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Laura K. Lawless

French expression: On peut se tutoyer ?

By February 18, 2013

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More: French expressions


January 30, 2009 at 7:31 am
(1) Elizabeth says:

One of my favorite stories involves tutoyer. Maybe it’s only apochyphal, but it seems to sum up part of the French character as well as the nuances of the French language. When asked by a colleague whether he could “tutoyer,” DeGaulle replied, “Si vous voulez.”

March 19, 2011 at 11:20 am
(2) Marie says:

He answered “si vous voulez”. “Voudriez” is conditionnel

January 30, 2009 at 7:44 am
(3) Vincent Clark says:

A tricky subject indeed; a friend has a house in le Lot and has dined regularly with a couple there for over 20 years and they still vousvoyer. Interestingly though I am assured that it’s normal for members of the same sporting club, in my case a rowing club, to tutoyer.

All the vbest,

Vin Clark

January 30, 2009 at 8:06 am
(4) Melissa says:

Once you’ve asked the question, where does it go from there if the other person does NOT want to move to the informal tu? Awkward!

January 30, 2009 at 10:56 am
(5) Kathy says:

The use of “tu” and “vous” was one of the most difficult things to learn when I moved to France. A teacher I had in Canada recommended I just use “vous” with everyone for the first year and it was good advice. My neighbour and some others asked within a few months if “on peut se tutoyer”. Of course, by then I knew my conjugation well with “vous” so found the switch difficult!!

January 30, 2009 at 1:34 pm
(6) moo says:

how bout ones french prof. We are very informal,friendly,cozy class- small…. yet is it ever permissable?

January 30, 2009 at 3:54 pm
(7) Dennis Belliveau says:

I just ask our prof. what he preferred us to use and he told us to use tu.
We are also a small class only 3 of us…….
Not sure maybe you have also ask what he prefers???

January 30, 2009 at 5:20 pm
(8) Mwansa says:

I’m just wondering, would it be necessary to ask? I would just seem it would flow overtime when you get comfortable with the person. I would use it with an acquaintance, but when we become cool friends, the “tu” would probably sunconciously come into play :@)

You’re right, once they say no to the tutoyer offer, it’ll be like,okay…I guess we can’t be all that cool with each other after all, hihi

January 30, 2009 at 5:20 pm
(9) jane shear says:

Tricky for me, a 66 year old American woman, who travels with American teenagers and has lots of contact with French teens. I always suggest the French use “tu” or at least call me Jane, but they can’t get past the need to vouvoyer and call me Madame.

March 19, 2011 at 11:23 am
(10) Marie says:

Vous is also a way to show respect to people. Generally when you’re an adult you use vous to everybody except friends, family…

January 31, 2009 at 3:42 am
(11) sue says:

I’ve always wondered what to do when you met somebody, obviously younger than you, but not a teenager. Someone in their young 20′s for example. To tutoyer seems impolite but vous seems too formal. What do you think is the “cut-off” age for tu/vous?

February 1, 2009 at 5:02 am
(12) Anon says:

I’m in my mid-twenties and a French friend of mine of the same age told me that the ‘general’ rule is not to really use Vous unless someone is about 10 years my senior, otherwise I would sound very posh OR like a foreigner who’d only ever learnt the vous form!!!

February 1, 2009 at 7:43 am
(13) Polly says:

At a French university language summer school
the young profs always used tu both to their own senior staff and to ourselves even though many of us were much older than them. On the other hand, my much older French born conversation teacher always uses vous and I have known her for 10 years! I guess its a generations thing as well.

February 3, 2009 at 10:15 am
(14) brent says:

this must be similar to using in english someone’s first name or not. Also, for me personally, using the word “you” is more like the “vous” form and “tu” being similar to the implied you form of english.

February 6, 2009 at 5:11 pm
(15) Celeste says:

Since I took french in high school, to continue it in College I needed to interview and see what level I tested into.

I started out fairly poorly when I was asked “Coment t’appelles tu?” I had never heard that phrase in the tutoyer form, and he had to repeat it before I figured it out. But really, why would someone ever tutoyer while asking your name?

. . . . . . . . . .

Two examples off the top of my head: a teacher asking a student, and new classmates asking one another. Not knowing a person is not the only criterion for vouvoiement – age and social standing are also taken into account. I have a lesson that goes into this in some detail: http://french.about.com/od/grammar/ss/subjectpronouns_3.htm

Laura K. Lawless
Learn French at About

February 9, 2009 at 12:12 pm
(16) jean jacques says:

The rules are pretty simple ‘tu’ is infornal and’vous’ formal. When addressing a person for the first time use the formal way.It’a also a sign of respect.But assert their reaction. If they reply in a formal way, stick to that until you become familiar of each other then you can throw ‘Est-ce qu’on peut se tutoyer?’

