you-in-spanish

How to Say “You” in Spanish

Tú, usted, ustedes, vos and vosotros all mean “you” in Spanish.

But here’s the catch: they’re all slightly different. Which personal pronoun you use depends entirely on the situation.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look into every way to say “you” in Spanish and when to use each one like a native speaker.

Contents

(Singular, Informal)

Usage: When referring to a single person you’re familiar with.

Where it’s used: Every Spanish-speaking country

Tú is used for friends, family members, colleagues, people younger than you and people your own age.

You can also use tú with pets. For example, you can say this to your cat:

eres mi vida.
(You are my life.)

Oh, and don’t forget the accent mark on top of the u. It’s not there to make the word look more exotic. Tu without the accent mark means “your”… as in, “Your DVDs aren’t coming back.”

Usted (Singular, Formal)

Usage: When referring to a single person you need to be formal with.

Where it’s used: Every Spanish-speaking country

The difference between tú and usted is that usted is more formal than tú. 

Use usted to refer to people of a higher social status than you—your boss, elder members of your family, a government official, a teacher or a doctor.

Usted is a fusion of the old phrase “vuestra merced,” which was used to address superiors in the 15th and 16th centuries. It means “your mercy” or “your grace.”

You’ll want to use usted when you’re initially meeting a person. For example:

¿Cómo se llama usted?
(What is your name?)

It’s better to start with usted than to assume familiarity and later have to walk back your tú.

If the other person thinks you’re being too formal, he’ll tell you by saying:

Puedes tutearme.

This means you can use the form with them.

It’s like your boss telling you, “Just call me John” after you’ve been “Mr. Smith-ing” his ears off.

Vos (Singular, Formal and Informal)

Usage: The same as tú and usted

Where it’s used: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Eastern Bolivia and some parts of Central America (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala)

Vos used to just replace , but it’s increasingly becoming accepted as a replacement for usted as well in the countries listed above.

Note that in Spain, vos isn’t used at all.

Happy Hour Spanish has a map of countries in South America that employ vos.

However, it’s still very difficult to pinpoint exactly which places use it because even in a single country, a region may be using vos and just a few miles north, up the mountain or down the valley, you might hear  instead.

Remember that the form you use will change the verb’s conjugation.

With tú, you’d say “Tú eres…” (“You are…”). With vos, you say “Vos sos…”. For example:

Vos sos muy bella.
(You are very beautiful.)

Vosotros (Plural, Informal)

Usage: When informally addressing a group of people

Where it’s used: Spain

Vosotros is the “you” plural, like the “y’all” of a Texan drawl.

For example:

He preparado un pastel para vosotros.
(I have baked a cake for you all.)

If the group you’re addressing comprises women, it becomes vosotras. If you’re addressing a mixed or entirely male group, use vosotros.

Spain may not use vos, but it definitely uses vosotros. This time, Spain is practically the only country that uses it.

Ustedes (Plural, Formal and Informal)

Usage: When formally or informally addressing a group of people

Where it’s used: Formally in Spain. Informally and formally in Latin America.

Ustedes is for when you’re addressing two or more people, as in:

¿Quieren ustedes ir a la playa?
(Do you guys want to go to the beach?)

In landlocked countries like Paraguay and Bolivia, this is akin to asking, “Do you want to go abroad?” It all just goes to show you: Context is everything!

How to Determine Which Spanish Form of “You” to Use

By now you know that Spanish has five words that mean “you,” and their differences are pretty significant. Each word has a specific function in the language and is often not interchangeable.

Which form you use depends on:

  • The number of people you’re talking to
  • The specific dialect you’re speaking
  • The formality (or informality) of the situation

Also keep in mind whether you’re in Spain, Central America, the Argentina-Uruguay-Paraguay region, etc.

Here are some factors to consider when determining the formality of a situation:

  • Age: Addressing somebody older than you? That’s a dead giveaway right there. Show respect and use the formal “you.” If it’s somebody your own age, then you have more leeway. You can speak informally to those younger than you (unless they’re of a higher social status!).
  • Social status: If you’re speaking to your boss or someone higher up on the social ladder, go formal. Informal is fine if it’s just your colleagues or friends horsing around.
  • Social distance: If you’re talking to a stranger or acquaintance, consider the situation formal. If you’re among friends—most of whom are passed out on the floor—you can really say anything you like, can’t you?

You can also try the “High-Five Test.” Imagine giving the other person a high five out of nowhere.

Did it feel weird? Or totally normal? Did the other person even return the high five?

If you can imagine high-fiving the other person without the slightest bit of awkwardness, then you can talk to them informally. If not, then it’s probably best to address them formally.

Two Important Things to Remember About “You” in Spanish

Zeroing in on the correct “you” form is crucial to being understood and not offending anyone. Here are two more really important facts to remember about these pronouns.

Tú, Usted, Vosotros, Vos and Ustedes Have Different Verb Conjugations

For example, the common expression “Have a nice day!” will be different depending on whether you’re using  (informal) or usted (formal):

¡Que tú tengas un buen día!

¡Que usted tenga un buen día!

They both mean the same thing, but the accompanying verb forms depending on which “you” is used in the sentence.

[Note: For discussion purposes, notice that we don’t drop the “you.” Many Spanish speakers often drop the pronoun altogether. So instead of saying, “Tú tienes suerte” (You are lucky), they say, “Tienes suerte,” which means the same thing.]

We all know that verb conjugation can be tricky. But luckily, there are plenty of available resources online for learning the ins and outs of it:

“You” Changes Form Depending on Its Usage in a Sentence

As a pronoun, “you” can be placed at different points in a sentence and acts as a direct object, indirect object, the object of a preposition, etc. It’s pretty versatile!

Let’s take tú for example.

It changes into te when it’s used as an indirect or direct object and into ti when used as an object of the preposition:

Alguien te mandó flores para tu cumpleaños.
(Someone sent you flowers for your birthday.)

Este flor es para ti.
(This flower is for you.)

This goes for the other four forms as wellusted, ustedes, vos, vosotros.

 

Now you know five different ways to say “you” in Spanish! The Spanish language is rich like that. But don’t worry if it takes time to get the hang of the nuances. With daily practice, you’ll get there.

Best of luck to you!

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