Lesson 15: Formal YOU - Using Usted
From the Carnavalito Grammar Chapter
In Spanish there are 2 main ways to say "you" - tú, and usted (a 3rd informal word for "you", vos, is used only in select countries). Usted is used to show respect as well as to put a little bit of distance between you and the person you are calling usted (abbreviated as Ud.) Some Spanish speaking countries, like Mexico, use the word usted extensively, and almost always when you first meet someone. Other countries like Spain are a bit more relaxed. For the elderly or people in positions of authority, you should always use usted unless asked to use tú.
In Costa Rica it isn't uncommon for family members to call each other Ud. - whereas this is not the norm for most Spanish speaking countries. In Argentina they practically do away with tú and usted altogether - using the word vos for "you" most of the time. They do use usted occasionally, but vos is the dominant word for "you" in Argentina and Uruguay. But cross over into Chile and vos is rarely used!
If you travel to a Spanish speaking country - you can judge what the tendencies are in that country by taking note of who tends to call you usted, and who calls you tú. Since I learned Spanish in Mexico I was very suprised the first time a taxi driver called me tú! Later when living in Buenos Aires, I adjusted to nearly everyone calling me vos. You'll find that usage does vary from country to country. A good rule: call people Ud. until you notice that they are all calling you tú or vos.
Spanish Practice Idea:
Try renting one of your favorite movies on DVD, and turn on the Spanish subtitles feature! This is a great way to reinforce grammar lessons that you've learned, and will help you to expand your vocabulary. You can also do the opposite - rent a Spanish DVD and turn on the English subtitles. Once you feel comfortable with your level of comprehension - turn the subtitles off.
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