Getting started with French 1
Getting started with French 1

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9 Using ‘tu’ and ‘vous’

At the start of this week you were introduced to a number of expressions for greetings, some of which were formal and some informal. You may have noticed that the word vous (=’you’) is sometimes used in the formal expressions. One important aspect of learning French is to understand how and when to use formal and informal language. Both tu and vous can be used to mean ‘you’ when addressing another person. Practise them as part of your pronunciation practice for the two sounds ‘u’ and ‘ou’. Also, note that:

  • vous is more formal than tu, and is used particularly when the speaker wishes to address the listener respectfully; this may be due to differences in age or perceived status, or in more formal situations when meeting someone for the first time;
  • tu is normally used among friends and relatives, and when talking to children; teenagers and young adults, between themselves, will more naturally use the tu form from the outset.

There are no hard and fast rules as it also depends on the setting, the person you’re talking to and how formal you prefer to be. It’s always safer to use vous and wait for the person you’re speaking with to invite you to use tu.

Activity 10

Watch these short video clips where people are meeting in various different situations.

Download this video clip.Video player: lxgf001_wk1_ol_act_vid001.mp4
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It is unlikely that you’ll understand, or even hear, every word, but listen out for the use of vous and tu and how these words are pronounced. Notice what gestures the people use. What is the relationship between the people who are meeting, do you think? Write your thoughts in the box below.

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The first two short scenarios show people who know each other very well. They are using tu and they kiss when they meet. The second pair of short films show people in much more formal settings using the formal address of vous. The young man may be coming for an interview and he shakes hands with the woman at the desk. In the last film we see two colleagues but in a formal setting; they address each other using their formal titles and the ‘vous’ form of address.

Félicitations ! You have come to the end of your first week’s study! Be sure to go over again any parts you found challenging, or might have forgotten, before you try the Quiz.

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