Do you know the difference between tout and tous? Do you know what each means when used in French? If you answered ‘no,’ don’t panic! Tout and tous are two different words with similar meanings, but they do have two slightly different usages.
You see, both English and French use these two nouns quite a lot. In this article, we’ll explain their meanings, usage examples, and differences so that you can make sure your usage is correct! Read on to learn more about these homophones.
Differences between “tout” and “tous.”
These two homophones are often confused with each other – and for a good reason too! They do sound very similar, and both are used to express the same idea: “everyone” or “all.” In some instances, it can be used to mean “very.” But there are a few essential differences between the pair that you should keep in mind if you’re learning French.
Tous can be considered one of the many variants of the French word “tout.” Each variant of the word serves a different purpose in French. Tout can be used as a noun/pronoun, an adverb, or an adjective. All this for one word? Yes! But that’s not all.
As you may have noticed, both words are pronounced quite similarly, but they can change slightly based on whether the word acts as an adjective, an adverb, and a pronoun/noun or if it’s part of a fixed French expression.
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When to use tout or tous: the three main variants of “tout” & their uses
- When Tout is used as an adjective
Let’s look at how “tout” can be used as an adjective. This is something that “tout” and “tous” do very similarly, which is why they’re often confused! Again, these two words are often confused, but there are a few crucial differences.
Brace yourself. More information is coming your way!
Tout as an adjective can take four forms, some of which are also used when the word acts as a pronoun or an adverb. If you guessed that “tout” is the singular masculine form of the word, you guessed right! That means you only use the word when modifying a masculine singular word.
When modifying a masculine plural word, “tout” becomes “tous.” It becomes toute – singular/feminine and Toutes – feminine/plural forms. When ‘tout’ acts as an adjective, it is always placed before the noun. These examples should make it more straightforward:
- Vous pouvez apprendre le français à tout âge – you can learn French at any age.
- Tu connais tous mes amis – you know all my friends
- Je lis des livres toute la semaine – I read books all week
- Nous avons visité toutes ces écoles – we have visited all of these schools
Observe that in all of the examples above, the different forms of “tout” come before the nouns and agree with the subject.
Here are some fixed expressions where “tout” acts as an adjective.
- Tout le temps (all the time)
- En tout cas ( in any case)
When pronouncing the word “tout” and “tous, they sound “tou,” with the last words being silent, while “toutes” and “toute” are pronounced “tout,” retaining the “t” sound.
- when Tout is used as an Adverb
Wouldn’t it be great if tout as an adverb was invariable? It would! But that’s not always the case. Tout remains invariable when used to modify other adverbs. The rules don’t apply when it modifies an adjective—starting to sound complicated? Hold on!
- Il mange tout lentement
In the above sentence, tout can be translated to mean “very” doing the translation;
- He eats very slowly
Here, tout is an adverb that modifies the adverb doucement. It doesn’t change its form to toute, toutes, or tous. Sounds easy, right?
Not to burst your bubble, but things get complicated when tout (the adverb) modifies an adjective. Let’s break that down for you.
If the adverbial tout is a masculine adjective’s modifier, the word remains invariable whether it is in singular or plural form.
- Il est tout seul. (He’s all alone.)
- Elles sont tout étonnées. (They are all astonished.)
If a feminine adjective start with a silent “h” or a vowel, “tout” remains invariable, e.g., Elles sont tout heureuses. (They are delighted.)
But that’s the case when tout alters a feminine adjective. It must conform to the number (singular/plural) and the gender (feminine) of said adjective if the adjective begins with an h aspire or a consonant. See the example below.
- Elle est toute timide. (She is very shy.)
- Elles sont toutes bruyantes. (They are all loud.)
Here are some fixed expressions where tout acts as an adverb:
- Tout a l’heure (immediately)
- Tout droit (straight ahead)
- Tout à fait (absolutely)
- Tout à coup (all of a sudden)
- when Tout is used as a Pronoun or Noun
How are you feeling? Is everything coming together nicely? We hope so! Let’s move on to something less complicated, shall we! How to use tout as a noun.
The noun form of tout is invariable and used in the masculine singular form. Invariable means it does not change this form! To make it plural, add an “s.” Its pronunciation is also the same in that the “t” at the end of the word isn’t pronounced.
- le Grand Tout (the universe)
- Tu es mon tout. – (You are my all/everything.)
See! Easy peasy! Let’s move on to Tout – the pronoun. Pay attention to this one;
When used as a neutral pronoun, tout doesn’t change and is invariable. For example, c’est tout. The pronoun here doesn’t strictly refer to anything in particular.
On the contrary, tout can change form to plural when it refers to an already mentioned noun. For instance:
Questions: où sont les hommes?
Answer: tous sont ici
Here are some fixed Expressions where Tout is used as a pronoun and Noun:
- Avant tout (above all)
- Rien du tout (nothing at all)
The pronunciation of Tout as a pronoun doesn’t change much except the form “tous.” The sound “s” doesn’t change.
Other Usage Examples for “Tout”
Here are some examples of how to use “tout” in French. Note that these examples are all about “tout,” meaning “everything.”
- Je ne vous comprends pas quand Vous dites que vous voulez que tout le monde soit malheureux!
(I don’t understand when you say you want everyone to be unhappy!)
- Je n’ai rien contre les Américains, Je suis tout contre leur politique!
(I don’t have a problem with Americans, I have a problem with their politics!)
- Vous pouvez disposer de vos livres, Je ne les ai pas tous lus!
(You can keep your books, I’ve read some of them!)
Other Usage Examples for “Tous”
Here are some examples of how to use “tous” in French. Note that these examples are all about “tous,” meaning “all of the people.”
- Demain, tous les étudiants de la ville vont au concert gratuit.
(Tomorrow, all the city’s students will go to the free concert.)
- Il y a autour de nous des gens qui sont tous des menteurs.
(There are people around us who are all liars.)
- Nous nous sommes tous inscrits au cours de français.
(We’ve all signed up for French classes.)
Does it all make sense now? Tout and to us can be pretty challenging, but knowing when to use which and understanding their differences will save you from making some of the mistakes that French learners typically make. If you choose to learn French at home, then you should watch French content, read books and attempt to recognize if tout is used as a Pronoun, adverb, or adjective.
See you next time! And remember to book French vocabulary lessons with italki!