Following on from this question about using vous/tu, and specifically a throwaway remark by subtenante, what are some tricks that you can use to avoid having to use either, if you're uncertain?

5 Answers 5


There are several strategies.

  • Change the whole focus of the sentence. For instance, you want to flatter the person by asking "did you cook this meal yourself?" (knowing that he/she did cook it indeed), you'd be tempted to ask avez-vous cuisiné ce plat vous-même? ; you'll have to ask ce plat est délicieux, qui l'a cuisiné ? instead.

  • For "your", instead of ton/votre, always use ce. You want to borrow something, you won't ask it like "puis-je emprunter ton/votre ..." but either "puis-je emprunter ce ...".

  • If talking to someone you know very well from an organisation, like a different company, but you're not sure of the context (formal/informal?) just always say vous and pretend you talk about the organisation as a whole, which is always a plural, if you get any remark.

  • Sometimes, you just can't. In this case, use vous repeatedly until the person makes clear that the tu is ok. :)

  • Some people have the dirty habit of using neither vous nor tu but will use a third-person instead. Typical from shop owners who want to sound a little fancy: Et il lui faudra quoi au monsieur? Do not do that.

  • 3
    using the third person can sound condescending
    – Smugrik
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 9:26
  • Marking as accepted because this is exactly what I was looking for.
    – Benjol
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 12:51
  • 1
    Upvoted for the "do not do that" (et il lui faudra quoi au monsieur), that's so ugly
    – Cedric H.
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 16:29

Use this simple rule: use vous by default.

I often ask if I can use tu after a couple of sentences. The answer is always yes.

  • 3
    Probably the safest approach, but I would qualify it by a note on the importance of age difference: without going full-blown into the whole vous vs. tu debate, if you are within a couple years of each other, and both under 30-40, "tu" is probably a safe default...
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 0:52

Use "tu" and say "My mother tongue is english, I don't do such difference" and smile

  • 5
    I though thou always used you. Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 16:45

Another trick as I discovered by answering another question : sometimes, you can use nous:

  • Ne nous énervons pas!
  • Comment allons-nous ce matin?
  • Prendons-nous du sucre avec notre café?

I'm not saying it's always applicable, and it will sound weird in a lot of cases, but it's worth knowing.

As already mentionned, the third person can also be used, but probably only butlers can pull that one off:

  • Monsieur a-t-il bien dormi?
  • Madame est servie.
  • 3
    Alors, nous avons un problème avec l'ajout des liens? :)
    – Benjol
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 9:01
  • 1
    Nous ne nous abaissons pas à relire notre réponse avant de la soumettre.
    – Joubarc
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 9:04
  • Ca, c'est une autre utilisation du nous ! On dit 'le nous royal' en français ?
    – Benjol
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 9:15
  • Va voir l'autre question :-)
    – Joubarc
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 9:17
  • 5
    I would not recommend that a non-native speaker attempt nous or monsieur in the second person. It's a very uncommon turn of phrase; at best it is likely to be misunderstood, and if understood it will often be perceived as condescending. As the TLF puts it (I.A.4.b): “exprimer certaines nuances de sentiment (sympathie, condescendance, reproche affectueux, parfois ironie)”. Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 9:23
  • Ne pas adresser la parole à la personne concernée
  • Parler seulement de généralités en évitant de s'adresser directement à la personne
  • Parler toujours au pluriel
  • 2
    * Ne pas parler?
    – Tipx
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 4:14
  • 1
    on lui conseille aussi de regarder ses pieds
    – Smugrik
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 9:02

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