission!

  • In Canada, tu is almost universally used, but I have problems with this subject in France. I just use vous… But the teen next door looks at me weirdly…
    Might try tu with him.. Also my friends’ dancing groups always tutoient straight off. Thanks!

    • Hi Maggie,

      Yes, you are right, adults are supposed to use to with children and teenagers.
      As you saw with your friends’ dancing group, some groups use “tu” straight away as the norm.

  • I play it safe! I wait until French friends use ‘tu’ and ‘toi’ when speaking to me, and I then reciprocate. We are becoming very friendly with our French neighbours (partly because we helped each other with the garden fence during the storms in December and January in Brittany!). Can I now call them ‘tu’?

    • This is my dilemma too! I have never been asked but some people around my own age address me as ‘tu’, do I reciprocate or wait for their invite, even if I don’t know them very well?

    • Bonjour Richard,
      Very clever strategy. 🙂
      You probably can offer to use “tu” with your neighbours now.
      However, between adult neighbours, it often happens that we use “vous” all our life. It’s not a problem.

  • When I am in France I never know whether it is preferable forme as an older woman to tutoyer les serveurs and serveuses in cafés and cheapishrestaurants. They are generally at least 20 years younger than I.
    I always vouvoyer en principe but not sure what is more natural to do here n this situation

    • Bonjour Kate,

      Great question. I’d recommend you keep “vous” with them.
      It’s a relationship where someones provides a service you pay for.
      So it’s better to use “vous”.

  • I have a colleague at work here in France. She is about 15 years younger. We have worked together for a year. I now tutoyer her but she still uses vous. Can that be acceptable? Should I formally invite her to tutoyer me?

      • Salut, Geraldine
        Is it possible that this colleague is waiting to be invited to tutoyer? Since she is younger, might this be the reason she hasn’t reciprocated? (It wasn’t mentioned if she is a native speaker, but if she as not, maybe she is uncomfortable with the idea that she might tutoyer also?)

        • Salut Jim,
          If she’s not French and you’re speaking French, the best would be to ask her. As you understand her difficulties in dealing with this conjugation, it would be fine.
          If she’s a native, she doesn’t have to “expect” anything. 🙂 The asymetric relation is perfectly fine, no worries.

  • J’ai fait une amie à Québec avec Facebook. J’ai commencé en utilisant “vous” avec elle mais elle a immédiatement employé tu. Alors c’était facile. Nous sommes maintenant de bonnes amies.

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