French Politeness Vocabulary and Expressions - Tu Versus Vous

French Politeness Vocabulary and Expressions
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After you master your French survival phrases, the very next thing you need to conquer in French is politeness.

Do Smile in France

You may have heard that it was not OK to smile in France. I don't agree. I am Parisian born and raised, then lived 18 years in the US, then came back to France to raise my daughter among my (also French) husband family.

People smile in France. Especially when they interact, ask for something, are trying to make a good impression. In a large city like Paris, smiling to everybody may make you look out of place. Especially if you are a woman and are smiling to each guy that looks at you: they may think you are flirting. 

However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't smile, especially when you are talking to someone. 

Lots of French students are afraid to speak French, and therefore have a very intense facial expression: it's not nice. So try to relax, breathe in, and smile!

Tu Versus Vous - The French You

There is MUCH to say on this subject which is deeply rooted in French history. But to sum it up.

  • Use "tu" with one person you are talking to: a child, a close friend, an adult in a very relaxed setting, a family member, anyone who uses "tu" with you (unless they are much older than you).
  • Use "vous" with everybody else you are talking to. An adult you are not close to, a colleague, a person much older than you... and with a group of several people (whether you say "tu" or "vous" to them individually.

The choice between "tu" and "vous" also depends on social class (this is very important and the main reason why French people use "tu" or "vous" to talk to one person), geographic region, age, and... personal preference! 

Now, each time you learn a French expression using "you" - you'll have to learn two forms. The "tu" one and the "vous" one.

French Politeness Essentials

  • Monsieur - Sir
  • Madame - Lady, Madam
  • Mademoiselle - Miss, to be used with younger (too young to be married) women

When addressing someone, it is much more polite in French to follow with "Monsieur", "Madame" or "Mademoiselle". In English, it may be a bit over the top, depending where you come from. Not in France.

  • Oui - Yes.
  • Non - No.
  • Merci - Thank you.
  • Bonjour - hi, hello.
  • Au revoir - Bye.
  • S'il vous plaît - please (using vous)/ S'il te plaît - please (saying tu)
  • Je vous en prie - you're welcome (using vous) / Je t'en prie (saying tu)
  • Désolé(e) - sorry
  • Pardon - sorry
  • Comment ? - Excuse me - when you couldn't hear someone.
  • Excusez-moi (for vous) / excuse-moi (for tu) - excuse-me
  • À vos souhaits (for vous) / à tes souhaits (for tu) - bless you (after someone sneezes)

Of course, there is much more to say about French politeness. We suggest you check out look at the downloadable audio lesson on French Politeness to master the modern French pronunciation and all the cultural nuances linked to French politeness and greetings.

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Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "French Politeness Vocabulary and Expressions - Tu Versus Vous." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. (2020, August 26). French Politeness Vocabulary and Expressions - Tu Versus Vous. Retrieved from Chevalier-Karfis, Camille. "French Politeness Vocabulary and Expressions - Tu Versus Vous." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).

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