In French, you have two ways to say ‘you’: ‘tu’ and ‘vous’. It is important to know in which situation you use them as they have very specific use and they set the tone of a conversation. They also define the relationship between the people involved in the conversation. Once you work out which one you need to use, don’t forget to check your grammar.
For example, when you conjugate verbs, the ending will not be the same if you are conjugating the verb with ‘tu’ or with ‘vous’. Note that ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ also influence the use of possessive adjectives in a sentence.
‘Tu’ is a singular subject pronoun and is used in informal situations. You can use ‘tu’ if you are addressing one person in an informal context.
Examples of situations when ‘tu’ is appropriate to use
An adult talking to a child
Tu as beaucoup grandi depuis la dernière fois que je t’ai vu.
You grew up a lot since I last saw you.
Friends talking among themselves
Tu veux un café?
Do you want a coffee?
Tu as téléphoné à ton frère ?
Did you call your brother?
Colleagues (Note that ‘tu’ might not be appropriate when talking to a boss or someone higher up in the hierarchy)
Tu as une nouvelle coupe de cheveux ?
Do you have a new haircut?
‘Vous’ is a plural subject pronoun and is used in formal situations when talking to one person or in both informal and formal situations when talking to a group.
Examples of situations when ‘vous’ is appropriate to use when talking to one person
A child talking to an adult that he/she doesn’t know
Vous avez besoin d’aide?
Do you need help?
A stranger or somebody you just met
Vous avez une très belle maison.
You have a beautiful house.
During an interview
Vous avez reçu mon CV ?
Did you receive my CV ?
At work, when talking to somebody higher up than you
Vous aurez mon rapport sur votre bureau à midi.
You will get my report on your desk at midday.
To your employees (*’tu’ might be used depending on the relationships you have with your employees. ‘Vous’ sets a more formal tone that ‘tu’ in relationships between people)
Vous avez beaucoup d’ambition.
You have a lot of ambition.
‘Vous’ can be used anytime, both in formal and informal situations, when talking to a group of people
Vous venez à ma fête d’anniversaire ce soir ?
Are you coming to my birthday party tonight?
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In a nutshell…