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When Should I Switch From Vous to Tu?

Sometimes it's tricky to decide when the relationship has become more intimate.

Native French speaker Julie Beaufort gives you tips on how to navigate this potential minefield.

People deciding whether to use vous or tu.
Hmmm...should I vousvoyer or tutoyer?

Oh, I Hope I Don't Screw This Up!

All of us adults (not kids!) have fear of a major faux pas when speaking someone else’s language. One of the most common sources of anxiety for a native English speaker is figuring out when to use vous (formal "you") and when to use the more familiar tu (intimate "you") in a French conversation. So that’s the topic of our very first blog!

Vous As A Sign Of Respect

As a sign of courtesy, the French like to show their respect—or sometimes their distance!—whenever talking to a stranger, anyone who is their elder, or anyone in a position deserving respect. So we start off by using VOUS the first time we meet our mother-in-law (for sure!), our boulanger, our boss, our doctor, and even new colleagues or a random person we meet on the street who is asking his way.

Est-ce qu’on peut se tutoyer ?

Tu As A Sign Of A Closer Relationship

But once we feel comfortable with those people (or with you!), or if we simply want to make the relationship closer, we’ll ask, Est-ce qu’on peut se tutoyer ? which basically means, “Do we want to use tu with each other?"

Notice that I used the informal pronoun on for “we” or “us”, and also notice that se tutoyer is actually an action verb for the use of the pronoun tu. Another way we can ask this question is to say, Est-ce que ça vous dérange si on se tutoie ? Would it bother you if we used tu between us? Then BINGO! Just reply, Avec plaisir, pas de problème ! and start using TU ! You’ll see that you will feel more relaxed after this step.

When Deciding, Ask Yourself These Questions

To know if you have reached the point where you can ask that question of someone yourself can be tricky at first, but as you meet more and more native French speakers, you’ll soon understand it. The earlier you actually switch to TU in a relationship, the faster it is going to get intimate and relaxed.

Basically, just try asking yourself these four questions:

  • Is the person a kid, a teenager, or obviously much younger than you? Or, obviously, are they a family member?

—> Use TU from the very start!

  • Are you in a bar/night club and have had quite a few drinks already (it’s easier!), or at a friend’s intimate private party? —> Just use TU directly!

  • Are you probably going to see this person again (or WANT to see her/him again!), and do you want to show him/her that you can be friends? —> Ask the question quickly! Earlier is better than later.

  • Is it a more formal situation? Are you going to see this person just once, or, perhaps, are you going to show him your resume to try to get a job? —> Keep VOUS and let them ask the tutoyer question of you. Be patient, one day, it may happen!

Next time, we’ll talk about SALUT and BONJOUR. There are actually social rules about using greetings, too!

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