You hear them a hundred times a day, yet distinguishing between tout vs tous is not an easy task. These two words are homophones, meaning they have the same pronunciation: /tu/. While they sometimes express the same idea, which is generally the equivalent of all in English, tout and tous can also be used to express different ideas. Furthermore, tout can become toute and toutes, while tous can have different pronunciations.
Confusing? Don’t worry, there is some logic behind it! Knowing when to use toutes vs toute vs tous vs tout actually depends on its grammatical use: whether the word is acting as an adjective, a pronoun, or an adverb.
In today’s post, we’ll first cover the use of tout and its variants as an indefinite adjective. Then we’ll see how it is used as a pronoun, either neutral or indefinite. In the final section, we’ll go into a lot of detail to explain how tout is used as an adverb.
In each case, we’ll see how tricky the agreement rules can be for tout to become tous, toute, and toutes, and how the pronunciation can differ depending on the use. Now let’s get started!
Tout as an Indefinite Adjective
Tout in French is used most often as an indefinite adjective. It is generally translated into English as all, every, entire, or whole, depending on the context. As an adjective, tout is usually placed before a determiner, though sometimes it can go directly before the noun or pronoun it modifies.
Like all French adjectives, tout agrees in gender and number with the noun it refers to. And that is when the variants of tout appear: tous for masculine plural, toute for feminine singular, and toutes for feminine plural.
Pay attention to the fact that as an adjective, both tout and tous are pronounced with the last letter silent, which gives /tu/, whereas the final T is pronounced in toute and toutes, as /tut/.
- Tout bagage abandonné sera détruit. – Every abandoned baggage will be destroyed.
- Ils vont à la gym tous les jours. – They go to the gym every day.
- Toute souris qui ose apparaître chez nous sera vite attrapée par un chat. – Any mouse that dares to appear in our home will quickly be caught by a cat.
- J’ai mangé toutes les fraises ! – I ate all the strawberries!
Tout as an adjective is encountered in many fixed French expressions:
- Tous les 36 du mois – Every 36th of the month. (Once in a blue moon.)
- Toutes taxes comprises. – All taxes are included.
Tout as a Pronoun
Tout is often used as a pronoun, whose function is to replace another word in the sentence, usually a noun, to avoid repetition. Tout can act as either a neutral or an indefinite pronoun.
When tout is used as a neutral pronoun, it replaces a thing, never a person, and it is singular. It has only one form: tout, pronounced with a silent T at the end as /tu/. Used as a neutral pronoun, tout means everything or all.
- C’est tout pour aujourd’hui. – That’s all for today.
- Merci pour tout ce que tu as fait ! – Thank you for everything you did.
- Ne t’inquiète pas, tout va bien. – Don’t worry, everything is fine.
Tout can also be used as an indefinite pronoun and translates to everyone, everybody, and all. Indefinite pronouns can be used either for persons or things, always when these are plural and non-specific. When used as indefinite pronouns, tout agrees in gender and number with the noun it replaces. Since it is always plural in this case, the two possible forms are either tous or toutes.
When used as an indefinite pronoun, the final S of tous is always pronounced, as /tus/, in order to differentiate it from the neutral pronoun tout. In its feminine form, the final T of neutral pronoun toutes is pronounced, as /tut/.
- Ils sont tous partis. – They have all left.
- Elles ont toutes un diplôme d’architecture. – They all have a degree in architecture.
Tout as an Adverb
Adverbs are used to modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. When used as an adverb, tout takes English meanings along the lines of quite, very, extremely, or entirely.
The spelling and pronunciation rules for tout when used as an adverb, however, can get a bit complicated. Depending on how it’s used as an adverb, it follows different rules!
There are differing scenarios for the adverb tout:
- When modifying a verb or another adverb
- When modifying an adjective
Let’s look at each of these cases in turn. The rule for the first scenario is quite straightforwrad, but things get more complicated when tout modifies an adjective.
As an adverb before a verb or another adverb: tout
When tout is used to modify a verb or another adverb, it only takes one invariable form: tout, pronounced with a silent T as /tu/.
- Les enfants sont tout excités ce soir ! – The kids are extremely excited tonight !
- On doit le bouger tout doucement. – We must move it very slowly.
