Informal 'You' in French

Instructor: Susan Binkley

Susan has taught college-level French and has a PhD in French studies.

Did you know that there are two ways of saying 'you' in French? Well, there are! We will learn about one of these forms - 'tu' - and when to use it and when not to, and learn a few other informal expressions as well. We'll also compare 'tu' to the formal way of saying 'you', which is 'vous.'

The informal 'You' in French: Tu

Let's say you're meeting an 8-year-old child who is having a birthday party. You want to ask her if she likes the birthday cake. In English, you'd say, 'Do you like the cake?' And if you asked her 80-year-old grandmother, you'd ask in the exact same way: 'Do you like the cake?' There is no difference in English in the way you ask the question. The word for 'you' is the exact same, whether you're speaking to an 80-year-old woman or an 8-year-old girl.

But in French, there is a difference! In French, you'd change the way to say 'you.' Speaking to the child, you'd use the informal way to say 'you': tu (pronounced: too). So your question 'Do you like the cake?' would be, Tu aimes le gâteau? But speaking to the grandmother, you would use vous (pronounced: voo), so your question would look like this: Vous aimez le gâteau? Do you see the difference?

When to Use Tu

Tu is the familiar or informal form in French for 'you'. When do you use tu? You usually use tu in these situations:

  • with a friend
  • with people in your family
  • with someone your own age
  • with a child
  • with someone who specifically asks that you use tu

Generally, you'll use the formal form vous in the following situations. In other words, you DON'T use tu for these people:

  • with an older person
  • when you want to show respect for that person (such as your boss)
  • with someone you don't know well
  • with strangers

Here are a few more examples, just to see the use of tu and how it's different from the formal vous:

'Are you inviting your friends to the party?'

To the child: Tu invites tes amis à la fête?

To the grandmother: Vous invitez vos amis à la fête?

'Where do you live?'

To the child: Où habites-tu?

To the grandmother: Où habitez-vous?

Some Other Informal Expressions

The French language is really big into formal versus informal French. If you call someone tu, you'll use other expressions that are considered informal also. For example, for 'please,' you'll say s'il te plaît (pronounced: see tuh play). A common expression that you may have heard before is s'il vous plaît (pronounced: si voo play); but this is the formal way to say 'please'. (By the way, have you seen RSVP on an invitation? That's French for répondez, s'il vous plaît, or 'respond, please.')

Or when someone asks how you are, you might answer, Bien, et toi? meaning 'Fine, and you?'

You can also ask 'How are you?' with the informal, Ça va? (pronounced: sa va) or comment vas-tu? (pronounced: kommahn va too) You may have heard the formal way of asking, Comment allez-vous? (pronounced: kommahn tallay voo), but if you notice, this uses the formal vous so you wouldn't use it with a friend of yours, for example.

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