French Language Blog

On se tutoie? Posted by on Nov 21, 2008 in Culture, Grammar, Vocabulary

The French language is sometimes thought of as a formal language.  Possibly one of the reasons is because of the tutoyer and vouvoyer thing.  For those of you who speak French and especially those of you who have visited a French-speaking country, you probably fully understand what I’m talking about.  The rules are not very clear, although there are some guidelines.  In any case, my own experience is that it can be hard for non-native speakers to grasp this social language standard -not the concept, but rather consistently putting it into practice.  Especially when first learning French, most of us are just happy to be somewhat understood and with all the searching for the right verbs and vocabulary we sometimes forget about how we are to address the person we are speaking to.  It is easier to do in writing, because you have time to think about it.

In any case, remember that tu and vous both mean the singular ‘you’ (vous is always used for plural ‘you’).  The tu form is informal and is usually used when speaking with a friend, a person your age (especially when young), a family member, a colleague, a child, or even a pet…in short, someone you know pretty well or are on the same social level with.  The vous form is formal and is usually used when speaking with someone who is older than you, your professor, a stranger, a boss, anyone who is in a position of authority, acquaintances, or other adults that you don’t know very well.

What I found interesting and was almost shocked by is that I have thirty-something French friends who actually vouvoyer their parents!  Now this goes along with aristocratic France and the old social idea that children should be seen and not heard, but it is still in place in some families.  However, most French families today are on tutoyer terms as modern French society has changed and is constantly changing which is also reflected in how and when people tutoyer and vouvoyer.

When in doubt, use the vous form and wait for this suggestion to be made by the person you are speaking with: On se tutoie?

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  1. Julie:

    If there is ever any doubt between tu and vous forms, I always use the formal version. Yes, it’s true that France (along with the U.S., Britain and many other countries) have gotten less formal in recent years and it is accpetable to use tu with more and more people. That being said, in an effort not to offend anyone, I use vous until they say, “Ah, mais vraiment, tu peut me tutoyer!”

  2. Nedeia:

    The same applies to some other countries; Romania for example has a “politeness pronoun” which is a contraction of “domnia voastra”, called “dumneavoastra”. The noun (masc.) Domn,-i could be translated as Sir, Gentleman (the same applies for the (fem.) noun Doamna, -e).

    The usage is the same as in French: you do not use “tu” (meaning you) , as in French.

    German people also use the pronoun “Sie” (capital S) instead of “du”, and I believe that Italians use “Lei” instead of “tu”, use “Lei” (capital L).

    Actually, I wonder if there are any other languages besides English who do not differentiate between the formal “you” and the polite “You”…

    A+ tard!

  3. paul:


    What does

    On se tutoie