Tout as an adverb before adjectives
To make things even more complicated, when tout is used as an adverb to modify an adjective, there are three sub-scenarios, each with different rules:
- When modifying an adjective that agrees in gender and number with a feminine subject, the adverb also needs to match as either toute or toutes. The final T is pronounced.
- When modifying an adjective that describes a feminine subject but starts with a vowel sound, the adverb remains invariable in the form of tout, and the final T is still pronounced.
- When modifying an adjective that describes a masculine subject, the adverb also remains invariable in the form of tout, and the final T is silent.
- When placed before possessive adjectives or demonstrative adjectives, it acts as an indefinite adjective modifying the same noun as those adjectives.
To sum up these rules, tout as an adverb modifying an adjective is pronounced with a silent T and spelled as tout before all masculine adjectives, whereas for feminine adjectives the final T is pronounced but the spelling can differ. Now let’s see the details for each case.
As an adverb before feminine adjectives: toute, toutes
Unlike most French adverbs, which are generally invariable, when tout is used to modify a feminine adjective, it usually also agrees in gender and number as either toute or toutes.
The pronunciation in this case requires enunciating the final T, as /tut/.
- Sa sœur est toute timide devant nous. – His sister is very shy in front of us.
- Elles sont toutes honteuses après leur gaffe ! – They are extremely ashamed after their blunder!
As an adverb before feminine adjectives starting with vowels: tout
There’s a spelling difference in the previous rule if tout is followed by a feminine adjective starting with a vowel or a silent H: it remains invariable as tout. This rule does not apply to words starting with an H which is pronounced.
The pronunciation of tout here is the same as above, since the final T must be enunciated as it connects the vowel sound of the following word: the final T is pronounced, so tout is spoken as /tut/.
- Elle est tout étonnée – She is very surprised.
- Elles sont tout heureuses de le revoir. – They are very happy to see him again.
Note that it is still considered grammatically correct to use the spellings toute or toutes here, though this rule for spelling it as tout is more common. In either case, the final T is pronounced.
As an adverb before masculine adjectives: tout
When tout acts as an adverb before masculine adjectives, whether they’re modifying singular or plural nouns, tout remains invariable as tout. This gives a pronunciation with a silent T at the end, as /tu/.
- Le parc d’attractions est tout vide en fin de saison. – The amusement park is completely empty at the end of the season.
- Une fois fartés, mes skis sont tout lisses. – Once they’re waxed, my skis are totally smooth.
- Les chatons sont tout doux. – The kittens are really soft.
Note that this use of tout as an adverb can exhibit exactly the same sentence structure as with the pronoun tout. The meaning changes though, and in the case of plural nouns, the spelling and pronunciation also changes. Remember that the final S of tous as a pronoun is pronounced, as /tus/:
- Les chatons sont tous doux. – The kittens are all soft.
- Quand je farte les skis de mes clients, ils sont tous tout lisses. – When I wax my clients’ skis, they are all totally smooth.
Preceding possessive and demonstrative adjectives: tout is an adjective
We’re including this last rule in our section on tout as an adverb because of similarities in the sentence structure: since tout immediately precedes these particular adjectives, we might be tempted to assume that it acts as an adverb. However, this is not the case.
Rather than modifying possessive adjectives or demonstrative adjectives, tout acts as an additional adjective modifying the same noun. Here as an indefinite adjective, tout must agree in gender and number with the noun it modifies, taking one of the four forms that we saw above: tout, tous, toute, or toutes.
- D’où viennent tout ce monde ? – Where do all of these people come from?
- Il a rangé tous ses jouets sous le lit. – He put away all his toys under the bed.
- Vas-tu manger toute cette tarte à toi seul ? – Are you going to eat this entire pie all by yourself?
- Il a trié toutes nos affaires. – He sorted all our stuff.
While we may not give much thought to all in English, it’s an entirely different story with tout in French.
Because there are different uses for tout, whether as an adjective, a pronoun, or an adverb, the grammatical rules and pronunciation differ.
There is no secret: to understand how to use tout vs tous vs toute vs toutes, you must understand the grammatical role it plays in the sentence.
For each grammatical role, we’ve gone into a lot of detail here to explain the use, the gender agreement rules, and the pronunciation rules of tout and its variants. Armed with this knowledge, try sharpening your ear when you hear these words so you can become familiar with the various contexts in which tout or one of its variants is used by French speakers!