I mean, in the same epoch that thou was most used in English. Like a contemporary equivalent, that is.

3 Answers 3


Yes, the equivalent is tu. A few centuries ago, English had the same distinction as French: thou when addressing people at a certain level of familiarity, you in a formal or upper-class setting. In English, you became completely generalized and displaced thou (except when talking to God). In French, the normal singular form remains in use. In some dialects (essentially, in France and in Switzerland), the syntactic plural vous may be used with a singular meaning, when speaking to a single person in formal situations. The limit between tutoiement (when to use tu) and vouvoiement (when to use vous) can be very difficult to grasp, it is a major difficulty for non-natives and is even occasionally awkward for natives.

  • In Belgium, too.
    – Édouard
    Jul 15, 2013 at 6:54
  • What's so hard to catch about the vouvoiement? Formal, respectful and meeting an new person, use vous. Otherwise, tu.
    – Sebas
    Jul 18, 2013 at 13:54
  • 7
    @Sebas There are plenty of social differences and ambiguous situations. Do you say tu or vous to your neighbor? (Depends: vous in most of France, but tu in many banlieues.) To a colleague? (I think tu is more common but it depends heavily on the industry.) To a complete stranger? (Usually vous but often tu among younger people and online.) Does it depend on the circumstances? (Yes, e.g. it's always vous in the army if the two persons are of different ranks.) Every native has had awkward occasions where one person picked tu and the other picked vous. Jul 18, 2013 at 14:12
  • I think your questions can be summarised as I mention before: Repect, new acquaintance, formal, use vous. Otherwise, tu. Regarding to the banlieues, this is not a place where any correct french rule applies anyway.
    – Sebas
    Jul 18, 2013 at 14:14
  • 4
    @Sebas This isn't the place for this discussion, so this will be my last comment. Your summary is completely bogus. I respect plenty of people that I address as tu; it's not at all a matter of respect. Formality, yes, but the rules are intricate. There are plenty of contexts where one would say tu immediately (e.g. it's pretty common that the CEO of a company says vous to a stagiaire but tu to the newly-hired janitor.) Jul 18, 2013 at 14:20

When thou was used as a colloquial singular second person

It was then used almost exactly as tu was at the same time in France, so you just have to map thou to tu and you to vous.

When thou is used as an overly formal archaism

I tend to follow the convention used by the translators of David Eddings' Belgariad: to add French-like tutoiement and vouvoiement with respect to the familiarity between the characters, and to use pronouns with a capital first letter for thou, thee, thine…:

Mets toute Ta force d'âme à supporter Ton mal, ô aimable jouvenceau, l'exhorta jovialement Mandorallen […]
La reine des sortilèges, translation by Dominique Haas

It was perhaps inspired from the classical pronouns referring to God in some French bibles or other religion-related work Il, Tu, Son… which translate to thou and such in King James' Bible.


If you're looking to convey the same archaic meaning as "thou" with a personal pronoun in French, there is no equivalent.

Of course, the direct translation of "thou" is "tu" and although it does completely translate the meaning of "thou", it does not have any of the archaic connotations.

  • Thank you for your comment. 'Twould be interesting to see how the Shakespearean play between thou and you, often in the same line, is rendered in French without losing too much of the original quibble interplay.
    – indoxica
    Jul 15, 2013 at 13:07
  • I'm not entirely familier with Shakespeare but I assume, "thou" would be translated as "tu" and "you" would be translated as "vous"... "You" in some cases may be translated as "On", but this would be less likely as the equivalent of "on" ("one") was widely used in Shakespearian English (I think)
    – Adam Scot
    Jul 15, 2013 at 13:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.