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Tu ou vous?

In modern English, there is one pronoun that is used when addressing someone as “you.” Have you ever wondered how other languages and cultures differentiate pronouns? In Frech, tu and vous are two pronoun forms of the word you.

Whether or not one should use tu or vous depends on the situation. Tu is an informal singular version of you, while vous can be the second person plural or formal singular of you. The second person plural version of vous is used for both formal and informal groups of you all. When discussing the two singular versions of the pronoun you, whether or not one uses tu or vous in a given situation is the difference between being rude or polite. When tu or vous are used in incorrect circumstances it is a sign of disrespect. There are many situational qualifiers that determine which pronoun to use, and there is no clear formula to deciding which to use.

A main differentiator between tu and vous is whether or not a person is a close family member. If they are a family member, unless they are a father-in-law or distant, one should use tu. Another general rule is that one typically uses tu when addressing a child unless that child holds a position of power for example that child is royalty. Friends and lovers are also commonly addressed as tu as are peers like fellow students and coworkers (unless one works at a very respectful company where everyone addresses everyone as vous). God is referred to as tu, which lines up with the English version of the Bible which refers to God as “Thou” and “Thee.” These pronouns used to be part of earlier English language as the informal version of the formal pronoun you. Tutoienting God is appropriate because Christianity sees God as everyone’s best friend.

Vous is used as a sign of respect. It is generally used for people that have higher social ranking like for teachers and bosses (unless a boss invites one to tutoient). Vous is also used for people that are considerably older who one does not know very well. For common workers that are providing services like cashiers, servers, cab drivers, etc. vous is used (at least at first) even if the service provider is younger than the person speaking. If one starts out addressing someone as vous, the relationship may eventually transition to tutoienting if both parties see each other as social equals.

Darya Farrokhi

Oxford Emory

Darya is currently a sophomore at Oxford College of Emory University. In her spare time, she likes to run, mountain bike, paint, and read books. Her current intended major is Biology. She has a passion for exploring the outdoors and hopes to share that with others.
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