English speakers! You guys only have one way to say you, which is obviously: You!
Now, in Spanish, there’s more than just one you.
How to say you in Spanish?
Clearly, what I’m about to tell you could confuse some people. And if you don’t pay careful attention, you could become like when Dory from Finding Nemo got lost at the end of the movie (very confused).
I’m just kidding, this is a very simple and easy to understand concept.
Look, whenever you see the word tú in Spanish, it means you. Also, whenever you hear the word usted in Spanish, it means you. And whenever you hear the word vos in Spanish, it also means you.
It’s very simple!
- Tú = You
- Usted = You
- Vos = You
“Why are there different ways of saying you in Spanish?” – This is the next question that pops into your head, right after you read the above explanation.
The answer is just: No particular reason!
In English, there’s only one way of referring to the person who you talk to, you use the pronoun you.
Now, in Spanish, we have more pronouns to call the person in front of you, think of it as just a matter of variety. We could compare this situation with Apple company which only has iPhone, but Motorola has Moto G, Moto Z and has had different cell phones in the past.
However, there’s is one clear difference that you need to have in mind before using any of these pronouns in your daily Spanish speaking.
What is the difference between tú, usted and vos?
The difference is basically on how formal you want to sound.
- Usted: It’s a very formal pronoun that native speakers normally use to refer to people that are highly respected, like the CEO of a company, the president, or old people. You can also use it with people who you are just getting to know, just to show some education and respect.
- Tú: You use this pronoun with people who you feel a little close. Spanish native speakers usually use them with their friends, collegues, and family.
- Vos: In Medellín, Colombia (the city where I live), we use vos just as we use tú (this may change depending on the country). Have in mind that if you are angry and you use this pronoun, your speaking could sound even more aggressive.
Whenever I talk about this topic with my students, they end up saying: “I’ll use usted forever and that’s it! problem fixed!”.
Well, yeah, you could use only one of the three pronouns that you learned today, but think about it…
It would be way better to sound clearer. If you master these pronouns you could make it clear to people that you feel close to them or that you just don’t feel close enough to call them “Tú”.
What if you date a Spanish speaker and you call him/her “Usted” all the time? He or she wouldn’t feel that comfortable so to speak.
How do I master the usage of these pronouns?
What happens when you know the lyrics of a song, but your friend sings the song using the wrong words?
Basically, first, you identify the mistake because you heard that song so many times that you know when it sounds correct, then you laugh at your friend for singing the words incorrectly and then you say: “dude, that’s not how it goes”
Think of Spanish as if it was a song, a long song that you want to learn how to sing.
Listen to a lot of Spanish, and over time you will automatically know when to use tú, vos, or usted.
Also if you have the chance to interact with Spanish native speakers, try to do it as much as you can. The more you listen to how they use tú, vos, or usted, the easier and more automatic it will become for you to use these pronouns.
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