French When Does A Question Have To Start With Est-Ce Using TU And VOUS in Quebec French

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Using TU And VOUS in Quebec French

French verbs are conjugated with two subject pronouns TU and VOUS where English only uses one, YOU. Simply put, TU is singular and is used for casual and informal situations. On the other hand, VOUS is used for the more formal singular and for all plurals.

The real problem comes from the fact that TU and VOUS can refer to singular subjects. When should you use one or the other? This is a frequent source of problems for English speakers learning French. Most grammar books cover the difference. To make things more complicated, however, there are regional differences in the use of these pronouns.

If you have come into contact with many spoken Quebec French, you may have noticed that TU is widespread compared to European French or French taught in schools. Linguists say that in Quebec “tutoiement” is more common than “vouvoiement”. But there is more to it than meets the eye.

First of all, this high use of the TU form probably reflects less rigid attitudes towards social differences. People in Quebec tend to switch to TU quickly after the first round of VOUS, especially if the speakers are of the same age group. My advice here is to always let someone else take the initiative to move from VOUS to TU.

Since TU is the most commonly spoken form, many people, especially teenagers and young adults, are not always used to using the VOUS form and automatically use TU everywhere. This is often seen in stores with young staff. They may start with VOUS and quickly move to TU because VOUS is unnatural. Stores can also remind employees to use VOUS with all customers.

If you feel that the use of TU is inappropriate—usually from a young salesperson—just stand your ground and continue to use VOUS. The other person should be able to get a clue quickly.

While listening to a lot of informal spoken Quebec French, you will notice a very common TU that has nothing to do with pronouns. This can be very confusing because it is exactly like a pronoun. It is actually just a tag added to the verb to indicate a question. Here are some examples:

Il vient-tu avec nous? (Will he come with us?)

Je peux-tu poser une question? (May I ask?)

Je le sais-tu? (How would I know?)

La rue Ste-Catherine, c’est-tu loin? (Is St. Catherine Street far?)

Vous avez-tu fini de faire du bruit? (Are you done making noise?)

Tu dors-tu? (Are you sleeping?)

In your va-tu? (Shall we go?)

This form is also used in Quebec slang to add emphasis to the verb, as in:

Ils l’ont-tu l’affaire! (They know how to do it!)

C’est-tu stupid, cet accident! (Wasn’t that an accident!)

Another interesting use of TU in Quebec French, and to a lesser extent in France, is to express an abstract or generic subject. Here are some examples.

Les prix augmentent si vite que tu ne peux plus rien acheter. (Prices go up so fast you can’t buy anything.)

Use the technology that is actual, your pratiquements tout faire. (With today’s technology, you can do anything.)

In these examples, the speaker is never referring to the opposite person. He is actually speaking in an abstract sense.

Just a word of caution when using this informal usage of Quebec French. They are viewed as substandard in many circles even though they are very popular. Make sure you are comfortable in a social situation before using forms that could be considered slang. When in doubt, stick to VOUS.

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