Tú vs Usted, formal or informal
Spanish speakers use tú (too) and usted (oos-tehd), which both mean “you” to convey the formality of a relationship. Tú is less formal than usted.
- You use tú when you’re talking to someone of the same age, the same rank, or the same educational level. You can also use it when you want to express a certain level of intimacy with someone. Most adults address children using tú.
¿De dónde eres? (Where are you from?)
¿Cómo te llamas? (What is your name?)
Carmen, ¿quieres un café? (Carmen, do you want a coffee?)
- Usted signifies a more respectful way of talking to someone, such as a new acquaintance, an older person, or someone you consider to be of higher rank.
At some point in a relationship between people who speak Spanish, a shift occurs from the formal usted to the more informal and intimate tú. At this point, they use the word tú when addressing each other. In Spanish, we call this tutearse (too-tehahr-seh), that is, “to talk tú.” On the other hand, if you don’t want to have a closer, more intimate relationship with someone, or if you want to keep the relationship more professional and less chummy, you should stick to calling that person usted.
Verbs are conjugated in the third person singular él or ella (he or she).
¿De dónde es usted? (Where are you from?)
¿Cómo se llama? (What is your name?)
Sr. Martínez, quieres usted un café? (Mr Martínez, do you want a coffee?)
- When people in Spain want to address a group of people, they use the word vosotros(bvoh-soh-trohs), which is the informal “you” in the plural. Spanish-speaking Americans almost never use vosotros.
¿De dónde sois? (Where are you from?)
¿Cómo os llamáis? (What are your names?)
Carmen, Andres, ¿queréis un café? (Do you want a coffee?)
- Ustedes is used when we speak to a group of people (more than one) in a formal way (using «they» conjugation).
¿De dónde son ustedes? (Where are you from?)
¿Cómo se llaman? (What are your names?)
Sres. Martínez, quieren ustedes un café? (Mr. and Mrs. Martínez, do you want a coffee?)
In America, «ustedes» is used in formal and in informal situations, while in Spanish we will use «vosotros» in an informal one. If we are talking to a group of friends we will say:
¿Cómo estáis? (Spain).
¿Cómo están? (América).
- In written texts, you will find the words usted and ustedes in their abbreviated forms (Ud. for usted, and Uds. for ustedes). When you read these abbreviations out loud, you say the whole word.