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When learning and using a foreign language, it is sometimes hard to differentiate between formal and informal language. Beginner French learners can appear rude because they say “tu” to everyone or appear distant because they are too formal for the situation.

The language that you use with your friends and family is quite different to the language tat you must use in a professional setting.  It is almost like learning two languages! While looking for material to help my students differentiate between formal and informal French, I found a very useful video by Campus Langues “Comment se présenter an francais, which I have summarised below.

Demander le nom

Informal:

  • Comment t’appelles-tu?
  • Tu t’appelles comment?
  • C’est quoi ton nom?

Formal:

  • Quel est votre nom?
  • Comment vous appelez vous?

Demander la nationalité

Informal:

  • Tu viens de quel pays?
  • Tu viens d’où?

Formal:

Quelle est votre nationalité?

Demander la profession

Informal:

  • Tu fais quoi dans la vie?
  • Tu fais quoi comme travai?
  • Tu fais quoi comme boulot? (very informal)

Formal:

  • Quelle est votre activité professionelle?
  • Vous exercez quelle profession?
  • Quel est votre métier?

It is not always easy to decide when to use “tu” or “vous”. It depends on the relationship, age, situation… It can be a minefield!

As a general rule, use “vous” when speaking to a stranger, an authority figure, an older person (unless you are related) or anyone to whom you wish to show respect.

Use “tu” with friends, family members, colleagues (this sometimes depends on the place of work) and children.

The safest way is to use “vous” at first. Then both speakers can decide how to proceed. “On peut se tutoyer?”

I hope you found this post useful. A bientôt

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