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Culture —– This One’s Four You (The Four Spanish You’s)

by Brandi

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July 1st, 2009

In Spanish, there are four ways to say “you” – “tú”, “usted”, “ustedes”, and “vosotros”. If you use the wrong “you” at the wrong time, you might offend someone. Luckily, most people in Latin America will recognize that you are a “gringo” and give you the benefit of the doubt, but it’s still important to know how and when to use each form of “you”. Knowing this will help you seem more educated and possibly avoid causing offense to someone unintentionally. Some of you (newsletter subscribers) might have already learned about this concept in a classroom; hopefully this newsletter will help to clarify things a little more for you. Here are a few basic tips for the usage of “you”:

“Usted” – Is abbreviated as “Ud.”. When you don’t know which “you” to use, “usted” is usually safest and will get you in the least amount of trouble. “Usted” is the formal “you” and shows respect for the person that you are talking with. When you first meet someone, if you think they are around your age or older, you should use “usted” when talking with them. Also, if you use a title with someone, such as Dr. Martinez, or Mrs. Garcia, you should use “usted” with those people also. For example, the phrase “Mrs. Garcia, you are very friendly” is “Señora Garcia, usted es muy amable.” After you’ve known someone your age for some time, you can slowly start using “tú” instead of “usted”. To know when to transition to “tu”, follow their lead; when they start using it, you can do it. If you are in Mexico doing business and you meet someone for the first time, you should always use “usted” even if they are younger than you or not. Otherwise, they might become offended (because of your lack of respect) and you could lose an important business deal with that person or company.

“Tú” – Is the informal way to say “you”. You should use “tú” when talking to people who are younger than you. Also use “tú” if you are on a first-name basis with someone or if you are very good friends with that person. For example, “Juan, you are very smart.” – “Juan, tú eres muy inteligente.” Always remember, in any business relationship, when you first meet someone, always use “usted” instead of “tú” to show them the proper respect.

“Ustedes” – Is abbreviated as “Uds.”. Use this form of “you” when talking to multiple people, whether formal or informal. An example of this is, “All of you (you plural) are late!” – “¡Ustedes llegaron tarde!”

“Vosotros” – This form of “you” is only used in Spain. It is like the plural form of “tú”. If you are with a some of your friends and they are around your same age or younger, or if you are on a first-name basis with them, you would use this form of “you” (plural). For example, “All of you (you plural) are tall!” – “Vosotros sois altos.” Remember, because this form of “you” is used only in Spain, if you learn Latin American style Spanish, you don’t need to worry about “vosotros”. Also remember, if you learn Latin American style Spanish (without “vosotros”) then go to Spain, they should still be able to understand you and you will still be able to understand them without any problems.

Moral of the Story: To sound more educated when you speak Spanish and to possibly avoid offending people, it is necessary to learn when to use which form of “you”. I recommend reading about the different forms of “you” (above) until you become very familiar with them.

Sneak peek at next week: A Fun Potpourri of Culture Tidbits

¡Hasta la próxima semana! (Until Next Week!)
David S. Clark — President / Director

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