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Vous allez and Allez vous

Hello can anybody explain to me why allez vous is used when asking a question like 'Allez-vous travailler?' and not vous allez? is it literally just because of the positioning of the 'are you going' instead of 'you are going'? sorry if this doesnt make sense but french is hard for me:/

April 7, 2020



MacSmith, you are correct - it is the positioning of the words. You switch their positions, "inverting" (putting in the opposite position) them.


Inverting the subject and the verb is the proper way to build a question, as you would do it in english.


Years ago I took French classes in high school and college, I learned from academic books and teacher/professor that, in a question I should say 'Allez vous travailler? or Est ce que vous allez travailler?'. I now learn 'Vous allez travailler?'. All 3 options are correct, but I think the 3rd is less formal. If my guess is wrong, please correct. Thank you.


You're correct. The third one is casual.


"Allez-vous travailler?" with the subject following the verb is the correct way to express a question in formal French.

However in daily life, French people never say that. Instead, you will typically hear: "vous allez travailler?" with the word stress (the Intonation) rising at the end of the sentence, making obvious the fact that they are asking a question.


It's the register. Imagine walking into a bar, off the street. It's a blue-collar joint, dimly-lit, where most of the clients are drinking cheap beer and you are at least vaguely acquainted with many of them. The bartender is friendly and the guy next to you is chatting you up. You suddenly remembered that you smoked your last square outside. So you ask they rather loquacious fellow next to you, "You have a cigarette?" Of course, the rising intonation of your voice at the end of the sentence will clearly indicate that you are asking a question and not making an indicative statement.

Now imagine that it is a rainy day and you are waiting under an umbrella at a bus stop. You just missed the last bus so you know it will be 20 minutes before the next one arrives. The fellow next to you is smoking, and even though you quit smoking over a year ago on the advice of your pulmonary specialist who has already removed a large piece of one of your lungs, the stench of the burning leaves causes restlessness, anxiety and cold sweat. You really must have a smoke so you, somewhat hesitantly, say, "Is it that... you have a cigarette?"

Now, suppose that you are in an airport in Tokyo waiting for your flight. (Suppose also that it is 1986, so that people still smoke profusely in airports.) A man next to you is speaking German, but earlier you heard him speak English so you know that he speaks English, which is good because you do not speak german. He lights up a cigarette. You have never tried smoking but always wanted to. So, you ask him, very formally and politely because he is a foreigner and (1) you don't really know the manner of his ways and (2) you want to be sure that you are understood, "Have you a cigarette?"

What's the moral of this story? Well, there are two actually. The first is that you really should buy yourself a package of cigarettes so you don't have to bum them off others. But the second, and perhaps more important, is that there are many different ways to ask for a cigarette, depending upon the social register. In each of these scenarios you are asking for a cigarette but the words that you string together are the result of your assessment of the situation.

Social registers exist in French as well. You can say, "Vous avez une cigarette ?" You can say "est-ce que vous avez une cigarette ?" And you can say "Avez-vous une cigarette ?" There are many other options as well, and your choice will depend upon a number of factors, but it will primarily depend upon how formal you perceive the situation to be.


does the same apply with as-tu and tu-as? is this less formal to use? thanks.


Saying "tu as...?/vous avez..?" instead of "as-tu?.../avez-vous...?" when asking a question is not rude at all. It's just informal and commonly heard in spoken French, even among the upper-class/white collars.

Nevertheless, when you want to be polite, you would rather say "est-ce que vous avez...?" but rarely "avez-vous...?", because it would sound a little bit weird, or fake, not genuine, as if you were speaking "like a book", since It belongs to the written language. Just like the use of the particle "ли" in Russian questions, which is dropped in casual conversations.

With that being said, no Frenchman will make fun of you if you ask "avez-vous...?" in informal speech. It adds to the charm of foreigners when they make an effort to speak a correct French.


With that being said, no Frenchman will make fun of you if you ask "avez-vous...?" in informal speech.

That has been my experience. I generally observed thorough and immediate cooperation when I have addressed strangers in France in this manner. I think the same probably goes for native English speakers when foreigners speak to us in formal terms. The joke among native anglophones is that foreigners speak English better than we do. A foreigner will say, "The alacrity with which he expressed his disdain persuaded me that I should make haste to vacate the premises" whereas an American would say, "That dude was so pissed off that I got the hell out of there fast!"


haha. I was thinking about that for a while. I guess you can be formal and familiar, informal and familiar, formal and distant, or informal and distant.

To understand this in English, think of Romeo and Juliet. Of course you can find examples of formality with distance, as in the dialogue in the plaza of Verona between the patriarchs of the Montague and Capulet families:

Do you bite your thumb, sir?

I do bite my thumb, sir, but not at you.

But then you can find intimacy as well:

Wherefore art thou Romeo?

(Notice here both the use of subject-verb inversion, which is formal, but also the use of the familar Thou rather than the more distant You. So it seems that formality can coexist with familiarity.)

But you can also find dialogue between Mercutio and Tyball which does not have subject-verb inversion but that has the familiar form of the second-person personal pronoun:

and yet thou wilt tutor me from quarrelling?

(Clearly the actor here will need to intone upward on the last word so that the audience will know that it is a question, but a question it is.)

So I do think you can have both familiar (Tu/Thou) vs distant (Vous/You), and then you can have different registers (inversion, non-inverted, etc.) Thus formality, registers, and familiarity are all different concepts.

Imagine the siblings in a royal family, such as the young prince Louis quarreling with his sister, children of one of the many Kings Louis the Nth. They might be familiar but at the same time formal, as little Louis would expected to reign supreme as Louis the N+1 one day.

As-tu mon jouet ?

Non, je n'ai point ton jouet.

Alors, tu as mon jouet ! Maman, Louis prend toujours mes affaires : peux-tu lui faire redonner mon jouet, s'il te plaît.


I'm currently reading Romeo and Juliet in a French translation...

...even though you have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.


you have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.

taH pagh taHbe!


I’m confused with the following

Oh, vous allez au Sénégal Où allez vous à Dakar

How do I tell if it’s allez-vous of vous allez ?


I agree with you. I am on that lesson now, and it is confusing to me, also.


Can Duolingo just provide the clarity. If it’s important enough to have a lesson then it needs clarity on how to determine which one to use


Totally agree. No idea and all the commentary above seems to suggest it doesn’t really matter!

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