Have you been told the difference but you don't always know when to use you or you? Let us unravel together the mysteries of the tu and the vouvoyer.
Tu and tu, you and you in French, a unique case?
Well the answer is no. Typical of Indo-European languages, we find this case in all languages from Latin such as Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian or Italian but also in Slavic languages such as Russian, Ukrainian and Polish but also in the Germanic languages in Norwegian and Dutch for example, but not in the English-speaking world where this distinction has disappeared!
The main principles
The familiarity and the formalities relate to the use and the politeness. You will understand, to not offend anyone, it is very important to behave properly in society. Whether it is the corporate world at work or even social relations outside the office, it is important to know which attitude and which brand respect to adopt.
First of all, it should be borne in mind that this distinction is not always natural for the French either and it is not uncommon for a relationship between two interlocutors to go through a phase of “you-tussement” , that is to say a period where two people oscillate between the “you” and the “you”, having not very clearly defined the nature of the relationship or having seen it evolve.
Thus, we will use the pronoun “you” when we interact with a peer, that is to say a person whom we consider equal to ourselves in the professional context for example. It could be a colleague with whom we share an office. It is also the pronoun that we will use in the informal context, when we are presented, for example, to a friend of a friend.
The pronoun “you”, on the other hand, will be used in a formal context, towards a hierarchical superior, a department head for example or his boss, but also when speaking to an older interlocutor.
From where the difficulty met when one is presented to the parents of a friends when one is a teenager for example or to the parents to note spouse when one is adult. Our friend or our spouse will naturally tutor his parents, it is nevertheless expected that we will see them. It is possible in a sometimes very short time that the parents invite us to get to know them but this moment can also never happen and we are then obliged to see them even years after our first meeting.
Similarly, in the professional context, a superior could invite his subordinates to speak to him, but this is not automatic. Increasingly rare, it happens that a chef gets close to his collaborators when they are required to see him, but this then establishes a very unbalanced balance of power.
So you see that even for the French, this job remains a game of perilous balancing act in the social relationships that one maintains with his interlocutors.
How to avoid using them?
Let’s now review some ways to avoid the use of tu and woo when you are unsure of what to do. First of all, you should keep a neutral tone and therefore use a standard language register: neither too strong nor too familiar. We will then try to avoid conjugated verbs, which inevitably bring out pronouns and conjugation marks.
• Hi how are you ? / Hello how are you ?
=> Hello, how are you?
• Did your vacation go well? / How was your vacation?
=> How was the holidays?
• Did you have a good weekend? / What did you do this weekend ?
=> Was it good this weekend?
• What do you think ? / What do you think ?
=> A remark or a suggestion?