¡Bienvenidos a la clase!

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One of the first differences between English and Spanish students have to wrap their minds around is that in Spanish there are different words for ‘you’.  Which form of the word is used depends on whom the speaker is addressing.

In general, we speak to older people, our teachers, people in authority, etc. in a more formal, respectful manner. With our family and friends, we usually use a more informal, casual way of speaking. The same is true in Spanish; and the use of the word “you” follows in this context.


English Spanish
The (informal) form of you
The (formal) form of you usted ( often abbreviated to ud.)


As a general rule, you would use usted (ud.) when addressing strangers, your teachers, people in authority, or a person you usually address by his or her last name.


Alternately,  is used with family, very good friends, people you usually address by their first name, children, pets and the Diety.

Cultural Norms

However, the practice varies widely depending on the country.  In some countries, children address their parents using the usted form. There are also places where even friends refer to one another using usted. So when in doubt, it is always best to use the usted form until invited to use the form. Some etiquette experts go so far as to suggest you continue to use the usted until invited a second time to use !

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Let’s Practice: Using the rules explained above, choose which form is best when addressing the following…

Modelo (Example):

Your best friend: Tú

  1. Your boyfriend/ girlfriend
  2. Your Spanish teacher
  3. Your best friend’s mother
  4. Your pet fish
  5. Mrs. Garcia, your next-door neighbour
  6. Your brother/ sister
  7. Your teacher’s three-year-old daughter


~~~1 tú, 2 ud., 3 ud., 4 tú, 5 ud., 6 ú, 7 tú~~~

Vocabulary Note

Tutear = to address using the familiar tú form

tutéame por favor or me puedes tutear: You may use tú.

Hope that helped clarify how to say “you” in Spanish.

Next lesson: Vosotros and Ustedes

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Spanish lesson Tú and usted

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  1. Chomeuse with a Chou June 6, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Great lesson! I never know in French when to switch from vous to tu with new friends, so I generally stick to vous until they tell me not to! I can’t imagine ever being so formal with my parents and my son uses tu with his papa, and surprisingly, his nursery teachers, who provide their first names.

    1. K D June 13, 2018 at 3:48 pm

      I guess your son will learn it more naturally. Lol. I’ve never forgotten that piece of advice about waiting to be invited to use tú… at least I hope I’ve reduced my chances of offending anyone when speaking in Spanish!!
      I think I only ever used tu in French when talking to classmates 🙈😂

      Apologies… just found your comment in my spam!

  2. Diana Tyler (Eccentric Muse) June 7, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    I am enjoying this class so much!

    1. K D June 7, 2018 at 9:54 pm

      Lol. I’m so glad!

  3. Laura P June 8, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Ah, this is super helpful! A friend of mine was asking for advice about this recently and I realised I wasn’t sure either! Thanks for the explanation =)

    1. K D June 8, 2018 at 11:54 am

      Aw. I so glad to have helped!!! 🙂

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  6. Ellen Hawley July 8, 2018 at 3:12 am

    As an English speaker, it’s predictable that I’m never comfortable about my choices and stick to usted most of the time. It’s safe but gets absurd pretty easily. I remember a conversation with a Dominican cab driver in New York, where I was using usted and he was using tu, and I couldn’t seem to switch over, partly out of habit and partly because I didn’t completely trust my ear. Was he really using the informal? I struggle with Dominican–with all Caribbean–Spanish anyway and felt like I was running half a block behind the conversation, trying to keep the main topic in sight. To hell with what form of you I used. But I had the odd sense that he was talking to me in modern Spanish and I was using the equivalent of biblical (as in the King James version) English.

    1. K D July 8, 2018 at 10:29 pm

      That’s hilarious. I also struggle with Cuban and Venezuelan Spanish. Colombian Spanish is the clearest I’ve heard but it’s so fast. I can follow the conversation but by the time I can formulate a response to the first topic I’m already two topics behind in the conversation! Lol.
      I find in general though, Spanish speakers are very forgiving of English speakers trying to speak Spanish and probably don’t care too much either about the tú/ud at that point!

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