How to Say ‘You’ in Formal and Informal Spanish
If English is the only language you (currently) speak, the you (formal) concept in Spanish is new. Even if you don’t yet know about the formal and informal you in Spanish, you probably already know when to use each one.
Would you call the attention of your teacher by shouting out, “Hey dude”?
Of course not!
A message you write to your boss is surely different from the one you text to your friend.
Keep reading to learn how to use both the informal and formal “you” in Spanish in a natural way.
What’s more, we’ll cover cultural differences you might encounter and I share links for further study. You’ll also get the opportunity to check what you’ve learned in a multiple-choice quiz at the end of the lesson!
You (Formal) in Spanish
We’ve established that you wouldn’t speak in the same way to an elder as your lifelong pal.
Compared to English, Spanish takes an extra step to make a distinction in formality. It has two second-person pronouns, for formal and informal purposes. But how do you know which to use?
Take the circumstances into consideration. Are you talking to one or more people? How well do you know the person you’re talking to?
You typically use the you (formal) with people older than you, higher in a social or professional rank, and people you don’t know.
English actually had different second-person pronouns prior to the 17th century. Read the explanation here if you like linguistic history.
Forms and Use of You Formal and You Informal in Spanish
We’ll learn five forms of “you” in this lesson:
Using you (formal) versus you (informal) in Spanish in a conversation depends on the situation. It will be easier to understand after you finish reading this section, I promise!
You (Formal) in Spanish
Let’s start with you (formal) in Spanish, as this is a new concept. Once you decide to use the formal you in a conversation, ask yourself, are you talking to one person or more than one?
Singular Form – Usted
The plural form of you (formal) in Spanish is usted. Use it if you’re talking to your friend’s mom, your boss, or a stranger on the street.
Disculpe, ¿me podría decir usted cómo llegar a la plaza principal?
Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the main square?
¿Usted vive aquí?
Do you live here?
Plural Form – Ustedes
No matter what Spanish-speaking country you’re in, ustedes is the plural you (formal) in Spanish, meaning that you’ll always use it with two or more people in a formal conversation.
Ustedes aquí presentes conocieron a mi madre.
You who are present here met my mother.
Señoras y señores, ustedes saben mi humilde trayectoria.
Ladies and gentlemen, you all know my humble trajectory.
You (Informal) in Spanish
If you’ve had a few Spanish lessons, you’re probably familiar with the informal you in Spanish and its basic conjugation.
Singular Form – Tú
Are you talking to one single person in an informal context? Use tú with friends or people younger than you.
Some countries allow more informality in your daily interactions, while others prefer formal language, for example in a professional job environment.
¿Tú vives aquí al lado, verdad?
You live nearby, right?
Quite often, the Spanish language skips the pronouns, and you’ll only use the corresponding grammar form.
¿Vives aquí al lado, verdad?
Mind the accent over the informal tú! If you take it off, the meaning changes to “your.”
Tu gato me molesta.
Your cat bothers me.
Plural Forms – Ustedes, Vosotros
If you’re talking to a group of people in an informal context, you’ll use different pronouns depending on the country you’re in.
If you’re in Latin America, stick to the form you already know: ustedes. In Mexico, for example, you use the same pronoun to address a group of people formally and informally.
In Spain, the informal plural you is vosotros or vosotras. Vosotros is used to male and mixed-gender groups, and vosotras, if you’re talking to women only.
Vosotros no sabéis lo que os voy a decir.
You don’t know what I’m going to tell you.
¡Para vosotras es fácil! No estáis casadas.
It’s easy for you! You are not married.
In Latin America, both of these sentences would use the ustedes forms.
Ustedes no saben lo que les voy a decir.
¡Para ustedes es fácil! No están casadas.
I left vos for the end, as only some countries use it. You’ll hear it in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of Chile.
Vos is both a formal and informal “you” in these countries, and it triggers different conjugation forms.
Vos tenés un amigo en mí.
You have a friend in me.
Vos sos valiente.
Check out Learn to Use Voseo: Vos in Spanish if you’re interested in this form.
How to Use You (Formal) and You (Informal) in Spanish
There are some things you need to know to remember if you’re adventuring into the realms of the formal you in Spanish.
The second-person pronouns that you got to know today are just the first step. People often google “you formal in Spanish conjugation” for a reason, as the verb forms vary depending on the pronouns you use.
Let’s take a look at “you have” in formal Spanish. Instead of tú tienes, you’ll switch to the third-person singular forms and say usted tiene.
Second, subject pronouns are not the only ones that change. You’ll learn that each subject pronoun has different object pronouns and possessive pronouns, and mastering this part of grammar is also important if you want to speak properly in all social contexts.
Tú tienes tus lápices para ti solo.
You have your pencils for yourself only. (Informal)
Usted tiene sus lápices para usted solo.
You have your pencils for yourself only. (Formal)
Third, it’s essential to know what variety of Spanish you’re studying. Is it Spanish from Spain or Latin America? Then you’ll know if you need vosotros, or you’ll stick to ustedes only.
Spanish people also tend to be more informal in their social and professional relations. In Spain, it’s normal to address your boss or your elderly neighbor as tú.
Latin American Spanish also varies from country to country, and you now know the vos form that you need in Argentina in some other countries. As soon as you get to the Spanish-speaking country of your choice and start listening to people in the streets, you’ll learn to adapt your language.
Formal vs Informal You in Spanish: Quiz
Do you want to check how much you’ve learned about the topic? Choose one answer only.
1. The forms of formal you in Spanish may vary from country to country.
2. What are the possible singular forms for informal you in Spanish?
3. What are the possible singular forms for formal you in Spanish?
4. What are the possible plural forms for informal you in Spanish?
5. What are the possible plural forms for formal you in Spanish?
6. Who can you address with tú?
7. In what situation would you use you (formal) in Spanish?
8. Which verb form of tener (to have) would you use with the pronoun usted?
9. Which sentence is formal?
10. Which sentence is informal?
Try it Yourself!
Now that you know the theory behind the formal and informal you in Spanish, the key is to practice both forms in a conversation. If you want to learn something, you need to use it if your goal is to become fully bilingual.
Speaking Spanish is useful in the U.S.—you don’t even have to leave the country to find Spanish-speaking people. It’s the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, and according to CNN, there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the U.S. who speak Spanish in their homes. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.
However, if you want to try you (formal) in Spanish before you use it in the outside world, sign up for a free trial class with one of our certified, native-speaking teachers from Guatemala and practice in a safe and challenging environment.
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