Formal and Informal Speech
Episode #7 of the course Spanish language basics by Nicole Joslin
It’s Day 7 of the course, and today, we’re going to talk about formal and informal speech.
Remember all of those “you’s” yesterday in the personal pronoun list? Tú, usted, vos, vosotros, ustedes? All of the “you” pronouns in Spanish have a purpose! Their purpose is to correctly refer to one person or a group of people, formally or informally.
The use of these pronouns varies by country and even regions inside countries. I will be teaching you the standard Spanish way to address people formally and informally, but if you are traveling to somewhere specific, I would try to ask a local of that area how they use pronouns in formal and informal speech to avoid disrespecting or offending anyone.
Let’s get to it!
Tú is used when you are addressing one person who is at the same or lower social level as you are. In Latin America, you can definitely use tú with your peers (people the same age as you), your friends, family, and with children and teenagers.
In Spain, you can refer to almost anyone as tú. Take it from me—when I lived in Spain, I tried to address my professors and my doctor with the formal pronoun, and they were shocked! The Spanish culture is more informal than the Latin American culture in this respect.
Vosis used as a replacement for tú in many parts of Latin America. In some countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua, vos is used in certain regions, and in Argentina and Uruguay, it’s used all throughout the country. Vos is never used in Spain.
Usted is used in Latin America to address a person who is of a higher social status than you. This means that if you meet an elderly person, a doctor, a professor, a police officer, etc. abroad in a Latin American country, you should definitely use usted when speaking to them.
In Spain, you can also use usted, but they will most likely ask you to call them tú instead.
In fact, in any social situation, a Spanish speaker may ask you to address them with tú or usted. If that happens, just change how you address the person and continue the conversation!
Vosotros is the pronoun you would use to address a group of people (plural you). This is only used in Spain, and it’s the informal pronoun. That means that if you travel to Spain, you can use vosotros to address a group of people. Remember that in Spain the culture is more informal, so the only time you would use the formal plural “you” pronoun (ustedes) would be if you’re talking to a group of authority figures.
Ustedes is the pronoun you would use to address a group of people. The exact usage depends on if you’re using the pronoun in Latin America or Spain. I’ve already explained that you should use ustedes in Spain only if you are talking to a group of authority figures because the Spanish culture is more informal in general.
However, in Latin America, ustedes is always used to address a group of people. Even though it is considered formal in Spain, it is not considered formal or informal in Latin America.
That’s it! Now you know how to address someone formally or informally in all the different parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Tomorrow, we’ll look at verb conjugations!
Recommended book by Highbrow
“Spanish Grammar” by Christopher Kendris Ph.D., Theodore Kendris Ph.D.
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