Vos and its use in Spanish – Voseo
¡Hola, vos! Vos. Who or what is vos in Spanish? In English, we use the personal pronoun ‘you’ when referring to the second person singular (or plural – don’t worry, we’ll save that one for another time!). In Spanish, however, there are different ways to refer to the same concept! Before we start, take a moment to review the basics of Spanish Pronouns.
Now, you’ve probably heard of tú, the most standard form. There is also usted, which we use to show respect or create distance between us and the person we’re speaking with. And then there is vos! Have you heard about vos before? Why is there even a need for three words that refer to the same concept? Let’s just say, one of the beauties of language is that it doesn’t always make sense!
The following vocabulary will be useful throughout this post:
Vos in context
Vos is mostly a part of informal speech. If you imagine a horizontal line, usted is on the very left wearing formal attire, tú is right in the middle being all dressy casual, and vos is on the far right end wearing jeans and a T-shirt. In some places or circumstances, vos might even be more informal, wearing shorts and flip-flops. It all depends on the social context and region!
Interestingly enough, vos originates from an archaic form of Spanish in which vos was the way to address kings and other important people. Back then, it was the way to show respect in Spain! As the Spanish language continued evolving both in the old continent and in the Americas, the formal use of vos disappeared from common speech.
Vos in its formal form is now only used during special ceremonial events or in literary works that reflect the language of other times. A great example of a literary work that uses vos in the formal form is the oldest preserved Spanish epic poem: El Cantar de mio Cid.
The use of vos doesn’t only have an impact in the conjugation of the present tense. It also influences the conjugation of the verb when used in an imperative mood – when using commands: (vos) hacé instead of (tú) haz, (vos) tené instead of (tú) ten. If you need a refresher on basic Spanish commands, visit our Spanish commands blog.
The conjugation of verbs in the subjunctive also changes: (vos) hagás instead of (tú) hagas, (vos) tengás instead of (tú) tengas.
In the tables below you can see examples of the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs in the present tense, imperative, and subjunctive!
As you can see, the irregular verbs conjugated in vos have more of a regular verb conjugation since the stem doesn’t always change as it does with the verb conjugated in tú:
Different forms of vos
As you know, Spanish is the official language of many countries: 21 to be exact! Go have a look at some of the flags of these countries here. The Spanish language has evolved differently in various regions. Therefore, there are three forms of ‘
- vos pronoun paired with the vos conjugation
- tú pronoun paired with the vos conjugation
- vos pronoun paired with the tú conjugation
Let’s have a look at some examples:
Vos in a map
As mentioned above, how people use vos in Spanish depends on the region or country. This distinction encompasses both the combination of pronoun and conjugation and the context in which speakers use vos. Below you can find some examples from different regions:
Mexicans mainly use both the tú pronoun and conjugation. Only in southern states like Tabasco and Chiapas speakers use vos in very specific social contexts: it’s either used by the unschooled population or in the family circle of educated people.
Most Central American countries generally accept the use of vos in all social classes. Slightly more formal situations require the use of tú pronoun + tú conjugation. The use of vos has two levels in this region:
- Most common: tú pronoun + vos conjugation
- More informal: vos pronoun + vos conjugation
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay
The region of Río de Plata accepts the use of the vos pronoun + vos conjugation without any reservations. However, using the pronoun tú + vos conjugation can be seen as more prestigious than using the vos pronoun + vos conjugation. To learn more about Spanish in this particular region, visit Spanish from Argentina, That Voseo Thing.
So, recuerda (tú) or recordá (vos) – just keep in mind – that if you ever want to use vos, you should first learn how it is used in the country or region you’re in! In some regions, you only use the vos pronoun, vos conjugation, or both together. And while in some places it’s okay to use it the first time you meet someone, in others you only use it when you’re really close to the other person.
It may seem like a lot to take into account just for one pronoun, but practice makes it a lot easier. ¡Vos podés! Are you ready to practice? We have exercises for you with a helpful answer key. Start today!