March 29, 2009 at 12:52 am
(17) corky says:

i have the same question re my french prof — he uses tu to me outside of class, especially when texting, but vous in class. so i wonder if it’s alright to do the same with him — vous in class, tu when not.

November 3, 2009 at 5:10 am
(18) FX Pirot says:

Always possible to use some humour : “vous préférez qu’on se tutoie ou tu préfères qu’on se vouvoie ?”.

September 1, 2010 at 6:41 pm
(19) Marilyn says:

For when to use tu or vous, Polly may be correct in saying it could be a generational thing. My mother always wanted my friends to refer to her as Mrs. but my peers and I prefer to have even younger people that we know well call us by our first names. If you are on a “first name basis” with someone it is probably OK to use tu. However, a relationship in the workplace may require the use of vous because it comes off more professional and respectful, even though you use first names

January 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm
(20) taffazull says:

An article in todays New York Times(An Assassination’s Long Shadow) interestingly mentions that one of the reasons for the troubles in Congo was quote “French-speaking colonists talked to Africans as adults do to children, using the familiar “tu” instead of the formal “vous.”unquote. Shows how important it is to pay attention to ones “tu” and “vous” !

February 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm
(21) Marie says:

Well, it’s not because you’re very close to someone that you’ll use tu. Let’s see. Very little, with teachers, we all use tu. Then in the collège, we use vous to the teachers and call them “madame”, “monsieur”, but they still say tu. In lycée (high school), it’s the same but some teachers can start to say vous to students. At université, generally, we really “enter” the world of adult so teachers also use vous. To our familly or to family friends or friends or to people our age (when you’re a child or a teenager), or when we’re children, we use tu. But as we grow up, we start to say vous. Vous is not just only a way to distance ourselves from someone, but also a way to show some respect to someone. I got along well with some teachers but still continued to say vous and “madame”"monsieur” to show them my respect as teachers and as older persons than I.

November 19, 2011 at 9:20 pm
(22) cheryll says:


I am taking/have been taking French as a 3rd language for 3 years already. This year, i have signed up for an immersion program wherein i get to go to a french school for a week to see the educational system and also to experience using french.
We’ll each have a french buddy who is a student in the school. Should i use vous or tu when talking to her/him? and same with other students in my buddy’s class if they try to start a conversation. I’ve been told that the buddy will be the same age as me but we’re still strangers or barely acquainted so i am quite troubled…

. . . . . . . . . .

Bonjour – assuming you’re in your teens, you should definitely use tu. Teenagers only use vous with adults. If you’re in your 20′s, you should ask your buddy if you can use tu.

Laura K. Lawless
Learn French at About

December 9, 2011 at 7:33 am
(23) Conor Fennell says:

I attended a French improver course with work colleagues, so it was natural for us to use tu. The downside was that we found it very difficult to adjust to vous when we went out into the real world, ie. France.

July 26, 2012 at 8:49 am
(24) Annette says:

In the American South, a man shows respect for older men and authority figures by calling them “sir”. He would say “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” “Yes sir”, “No sir”. He would also make an effort to stand up straight, look them in the eye, listen to them respectfully, offer assistance, etc. Is this the Americal southern version of le vouvoiement?

. . . . . . . . . .

In a sense, yes. But I would say that what you describe is more formal than vous in some situations.

Laura K. Lawless
Learn French at About

February 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm
(25) Serge says:

There’s also the situation when you’ve just entered a community whose members all say “tu” to each other – imagine for instance that you’ve just been hired in a small company. In that case, saying “tu” in the first place to every new workmate will be regarded as compulsory. It means that you consider yourself as a new member and it’s more polite than sticking to “vous”. In fact, for me the real meaning of “tu” is “we belong in the same group”.

June 8, 2013 at 1:52 am
(26) Michael Main says:

I had an encounter where young people immediately told me why “tu” was appropriate when I was speaking to them. They said it would be just as inappropriate if I, in English, called these young people, “Sir.” Point immediately well taken!

October 17, 2013 at 5:33 am
(27) ashkan says:

In Persian(farsi) we have the same thing for <i> tu</i> and <i>vous</i> that is <i>tu – تو</i> and <i>shoma – شما</i>
but we never ask for switch we wait for one to say the first <i> tu</i> and we become closer.

November 22, 2013 at 4:00 pm
(28) george says:

I have a teacher we’ve known for about 3 years, she is french and uses the tu form and we use her first name is it okay to use the tu form to her then ?

November 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm
(29) LKL - French Guide says:

Bonjour George,

It’s up to her – that’s exactly what this expression is used for, to find out how another person feels about being tutoied. :-)

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