From Mexico to Spain, from Costa Rica to The Dominican Republic, Spanish is the official language of many countries – that’s why it is such an important language. If you want to travel, do international business, talk with your many Spanish-speaking coworkers, live abroad, or explore new cultures, Spanish will help you out a lot.
In order to achieve your Spanish language goals, you’ll need to speak with new people. That could be tricky because in Spanish there are a lot of ways to say the word ‘you’. You don’t want to sound too formal or too informal. You don’t want to sound rigid to a new friend, or rude to a coworker. So depending on your goals, the people you meet, and the geographical region, you’ll need to use a different kind of ‘you’.
The History of Tú, Vos, and Usted
Spanish is a language with a lot of history. Latin roots, colonization, and evolution are part of Spanish’s linguistic changes and linguistic variations. The second person expressions (different ways to say the word “you”) are an important linguistic phenomenon that has had many changes throughout history.
In Latin, tú was the personal pronoun for the second person singular (second person singular means “you”). Later, vos was added to the Latin language as the second person plural (think, you guys). Those pronouns were used in Spanish. Tú was used with friends, family, and servants. Vos became another way to express the second person singular but used to address nobility and authorities. Around the 13th century, Vos otros or vosotros became the second person plural, coming from Latin’s vos alteros (you and others).
In the 15th century, vuestra señoría’was used as an honorable way to speak to someone from the nobility. And for people that didn’t have a noble title, but still belonged to an important category, vuestra merced was used. There were many other expressions of high category, but the most common one was vuestra merced. Vuestras mercedes was the plural.
Because of this, after the Middle Ages, in the 16th century, the use of vos started to change. It became the complete opposite of what it used to be. Now, vos was also used in personal relationships and to talk to people of lower categories. At some point, vos became a word of dishonor, until it was no longer used in Spain.
Little by little, vuestra merced was transformed into usted, and vuestras mercedes was transformed into ustedes. These are both the contemporary words for “you” in a formal way. All the other expressions of respect, like vuestra señoría, also changed, but aren’t used anymore.
The Spanish conquistadors imposed all of these pronouns when they conquered Latin America. The same pronoun changes in Spain happened in Latin America’s viceroyalties. That’s why some places in Latin America don’t use vos anymore. Some other locations that were far from the viceroyalties didn’t update the pronouns. So, they kept using vos and/or tú (informal), and usted (formal).
Today, the plural form vos otros is no longer used, only vosotros is correct.
Nowadays, you can also find abbreviations for usted. Ud. is the most common one. The others are U., V., and Vd. The last two create confusion. Why do people use a “v” for the abbreviation of usted instead of a “u”? This is because of the origin of the word, vuestra merced. The abbreviations for the plural form are Uds. and Vds., for the same reason. It all goes back to the past.
Conjugations of Verbs Depending on “You”
Though tú, vos, and usted are all second person pronouns, the verbs are conjugated differently depending on the pronoun. Here are their present conjugations in their indicative mood to help you out:
The verbs that end in “ar”, change the ending to “as”:
- Bailar / Tú bailas (you dance/you are dancing)
- Amar / Tú amas (you love)
The verbs that end with “er”, change the ending to “es”:
- Aprender / Tú aprendes (you learn/you are learning)
- Saber / Tú sabes (you know)
The verbs that end in “ir”, change the ending for “es”:
- Recibir / Tú recibes (you receive)
- Permitir / Tú permites (you allow)
The verbs that end in “ar” change their endings for “a”:
- Bailar / Usted baila
- Amar / Usted ama
The verbs that end in “er” change their endings to “e”:
- Aprender / Usted aprende
- Saber / Usted sabe
The verbs that end in “ir” change their endings to “e”:
- Recibir / Usted recibe
- Permitir / Usted permite
Remember that there are many irregular verbs in the Spanish language. The best way to learn those is by hearing and reading them over and over again, so they stick.
The verbs that end in “ar” change the ending to “ás”:
- Bailar / Vos bailás
- Amar / Vos amás
The verbs that end in “er” change their endings to “és”:
- Aprender / Vos aprendés
- Saber / Vos sabés
The verbs that end in “ir” change their endings to “ís”:
- Recibir / Vos recibís
- Permitir / Vos permitís
The only irregular verbs for ‘vos’ are:
- Ser / Vos sos (you are)
- Haber / Vos has (you have)
- Ir / Vos vas (you go)
When ‘vos’ is the pronoun, there are some places that conjugate the verbs in different ways. Some people change the “ar” endings of a verb for “áis”; the “er” for “éis”, and the “ir” for “ís”, as if conjugating with the second person plural pronoun “vosotros”.
