French › Introductory lessons › Formal speech · Le discours formel

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Dialogue · A formal conversation · Une conversation formelle[edit]

Two people—Monsieur Bernard and Monsieur Lambert—are meeting for the first time:

Monsieur Bernard Bonjour. Comment vous appelez-vous ?
Hello. What's your name?
Monsieur Lambert Je m'appelle Jean-Paul Lambert. Et vous ?
I am Jean-Paul Lambert. And you?
Monsieur Bernard Moi, je suis Marc Bernard. Enchanté.
Me, I am Marc Bernard. Nice to meet you.
Monsieur Lambert Enchanté.
Nice to meet you.

Grammar · Vous vs. tu [edit]

This is an important difference between French and English today. English no longer distinguishes between the singular, and the plural, formal version of you. The use of thou for the informal singular version faded almost completely by the mid-nineteenth century.

In French, it is important to know when to use vous /vu/ and when to use tu /ty/.

Vous is the plural form of you. This is somewhat equivalent to you all, you guys, all of you, except that it does not carry any familiarity when used with the plural. You would use it to address your friends as well as when talking to the whole government at a press conference.

Vous is also used to refer to single individuals to show respect, to be polite or to be neutral. It is used when talking to someone who is important, someone who is older than you are, or someone with whom you are unfamiliar. This is known as Vouvoiement. Note the conversation between M. Bernard and M. Lambert above as an example of this use.

Conversely, tu is the singular and informal form of vous (you) in French. It is commonly used when referring to a friend or a family member, and is also used between children or when addressing a child. If it is used when speaking to a stranger, it signals disrespect. This is known as Tutoiement. As a rule of thumb, use tu only when you would call that person by his first name, otherwise use vous. French people will make it known when they would like you to refer to them by tu. The use of vous is less common in Quebequois than in French from France.

In sociolinguistics, a T–V distinction describes the situation wherein a language has second-person pronouns that distinguish varying levels of politeness, social distance, courtesy, familiarity, or insult toward the addressee. The expressions T-form (informal) and V-form (formal), with reference to the initial letters of these pronouns in Latin, tu and vos. In Latin, tu was originally the singular, and vos the plural, with no distinction for honorific or familiar. It was only between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries that the norms for the use of T- and V-forms crystallized.

Vocabulary · Courtesy · La politesse[edit]

Please S'il te plaît (Lit: If it pleases you.)
S'il vous plaît (formal).
Thanks (a lot) Merci (beaucoup)
You're welcome. De rien (Lit: It's nothing.)
Pas de quoi (No problem.)
Je t'en prie I pray you (informal)
Je vous en prie (formal)

Vocabulary · Titles · Les titres[edit]

Vocabulary
Titles · Les titres
French Abbr. Pronunciation English, Usage
Monsieur M. /mə.sjø/ (muh-syuhew) Mr., Sir
Messieurs M. /mesjø/ (maysyuhew) Gentlemen
Madame Mme /ma.dam/ (mah-dahm) Mrs., Ma'am
Mesdames Mme /me.dam/ (may-dahm) Ladies
Mademoiselle Mlle /mad.mwa.zɛl/  (mahd-mwah-zehl) Miss, Young lady
Mesdemoiselles Mlle /med.mwa.zɛl/  (mayd-mwah-zehl) Young ladies
  • It's acceptable to use /mɛ.dam/ or /me.dam/ (meh-dahm) or (may-dahm)
  • Do not forget to liaison if saying Mesdames et Messieurs /me.dam z‿e me.sjø/ (may-dam-zay-maysyuhew).

Vocabulary · Asking for one's name · Demander le nom de quelqu'un[edit]

Comment vous appelez-vous ?
Quel est votre nom ?
How do you call yourself? (formal)
What is your name?
Tu t'appelles comment ? What is your name? (informal)
Je m'appelle…
Je suis…
Moi, je suis…
My name is…
I am…
I'm…

Note that with vous, the verb appelez is spelled with one 'l', whereas with tu it has two l's (appelles). This is an irregular conjugation which will be covered more in-depth in a later lesson.

Exercises [edit]

ExerciseIntroductions

You are at your first business conference representing your new company, and your manager begins to speak with a colleague you have never met. You want to greet him, tell him your name, and ask him his name.

ExerciseTranslation

(Highlight or hover over a line to show the answer.)

Translate from French to English.
S'il vous plaît Please
Comment vous appelez-vous ? How do you call yourself?
Mesdames Ladies
Je vous en prie. You're welcome.
Merci beaucoup Thanks a lot
ExerciseTranslation

(Highlight or hover over a line to show the answer.)

Translate from English to French.
Gentlemen Messieurs
Miss Mademoiselle
My name is… Je m'appelle…
Please S'il te plaît, S'il vous plaît
ExerciseChoose between tu and vous. Which would you use for the following people?
  1. a teacher
  2. a best friend
  3. someone you just met
  4. a group of your friends
  5. a parent
  6. a sibling
  7. a waiter at a restaurant
Solution
  1. vous (to show respect)
  2. tu (familiarity)
  3. vous (unfamiliar)
  4. vous (plural group, even though it is informal)
  5. tu (familiar)
  6. tu (familiar)
  7. vous (likely unfamiliar, but also to show respect and to be polite)