Lesson 5: Formal Speech

A formal conversation

French Dialogue • Formal speech
A Formal Conversation Une conversation formelle
Two people—Monsieur Bernard and Monsieur Lambert—are meeting for the first time:
Monsieur BernardBonjour. Comment vous appelez-vous ?
Monsieur LambertJe m’appelle Jean-Paul Lambert. Et vous ?
Monsieur BernardMoi, je suis Marc Bernard. Enchanté.
Monsieur LambertEnchanté .

I (I is not capitalized in French (unless, of course, beginning a sentence))
Nice to meet you (lit. enchanted)

Vous vs. tu

This is an important difference between French and English. English no longer distinguishes between the singular and the plural, formal version of “you”, although “thou” used to be the informal singular version in the days of Shakespeare.
In French, it is important to know when to use “vous” and when to use “tu“.
“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’d 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.


French Vocabulary • Formal speech
Courtesy La politesse
PleaseS’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.(Lit: Not of what.) (No problem.)
Je t’en prie.I pray you (informal)
Je vous en prie(formal)


French Vocabulary • Formal speech
Titles Les titres
FrenchAbbr.PronunciationEnglish, Usage
Mr., Sir.
Mrs., Ma’am.
Miss, Young lady
Young ladies

Formal lesson – Titles

The titles monsieur, madame, and mademoiselle are almost always used alone, without the last name of the person. When beginning to speak to a professor, employer, or generally someone older than you, it is polite to say monsieur, madame, or mademoiselle.

Asking for one’s name

French Vocabulary • Formal speech
Asking For One’s Name Demander le nom de quelqu’un
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)
(lit: How do you call yourself?)
Je m’appelle…My name is… (lit. I call myself…)
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