Vous & Tu
The words VOUS and TU both mean you in English... Ok, so how and when should we use them? And why should I know the difference between TU and VOUS?
How would you react if a stranger came up to you, and said: “hey dude, what’s up”? You would wonder who this person is, why he talks to you as if you were his best friend. That’s exactly the same in French.
The distinction between VOUS and TU indicates your relationship to the person you are talking to. Using the wrong form will lead people to think you don’t respect them. For this reason, knowing when to use TU and when to use VOUS is critical.
When talking to a stranger, use the formal form of address (vous). Don’t use the familiar form (tu) or call someone by his Christian name until you’re invited to do so. Generally the older, more important or simply local person will invite the other to use the familiar TU form of address and first names; in fact, the switch will suddenly happen and you should pick up on it immediately or you will forever be stuck with the VOUS form.
However, some people always remain VOUS, such as figures of authority or those with whom you have a business relationship, e.g. your bank manager, tax officials and policemen. We also use VOUS everytime that we address to more than one person.
The familiar form (TU) is used with family members, speakers aged between 1 and 25, when an adult talk to a child, teachers to primary school students, when talking to animals and God, but almost never with your elders or work superiors. However, the French are becoming less formal and the under 50s often use TU and first names with work colleagues, and will quickly switch from VOUS to TU with new social acquaintances, although older people may be reluctant to make the change.
Did I succeed in demystifying YOU and VOUS for you?
I hope so. If not, don't worry, there are other solutions.
Solution 1 : If you're still unsure whether to use TU or VOUS, it's safer to start by using VOUS. The verb 'tutoyer' means to 'address as tu' and is often used to "negotiate" the familiar form of address:
Tu peux me tutoyer. (you can address me as 'tu'.)
On peut se tutoyer, non? (We can address each other as 'tu', don't you think?)
Est-ce qu'on peut se tutoyer? (Can we address each other as 'tu'?)
Solution 2 : you can also play with The Los Angeles Times tutorial :
Not so difficult after all ;-)
If you are still confused, don't worry. After few lessons with Perth French Tutor, you will be able to master these differences and Vous and Tu will no longer be an issue for you.