Don’t learn French, it’s a mess – Part 3 : “tu” or “vous”?

“You” is a little mess in English because one uses the same word to one or to a group :

“You come with us?” addressed to five persons is a problem : You to the group or you to one person of the group?

In French the first you is “tu”, and the plural one is “vous”. Therefore it’s clearer (even if in real life I know the context helps). “You come with us” means :

  • Tu viens avec nous (to one person)
  • Vous venez avec nous (to the group)

 

But we complicated it a bit much of course. Because in French you can only use “Tu” to persons you know very well : friends, family, or maybe little kids. First names = Tu.

The formal, polite way to address someone you just met, an employee, your superior or anyone you have to show respect, is not “Tu”, but “Vous”.

If you buy a coffee, if you’re a teacher in front of teens or adults, if you just met your future mother in law, you have to say “Vous”. Yes, like the plural. I know…

Therefore, “You come with us?” becomes :

  • Tu viens avec nous ? (to one person)
  • Vous venez avec nous ? (to the group)
  • Vous venez avec nous ? (to one person you want to show respect)

 

Yaah if you use the casual “Tu” to your new boss or to the waiter in a bar, you are clearly disrespectful.

The problem, then, is to find the frontier between both!

  • Some teachers (but not all of them) say “Tu” to students, even when they are 17 years old.
  • You can say “Tu” to your manager, but you’ll never do that with the top manager.
  • You will be asked by your future mother in law to address her with “Tu”, when you’ll know her a bit more. It’s often very hard to pass from one to another, and you’ll hear yourself telling back “Vous” sometimes. Maybe you’ll stay in that state!
  • We sometimes want to sound aristocratic for fun, and if you want to sound like a baroness, you’ll tell your mother “Mère, voulez-vous me passer le sel s’il vous plaît ?” insteat of “Maman, passe-moi le sel, stp” – “Mother will you please…” instead of “Mom pass the salt, please”.
  • Your “Please” becomes “s’il vous plaît” (formally), “s’il te plaît” (friends). Kids say for fun : “steup“.

 

To use tu is “tutoyer”. To use vous is “vouvoyer”.

I have a couple of online friends with whom we use only “Vous” in our emails – even if I’ve known them for 20 years. It gives a way I can’t really explain. A way to stand, to be focused and maybe elegant. It’s clearly a smile…

 

Let’s call it the “don’t call me by my first name” state…

 

Thanks for reading!

(and oh sorry for my English here)…

 

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Instagram : keri_karina

 

 

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