You in French

Need help with how to say you in French? Not sure when to use the formal "You" Vous in French or the informal "You" Tu? This French language lesson is for you!
 
Take a look at the simple explanations I’ve put together, and then listen to some examples of French conversations so you can practice using this basic French grammar in real life situations.
 
If you’re planning on traveling in a French-speaking country, you might think learning casual French is enough… well think again. This lesson will make sure you don’t offend anyone by being too familiar, and help you to avoid any embarrassing cultural misunderstandings!

The Formal and Informal You in French

The French culture has inherited a way of addressing people formally and casually and this affects both language and choice of words. There are distinctions about who to call “vous” and who to call “tu” for example. In today’s fast paced lifestyles, there is a tendency to be less formal, yet compared to the English language, French customs still make an imprint on social interactions.

The sense of respect prevails today in many cultures around the globe, albeit adapted to modern day norms. In some French families today, parents are still addressed by their children in the formal way! To some this appears to create distance, while to others it maintains a sense of respect.

In French today there is still a clear language code where both formal and informal greetings are relevant. This formal code is useful when you are asking for anything in the commercial arena in France, from shops, health care, touring, making bookings, and as you meet new people.

As you will find out in your conversations with French people, so much of the dialogue depends on how other people interact with you! It’s just as important to understand what’s being said to you as it is to know what to say in a new language. Introducing yourself and introducing other people to each other is a good place to start establishing your ease with dialogues.

The exceptions to using the formal “vous” would be when talking to your family, your friends or when addressing very young children.

Casual French conversation

Formal French

You will notice that in a typical dialogue in French, a person is always addressed by their appropriate title, even if you don’t know their actual name, as in “Sir,” “Monsieur,” “Madam,” ”Madame,” and more traditionally, addressing adolescents as “jeune homme,” ”young man,” or “jeune fille,” ”young lady.”

Monsieur

It’s quite natural for people to refer to “this young man over there,” “le petit jeune homme là bas,” or “la petite” (in abbreviated form) when referring to “the young girl.” There are some subtle distinctions, for example, “Monsieur” across the board, refers to “Sir,” or to a “gentleman,” whereas “l’homme,” means “the man.” It’s probably safer to address any adult woman as “madame” as opposed to “mademoiselle” “miss” regardless of their actual status.

Casual French

In contrast, when addressing family or very young children, it’s not necessary to be so formal. However, it’s probably good to follow the general guideline that, when in doubt, be formal!

Remember that when you already know someone relatively well, there is no need to introduce yourself formally anyway. You may need to introduce a friend to another friend, in which case it is useful to follow the expected pattern.

The following examples show casual greetings using varying degrees of familiarity, from casual through to very laid back.

Casual French conversation

Applying for a job is always strictly formal and interacting with people socially on vacation at a hotel for example, or sight seeing, would always be expected to be more rather than less, formal. It’s a good idea to be comfortable using both socially.

 

Look at the following ice-breakers and compare the use of language while delivering almost the same message:

Notice that words are different but that the overall meaning stays the same. So... that should cover your bases and keep you out of trouble for a while, however informal you'd like to be!

I hope you find these free French grammar lessons helpful.

À bientôt!
Marie-Claire Rivière and the Rocket French Team

 


Testing!

Test yourself with the Rocket French testing tools! Improve your knowledge of French!

Note that the tests below are listed from easiest to hardest.

Hear It Say It!

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Improve your understanding of spoken French. With Hear it Say it! you can tune your ear to French, increase your vocabulary and improve your pronunciation at the same time! Ready?

  • Click the Get Started button below
  • LISTEN to the audio (and touch up your pronunciation with Rocket Record if you like; Chrome/Firefox/Edge desktop browsers only)
  • Click REVEAL to see the word/phrase and see the translation
  • Just click your RATING to continue

See how many words you've rated at each level below. Just click on the number below each rating to review your words and phrases.

Write It!

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Write it! helps you to improve your written French and your understanding of sentence structures. Just listen to the audio and type in what you hear!

  • Click the Get Started button below
  • LISTEN to the audio
  • WRITE down, in French, what you hear
  • Click REVEAL to see the word/phrase and see the translation
  • Your answer will be automatically RATED, just click the rating to continue

Tip!

Click the keyboard icon for a French keyboard

Know It!

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Know it! tests you on your ability to translate English to French! Ready?

  • Click the Get Started button below
  • READ the word/phrase
  • RECORD yourself saying it in French (Chrome/Firefox/Edge desktop browsers only)
  • Click REVEAL to see the word/phrase in French and listen to the French audio

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