Check this chart to see the two ways of conjugating with ‘vos’ that we just explained. Some others change the “ar” endings for a “áis”, and the “er” and “ir” for “ís”. In Chile you’ll notice that they don’t pronounce nor write the “s” in the “áis” endings of the verbs.
For the second person plural there is ‘ustedes’ and ‘vosotros’:
The verbs that end in “ar” change the ending to “an”:
- Bailar / Ustedes bailan
- Amar / Ustedes aman
The verbs that end in “er” change their endings to “en”:
- Aprender / Ustedes aprenden
- Saber / Ustedes saben
The verbs that end in “ir” change their endings to “en”:
- Permitir / Ustedes permiten
- Recibir / Ustedes reciben
The verbs that end in “ar” change the ending to “áis”:
- Bailar / Vosotros bailáis
- Amar / Vosotros amáis
The verbs that end in “er” change their endings to “éis”:
- Aprender / Vosotros aprendéis
- Saber / Vosotros sabéis
The verbs that end in “ir” change their endings to “’ís”:
- Recibir / Vosotros recibís
- Permitir / Vosotros permitís
The irregular verbs:
- Ser / Vosotros sois
- Haber / Vosotros habéis
- Ir / Vosotros vais
You can use vosotras for the feminine second person plural pronoun.
If you have doubts about other verb tenses and language moods for the different pronouns, we recommend you to check out WordReference, an online dictionary.
Where in the World to Use Tú, Vos, and Usted
There are many Spanish-speaking countries, and each one has a different way to say “you”. In fact, there are some countries that not only use tú or vos, but they use both. Usually, those countries use tú and vos to speak to someone close, and usted for authorities. Vosotros is only used in Spain and Equatorial Guinea. Other countries use ustedes for the second person plural (you guys).
Voseo is when people speak with vos. Tuteo is when people speak with tú. And ustedeo or usteo is when people speak with usted. Check out where to use each in some of the most visited Spanish-speaking countries.
Most of the country uses tú and usted, except for Chiapas and Tabasco which prefer the voseo instead of the tuteo.
As you’ve seen, in Spain the voseo is no longer used. Spaniards speak with tú’ and usted. For the second person plural, they use vosotros/vosotras to show familiarity and closeness. They use ustedes in a formal way, to show respect.
In Canarias they use ustedes for all people. In Western Andalucía they also use‘ustedes, but people use verbs conjugated as if speaking with vosotros. For example: Ustedes aprendéis español (you’re learning Spanish).
Argentinians speak with voseo. They only use usted to speak with an elderly or someone that deserves a high level of respect. For the second person plural, they always use ustedes.
In the center of Peru, they use tú. In the north, they use the pronoun vos, but the verbs are conjugated as if speaking with tú. In the south, they use both tú and vos. And, of course, all around Peru, usted is used to show respect.
In Huánuco, people use tú for closeness; vos is to address someone with respect and honor, and usted is between tú and vos.
Colombians use all of the second person pronouns: tú, vos, and usted. They usually use vos in the Paisa Region, in Valle del Cauca, and in Nariño. In this last one, sometimes people conjugate the verbs the typical way when using vos; but, some other times, they conjugate the verbs as if they were using tú.
On the Caribbean Coast people tend to use tú, but prefer usted to speak with an elder person and in formal situations. In the rest of Colombia, people always use usted, not just with elders or authorities. So, the ustedeo can be used with close people too.
They use vos and usted. There are places, like Cartago, San José, and Guanacaste, in which vos is the frequent pronoun. But in general, Costa Rican people prefer to use usted. They also combine usted and vos, leaving the rule of usted as a formal pronoun aside. Sometimes, they even combine both pronouns in the same conversation.
They only use tú and usted, except in Fajardo, where they use the voseo.
They only use tú and usted.
Don’t forget! Even in countries that consider usted the formal way of addressing someone, some people will always speak to you using the ustedeo, even if you’re a friend, a romantic partner or family. It’s the way they were raised. You’ll especially find this characteristic in the countryside.
Become Fluent in Spanish
Spanish’s second person pronouns (you and you guys) are vast and change from country to country. Even in one country, you can find different ways to use all of them. This might be confusing when trying to have a conversation in Spanish. To make it easier first you have to choose which Spanish you want to speak and, therefore, learn. Then, you have to practice as much as you can. That will make you fluent and lead the path to other kinds of Spanish.
Here at TruFluency we have native Spanish tutors that will help you with all your questions and help you practice speaking. The classes are personalized, and the main goal is to make you fluent. You’ll be able to travel around the world and address Spanish people like a native.
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