tu and vous
Saying you in French

Tutoyer ou vouvoyer ?

The differences between tu and vous:


... is the practice of using tu, or the informal form of you.


... is the practice of using vous or the formal form of you.

Using tu and vous appropriately.

It’s easy to appear rude if you don’t know the customs in a foreign country, so courtesy phrases (merci, s’il vous plaît ... thankyou, please) are very important.

In French, it’s polite to use Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle when you are speaking to someone, particularly with short phrases such as oui, non, bonjour - yes, no, hello - or merci - thank you - which sound abrupt on their own.

So use «Oui, monsieur…» rather than just «Oui» or «Merci, madame…» rather than just «Merci…»

The French go on calling each other Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle long after the supposedly more reserved Briton has gone onto first-name terms.

Even when using first-names, when addressing colleagues, neighbours or some relatives (particularly parents-in-law), the French may still use vous. The French also shake hands with friends and aquaintances every time they meet or say goodbye.

Kissing on both cheeks is also a common custom among family, close friends and young people.

The best strategy for foreigners is to start off using the vous form and let French people take the initiative in moving on to tu.

Incidentally, asking people to explain the difference between tu and vous is a sure-fire way of keeping conversation lively!

When do you use tu and vous in French?

Vous is used in French for someone:

  • You have never met before.
  • Older than you.
  • Superior in hierarchy (boss…).
  • In-law family.
  • Shopkeepers.
  • Children talking to an adult.
  • Pupils talking to a teacher.

Tu is used in French with someone :

  • You know as a friend.
  • You have a good or friendly relationship with.
  • Much younger than you.
  • Who is a relative.
  • Who is a child.
  • Children to children.

Tu and vous - do you know ...?

  • Still today, in some well-to-do families, children are raised being taught to address their parents saying «vous», but it sounds posh and old-fashioned.

  • Sons and daughters-in-law will often always address the mother and father-in-law as vous, even though they may use first names.

  • Neighbours, even though they have known each other for decades often continue to call each other Monsieur or Madame and vouvoyer.

Try these exercises using tu and vous.

Comment demanderez-vous?

How do you ask? ...

1. Votre chemin à une femme dans la rue.

« Excusez-moi Madame. Où se trouve la rue Saint Georges s’il vous plaît ?
- Vous prenez la première route à droite et c’est tout droit. »
- Merci Madame. Au revoir. »

A lady in the street for directions
"Excuse me Madame. (Can you tell me) where is Saint Georges Street, please?"
"You take the first road on the right and it's straight ahead." "Thank you, Madame. Goodbye."

2. Du pain à votre belle-mère.

It may happen that you are addressed « tu » by your mother-in-law, but in most cases you still need to answer « vous ».

« Vous pouvez me passer le pain s’il vous plaît (belle-maman / Hélène / Madame Durand) ?
- Tu as de la chance, c’est le dernier morceau! »
- Merci ! »

Some bread from you mother-in-law.
"Can you pass me the bread, please, mother-in-law / Helen / Madam Durand, please?"
"You are lucky, it's the last piece!"
"Thank you!"

Note that the practice of vouvoyer can continue with parents-in-law all one’s married life even though the son/daughter-in-law may be on first name terms.

3. La voiture de votre frère.

« Tu peux me prêter ta voiture s’il te plaît ? La mienne est en panne. »
- Oui, les clés sont sur la table ! »
- Merci ! A tout à l’heure ! »

Your brother's car.
"Can you lend me your car, please? Mine has broken down."
"Yes, the keys are on the table."
"Thanks! See you later!"

4. Un découvert à votre banquier.

« Bonjour Monsieur Dupont. Vous désirez ? »
- J’aimerais que vous me fassiez une autorisation de découvert s’il vous plaît. »
- Bien sûr, suivez-moi dans mon bureau. »

An overdraft from you bank manager.
"Hello Mr Dupont. What would you like / How can I help you?"
"I would like you to authorise an overdraft for me, please."
"Of course, follow me to my office."

5. Un café au serveur.

« Bonjour. Vous avez choisi ? »
- Deux cafés s’il vous plaît. »
- Je vous apporte ça tout de suite. »

The waiter for a coffee.
"Hello. Have you chosen something? / What would you like?"
"Two coffees, please"
"I'll bring them to you straight away."

6. L’heure à un enfant dans la rue.

« Excuse-moi, tu as l’heure s’il te plaît ?
- Il est cinq heures Monsieur / Madame.
- Merci petit ! »

The time from a child in the street.
"Excuse me, do you have the time, please?"
"It's five o'clock Sir/Madam"
"Thankyou little one!"

7. Un livre à un ami.

« Tu as toujours le livre de Victor Hugo ?
- Oui, bien sûr !
- Tu peux me le prêter s’il te plaît ? »

A book from a friend.
"Do you still the book by Victor Hugo?"
"Yes of course!"
"Can you lend it to me, please?"

8. Le numéro de téléphone d’un nouveau collègue.

« On peut se tutoyer ?
- Oui, si tu veux.
- J’aurais besoin de ton numéro de téléphone s’il te plaît. »

The phone number of a new colleague.
"Can we use "tu"?"
"Yes, of course"
"I would need (like) your phone number, please."

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200 Words a Day! Learn French tu and vous.
Written by Maud Wojcik
Exceltra, Transcity Properties Ltd
32 Alverton, Great Linford, Milton Keynes
MK14 5EF, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom

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