Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Tu" ou "Vous" (On se tutoie ?)


The topic at hand today makes even the most advanced students of French trembler: when to use “tu” or “vous”? To understand the difference, one must first know a few things. “Tu” and “vous” are both translations of the English pronoun “you”. Anglophones use “you” to indicate both singular and plural so, in this case, English is simpler than French. Although the English version may be plus facile, this may also pose some problems. Consider, for instance, the phrase “You do the dishes!” In this phrase, without context, it’s difficult to determine whether this awful sentence will fall only on yourself or on a group. Some Anglophones use the wonderful variants “you guys" or “you all” to be more specific. 

The French have a more elegant system: “tu” is singular “you,” as in “Tu vas bien?,” meaning “You’re okay?”  “Vous” is plural “you,” as in“Vous allez bien?,” meaning “You guys are ok?” Compris? Great, because that’s the easy part. This question of “tu” and “vous” became tricky because the French also change these words depending on who they’re addressing. In some situations, this point of grammar gives not only shivers but also des cauchemars. Proper execution of “tu” and “vous” can take years to master and even a native Francophone can make mistakes. In these instances, des erreurs may not be grammatical faults but rather social mistakes. 

As an adult, a French person becomes a master jongleur of “tu” and “vous”. With each new person you meet, you must ask yourself the question : “tu or vous?” This is usually a straightforward question but sometimes the answer is not obvious. Your boss would always merit a “vous” unless you work for a peer and you’re a millennial. The baker at the local boulangerie would be “vous” if you go there a couple times a month but “tu” if you go there everyday and chat about the weather, the kids, and local sports. Your beau-père or belle-mère could be either “vous” or “tu” depending on the individual and your relationship. Starting with “vous” is always the safe choice. If you become “tu” later, it’s a sign you’re being welcomed into the family. If you remain “vous” after one or two years, you might remain “vous” for the entire relationship. 

Personally, I’ve always struggled to use “vous” with people I’ve known for a long time. To avoid choosing the pronoun, I’ve developed elaborate techniques to avoid having to use any pronoun. Imagine you are at a family dinner with your partner and you want le sel next to your father-in-law. But you really don’t want to refer to him as “vous”. Wait for your chance and dès que eye contact is made, jump into it, cut the conversation, rapidly raise your eyebrows, and loudly ask “Est-ce que quelqu’un pourrait me passer le sel s’il vous plait?” Your question could appear to be for everyone! You didn’t win the war but it’s a successful battle against choosing pronouns! 

Just remember, “vous” is always the safe choice if you aren’t with des amis and “tu” indicates to the person that he or she is your peer. Don’t forget that you can also ask a person if you may use “tu” with him or her. French people will enjoy hearing this question from a non-native speaker and they will most likely say Oh bien-sûr !” 

Vocabulaire :
trembler = shiver
plus facile = easier
sentence = Sentence (law)
des cauchemars = nightmares
Compris = understood
des erreurs = mistakes
jongleur = juggler
boulangerie = bakery
beau-père = father-in-law
belle-mère = mother-in-law
le sel= the salt
dès que = as soon as
Est-ce que quelqu’un pourrait me passer le sel s’il vous plait? = Could someone please pass me the salt?
des amis = friends
Oh bien-sûr ! = Oh of course!

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