Struggling with tu / vous? This will help!

Source -


Ha ha… love this James…

Excellent guide.

Years ago, a French friend told me off in no uncertain terms for being “too friendly” … horror of horrors… he overheard me using tu instead of vous when chatting with a helpful chappie at our local garage. I had started off with vous but, we were having such a super conversation, that I lapsed into the tu (which I find easier anyway).

Nowadays, if I do find myself saying tu instead of vous…in a relaxed (but formal) situation… I quickly apologise (with a big smile) and all is forgiven.

The other unforgivable sin (or so it would seem) is greeting someone with kisses (when you have already done so that day). Shock, horror… you would think we had thrown acid at one another…

So many things to chuckle about… life is great. :grin:


Good one :grinning:

I must admit I’ve developed a very simple rule of thumb which isn’t guaranteed to always work but usually seems to: I say to myself, would I feel comfortable-ish calling this person by a nickname or a pet name (Daddy, Véro, mon petit chou or whatever) to his/her face? If yes: “tu”, if no: “vous”.


What newcomers don’t always realise is that it is just as offensive the other way round… Children especially get upset when you vouvoyer them.

I struggle at times as most of my French has been learnt by talking to a close friend daily over many years. Consequently tu is the norm and vous tends to be used when referring to her plus other members of family together. I keep getting ‘told off’ when I use tu by mistake in restaurants, shops etc. The problem is I know that I should use vous, the phrase including vous is in my head but tu still comes out from my mouth! On the occasions when we have actually talked about this weakness everyone has commented that they have been so pleased that we are able to communicate in French that they are not worried by this failure in etiquette. A few have added that they understand that it is difficult for the British as they have no similar distinction to refer to.

1 Like

Absolutely David… all the folk that I know would rather that we chatter away, than remain silent…

Often, in new company, I apologise in advance for any errors, unintended insults etc etc… that generally gets folk responding in a friendly and encouraging manner…

and when I greet children, I try to get down to their level and always smile…then I make a joke about being English and my awful French…(which sometimes the parent has to translate)… but they know I am being friendly…works for me anyway… :innocent:


This is precisely the sort of thing which crosses my mind when talking about the possibility of giving offence in a second language. If someone whose first language is not English comes out at random with something offensive I would tend to assume that they had made an error - obviously if they are upset with me and call me a camel’s arse or whatever it is likely that they meant it but if we were otherwise exchanging pleasant small talk I would assume first that they had mishandled an idiom or that perhaps a completely or partially wrong word had popped into their head - which is not uncommon.

There are probably some French who just don’t like the English and will take offence easily but I would hope that the average person would realise that speaking a second language is rarely perfect.

Tu vs Vous I find easy enough but only because I know no French speaking adult well enough at the moment for tu to ever enter the picture and I don’t generally speak to any French children.

But I do nearly always say “Je peux avoir…?” in shops because I pretty much always say “Can I have…?” in English in the same situation. I know in theory that “Je voudrais” (or Je pourrais, but “Je pourrais avoir…?” is too much of a mouthful) is more polite but rarely remember to use it.

Am I inadvertently giving offence or will the average, and sensible, Frenchman smile quietly to himself and merely think “Ils sont fous, les Anglais”?


I love it when, as a Post Script to a conversation about errors in (my) spoken French, the people I’m talking to state that it’s nothing to worry about because many native French speakers speak their own language so badly anyway.

1 Like

Let’s face it a lot of native English speakers mangle their own language as well!


One rule of thumb…only use TU when your acquaintance uses the TU when he or she talks to you. Until then, stick to VOUS, except when speaking to children!

@longridge That’s just plain wrong Richard!

1 Like

Well, I have lived in France permanently for 15 years, and that has been my experience. When you are introduced to a French person, I have always used VOUS, until such time as that person chooses to tu-toi me, at which point I reciprocate, using TU back. As for children, I always have used TU, as the VOUS Form scares them off…As for older people, I always use VOUS with them, unless they are old friends. Is that not your experience?

Oooooowww I didn’t really want to get into this as it’s a bit dreary but here goes.

Richard - what you’ve just said has helped to clarify and expand on your earlier post which was a bit simplistic. I would add that even if someone tu-toyez’s you - it is not always appropriate to reciprocate (e.g workplace, administration, police etc) - it can depend on the circumstances and the person.

That said, we’re in 2017 and the whole issue is nowhere near as big a deal as it was years ago. If mistakes are made then nobody dies - generally ! :slight_smile:

1 Like

I always wondered about the song…you know…voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir…surely if you are on intimate terms you would use “tu” but then it doesn’t fit the song…

Of course the old French joke is that if a couple leave the room vouvoying each other and come back tutoying, you know it went well :wink:

1 Like

I’ve got a French verb book that has some phrases at the back. My favourite one is;
Je vous aime. (If you know the person well you can use tu)

1 Like

And what’s wrong with putting your lady on a pedestal ??? :joy:

(sorry, a bit yucky for a Saturday morning I know) - obviously seriously smitten but apparently never been given permission to call her tu, and looks like he never will… ahhh…

1 Like


Love it Anna… especially touching when he gets to the part where …he wants to hold her hand…

I have a letter written to a young lady by a frenchman in the trenches at Ypres during the first world war… He wrote in this same respectful style…finally ending by saying that he hoped they would eventually meet again and that he could … hold her hand…:hugs:

Sadly, he was killed shortly afterwards… and the young lady (my grandmother to be) subsequently married someone else.
Though she must have thought fondly of this lad, as she kept his letter…:heart_eyes: