The words ‘Tu’ and ‘Vous’ both mean ‘You’.
As an English speaker you may find it difficult to use ‘Tu’ and ‘Vous’ correctly, because in English you only have one word for ‘You’, but in French we have two.
In English, the word ‘You’ can be used to address any person, or number of people, whatever their age or social status.
In French, which word you use for ‘You’ depends on the person and the number of people being spoken to, or written to.
When talking or writing to one person you can either use ‘Tu’ or ‘Vous’.
‘Tu’ is the informal ‘You’, which usually shows a certain closeness when speaking or writing to someone. This person could be a:
‘Vous’ is the formal ‘You’. It is usually used to show respect and maintain a certain distance or formality with someone. Use ‘Vous’ when speaking or writing to:
- someone you don’t know well /at all
- an older person that you do not know at all or do not know very well
- an authority figure/ a superior at work
- anyone to whom you wish to show respect
When talking to more than one person formally or informally, you must use ‘Vous’, because it is also the plural form for ‘You’
You, Formal, Informal
To 1 person, Vous, Tu
To more than 1 person, Vous, Vous
If you’re unsure whether to use ‘Tu’ or ‘Vous’, start off using ‘Vous’ and wait for the other person to tell you it’s ok to switch.
Or if you want, you can ask them yourself using the verb ‘Tutoyer’ meaning to ‘address as tu’:
- Est-ce que je peux te tutoyer? (can I use ‘tu’?)
- On se tutoie? (Shall we use ‘tu’)