In French (my mother language), in order to be polite, we use "vous" (the second person of plurial) when we talk to another person who deserves respect (a boss, a teacher, etc.) and "tu" for a close friend, a child, etc.). How do we do the same thing in English since there is only "you" for second person of singular and of plurial?

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    I believe you will find, sir, that politesse involves a great deal more than mere pronomial selection and corresponding verbal inflection.
    – tchrist
    Dec 30, 2013 at 2:24
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    I say we bring back "thee" and "thou" and their variations to solve this unique problem!
    – moonstar
    Dec 30, 2013 at 2:54
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    @moonstar2001 but "thou" was the less polite variation of "you". It is not the vous that is missing from English, it's the tu. So it is French that is missing out on politeness; English is always polite. And I am not sure how that's a problem that needs addressing.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 30, 2013 at 10:59
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    I can't say I agree that this question is a duplicate of the one mentioned. The OP is asking how to address or speak to someone with reverence and courtesy, since the subject pronoun, you, is used indifferently whether you are speaking to a child or to a figure of authority. The fact that this was not always the case in English, does not help nor answer the OP's question. And I disagree that English is always polite, it can be seen to be too direct and rude. Ask an Englishman "Can you put out that cigarette?" and wait for his annoyed response.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 30, 2013 at 13:19

4 Answers 4


In most English dialects there is no direct equivalent of "tutoyer". It's very much more contextual.

In the area of England I live in (Sheffield) I still occasionally hear "thee" and "thou" but it seems to be a habit in decline.


As you've already noted, unlike in the Romance languages, in English there is only you for second person singular/plural. Therefore to connote respect, you might need to use additional words, while trying not to sound stuffy.

You could address the person by name (Mr./Mrs./Ms. Smith) and use slightly more formal speech.

Hi, Sherri, do you want something to drink?

Hello, Mrs. Smith, would you care for something to drink?

You can refer to a man as Sir, but it's trickier with a woman; many women feel offended (old) if you use Madam (or Ma'am), so you're stuck with Miss. However, if you say "madame" with a French accent, you can probably pull it off.

Politeness is achieved by using softening words such as would you mind and I wonder if..., using the passive voice (instead of saying, You said you would be here at one, you might say, It was agreed that you would be here by one.), using to + verb constructions (Can I take... vs. Might I be able to take... and other such nonsense, which you can find here, here, and here.

Courtesy is international. If you speak courteously in French,

you should have no problem with courtesy in English.

it is unlikely that you will experience any problems with other languages.


A plain offer: Do you want a cup of tea?

A more polite offer: Would you like a cup of tea?

A very polite offer: Shall I bring you a cup of tea?

An extremely polite offer: Would you care for a cup of tea?

A plain request: Can you close the window, please?

A more polite request: Could you close the window, please?

A very polite request: Would you mind closing the window, please?

A polite (and slightly hesitant) request:
I was wondering if you could close the window? If you didn't mind.

The most fundamental thing to remember is to remember to say please and thank you. Some people might consider the request: "Can you close the window?" as being too direct, and almost rude. If however, you tag on please at the end, that will normally suffice. Using the past tense, or modal verbs such as: could, shall, would etc. lends an air of hesitancy and allows the listener to either accept or refuse a request or an invite.


Simple answer, use a polite tone in your voice (and maybe add a hint of sympathetic body language).

  • @Susan yes I know the common conventions for the commoners. I'm afraid I can't oblige you there since everything I say is an original authentic thought, and my greatest resource is myself. I don't stand on the shoulders of giants because I am a giant myself (Honestly, I'm pushing 100kg of Christmas pudding right now!)
    – Sam
    Dec 30, 2013 at 3:29
  • @Susan You misunderstand. There is no other source. An original authentic thought - by definition - doesn't have another source. "proof of nobility"? certainly. My nobility can be deduced from the original authentic nature of my contribution to these discussions. Also, my username is automatically associated with everything I write, so everything is automatically referenced for me. Much Obliged. (;-D)
    – Sam
    Dec 30, 2013 at 4:00

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