This article sponsored by Bueno, entonces…
English speakers have it easy. When we speak directly to anyone, we just have one word to worry about: “You.”
In Spanish, you have to make the distinction between whether to use tú, vos, or usted. To make matters worse, each have their own set of conjugations, too. We’ll stay away from that today, though.
Luckily, you generally have to worry about only two of three, as tú and vos are both the informal and usted is formal. Some countries use tú, some use vos, and some use both. Check out the map of Voseo from Wikipedia to see what is used where.
Our rule of thumb is that if you’d call someone by their first name in English, you can use tú or vos in Spanish. If you’d normally add a Mr., Mrs., etc. then you use usted. Here are a few other types of people you’d used usted with:
* Someone older than you
* Someone you don’t know well
* An authority figure
* Anyone to whom you wish to show respect
Tú and vos are used for anyone who you are more familiar with. A friend, colleague, relative, child, etc.
Here in Argentina, we use vos for everyone – the word usted is seen in ads and sometimes heard when someone is referring to a much older person. It’s not like Mexico, for example, where the distinction between tú and usted is much clearer and both are used often.
If you’re ever in doubt about whether to use the formal or informal, stick with the formal. No one will ever get angry at you for addressing them formally, they’ll just think you’re ridiculously polite. And seeing as how you’re a Gringo in a Spanish-speaking place, you’ll probably be used to being ridiculous, anyway. Want to minimize the ridiculosity? Grab Bueno, entonces…Learn Spanish before you leave and our Spanish classes will have you speaking and understanding native Spanish in five weeks. Become a fan on Facebook and you’ll not only learn Spanish phrases everyday, but you’ll also save $50 on our Learn Spanish Levels I & II program!