The Spanish Language Blog

As a student of Spanish, you may have doubted whether to use the pronoun “tú” or “usted” to address someone. In English, for example, these two forms are simplified, and 'you' is used to talk to someone in a formal or informal conversation.

In this article, you are going to learn a little rule that will help you 90% of the time to know if you must use “tú” or “usted” in a conversation. In addition, you will find here some tips and exercises to know when and how to use “usted” in Spanish.

You can also read here in Spanish the difference between “tú” and “usted”. Don't miss anything and keep reading!

Tú vs usted

The rule that will help you know when to use one pronoun or the other and finally differentiate their use is simple: it depends on the level of formality of the conversation. In Spanish, the choice of “tú” or “usted” depends on the level of formality and, sometimes, on the number of people you are referring to.

Therefore, the easiest way to remember is to use “tú” in informal situations and “usted” in formal situations. However, depending on the country or region of a Spanish-speaking country you are in, the use of “tú” or “usted” varies.

The pronoun “tú” is usually used to address people in a more informal context. It is commonly used among friends, classmates, or people of equal or lower hierarchical rank in the workplace, for example.

Some examples are:

  • Tú comes muy lento (You eat very slowly)
  • ¿Tú vienes a la fiesta esta noche? (Are you coming to the party tonight?)

Although in Spanish, in the examples above, you can omit the subject tú and the sentence still has the same meaning.

While “usted” or “ustedes” is used in a more formal setting, to address a group of people or to show respect to someone you don't know or have just met. Although you can use “usted” in an informal context as well when you are addressing a person you don't know and want to show respect.

For example:

When to use usted or ustedes?

Generally, you will not have to worry about using “tú” or “usted" in conversation, as both are accepted and, as a student, locals will understand that learning Spanish is complicated and that you are not speaking your native language.

As mentioned above, depending on the country and Spanish-speaking region you are in, the use of “tú” and “usted” may vary. In general, “” is used more in informal contexts and in countries like Spain or Mexico. While “usted” is used in more formal situations and, in Colombia, Chile and many other Latin American countries, also in informal situations. Furthermore, in countries such as Argentina, instead of using the pronoun “tú”, they use “vos”, especially in informal situations, and “ustedes” in formal contexts.

So, it is important to consider cultural and regional differences when using these forms of address in Spanish. Don't worry though, if you address someone with kindness and respect in Spanish, you are not misusing “tú” or “usted”.

How to use usted in Spanish?

Usted” is a third person singular pronoun, as is “él” or “ella”; while “” is a second person singular pronoun. You can also use “ustedes”, which is third person plural. Therefore, the conjugation of these two particles is different.

Here are some examples with the pronoun “tú”:

  • Tú eres mi mejor amigo (You are my best friend)
  • ¿Quieres ir al cine esta noche? (Do you want to go to the movies tonight?)
  • ¿Estudias en la universidad? (Do you study at the university?)
  • Tú tienes un perro muy inteligente (You have a very intelligent dog)
  • Tú cocinas muy bien (You cook very well)

And these are examples with “usted” and “ustedes”:

  • Usted es muy amable (You are very kind)
  • ¿Quiere algo de beber? (Would you like something to drink?)
  • ¿Necesita ayuda con eso? (Do you need help with that?)
  • Ustedes pueden sentarse aquí (You can sit here)
  • ¿Tienen alguna pregunta? (Do you have any questions?)
  • Ustedes son un equipo excelente (You are an excellent team)

Summarizing, when you are talking to a person you know, with whom you have a friendly, loving or family relationship, you can use the pronoun “tú”. Whereas, if it is a person, you don't know or who has a higher rank than you, use “usted” or “ustedes”.

For example, if you must ask a policeman for an address, use the pronoun “usted”: ¿Puede indicarme la dirección del banco? (Can you give me the address of the bank?). But if you want to ask your friend what time to meet, use the pronoun “tú”: ¿A qué hora quieres tú quedar en el cine? (What time do you want to meet at the cinema?).

We hope this article has helped you solve your doubts and you have been able to clearly see the differences between “tú” and “usted”. However, if you need to reinforce your knowledge and learn with professional teachers who will solve all your doubts, donQuijote's Spanish courses in Spain are perfect for you. Visit our website and choose one of our 13 schools spread all over Spain, our teachers are qualified to teach Spanish as a second language, sign up now and become a Spanish speaker in no time!

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