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Vous you or they

Is there a way to tell if "vous" is being used as a formal "you" instead of a "they"?

June 24, 2012



Yes, the context.


"Vous" is never "they" -- it's either "you (singular)" or "you (plural)". ("They" is either "ils" or "elles".) So you can't always tell, even in context, whether someone is addressing an individual or a group, same as in English. In writing, you can sometimes tell by the way an adjective is accorded. If you're reading "vous êtes belle", the person politely addressed is female. "Vous êtes beau" is a compliment for a male. "Vous êtes beaux" -- a group of males or a mixed group is addressed. "Vous êtes belles" -- a group of females is addressed.

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