Welcome back to our blog! If you are trying to learn Spanish online, there is something important you need to know: the written and spoken use of vos and vosotros.
According to the Real Academia Española, the use of the pronominal form vos to address the interlocutor is called voseo. Two types are distinguished:
1. Reverential voseo
In this context, vos is used to address with special reverence what is grammatically referred to as the second person, both singular and plural. This high-tone treatment formula was commonly used in past times. Nowadays, aside from its presence in historical literature, it is only used in ceremonial contexts to address people of very high status.
Vos is the subject form “vos decís” and preposition term “vos digo,” while os is the direct object form “os vi” and indirect object without preposition “os digo.” The verb is always in the second person plural, even if we address a single interlocutor.
The possessive of the usted form is “vuestro”: “Admiro vuestra valentía, señora.” The adjectives referring to the person or persons to whom we are addressing must establish the corresponding agreement in gender and number: Vos, don Pedro, sois caritativo; Vos, bellas damas, sois ingeniosas.
2. American dialect voseo
This voseo is typical of different regional or social varieties of American Spanish and, unlike the reverential voseo, implies closeness and familiarity. You can read more about this type on the Real Academia Española's official page.
Voseo and class: A brief walk through history
As previously mentioned, Spanish society developed an intricate system of degrees of etiquette, authority, and familiarity with the interlocutor to determine when vos was to be used appropriately. One would always use vos when speaking to nobility, spiritual authorities, and elders. That remained when Spanish people in Latin America demanded to be addressed in vos as a way to distance themselves from slaves and non-Spanish in general.
However, as the use of vos began to spread widely across Latin America, its connection to social class became more and more blurred. Surprisingly, as this trend developed, the use of vos in Spain began to be perceived as low-class, reinforcing stigmas of inferiority associated with Latin Americans.
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The use of voseo in 2023
In terms of writing, even though it is widely taught in schools as an alternative to tú and usted, vos only exists as a commonplace expression in archaic literature. Nowadays, we can find virtually no trace of voseo in the Spanish media – writers and columnists opt instead for the grammatical alternatives that have become common practice in the region.
Historically, vos was used as an indication of a power hierarchy, particularly of a religious or royal nature. In the book El cantar del mio Cid, the King is addressed sincerely using vos, while the same word is applied to vassals only sarcastically. Vos comes with its own set of conjugations for every word, even when it serves the same essential purpose as tú.
So, picture some noblemen. They talk to each other using vos, even when they talk to their subjects and workers – that way it is obvious they have status.
Qué regocijo veros, mi querido conde. Vos debéis venir cansado de vuestro viaje por el reino.
Now picture two high-schoolers using tú when they talk to each other.
¿Qué películas viste tú?, ¿me prestas tu borrador?
Voseo in online communities
People often find themselves lost when witnessing a conversation online between Hispanics if they use both vos and tú. As native Spanish speakers may use vos as a regional custom and tú as the more standard form of “you,” even when the words change, they understand both forms of the second person.
It can be seen on Twitter, as with any other social media platform, that people who speak the very same language use different words for the same thing. The World Wide Web is a melting pot of languages and cultures, so exchanges between native speakers from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world stand out from standard “neutral” Spanish.
Sometimes, even the Spanish vocabulary and Spanish grammar that is taught in school feel alien. The same can be said of some mannerisms, which is why people who are learning a very academic version of the language may struggle with having to learn yet another set of conjugations just for an alternative form of the second person.
The key is to add the suffix “-is” to the end of the 2nd person singular conjugation. You need to substitute the last letter if it’s a consonant or an “i.”
*There are variations of this in some regions, but it is the rule in most cities in Spain. Exceptions to this can be found in the cities that mainly speak their own regional language, and the Canary Islands, in which people speak a slightly Latin version of Castilian Spanish.
Some examples in the present tense:
Se ven espléndidos con esos uniformes.
Os veis espléndidos con esos uniformes.
¿Tienen la aspiradora?
¿Vosotros tenéis la aspiradora?
Hablan muy lento, necesito que se apuren.
Habláis muy lento, necesito que os apuréis.
Siempre se pierden cuando vamos a su casa.
Siempre os perdéis cuando vamos a vuestra casa.
You can see a visual aid for what we are explaining here:
Notice how, on rare occasions, the vowel in the first syllable also changes. This is because whenever there’s an “i” when using vos, an “e” must come before it – even if it’s on a different syllable.
Ustedes = 2nd person plural. Formal in Castilian Spanish and informal in Latin American Spanish.
The use of “usted” is the norm in Latin America, but be aware that it is used in primarily formal contexts in Spain. The Spanish would normally use it in situations where they need to show respect to a superior, like the president, for example.
On the other hand, the population in Latin America finds the use of vosotros – a word that the Spanish use in the same way that Latin Aericans use ustedes – to be extremely formal and dated, so they use ustedes on a regular basis for the 2nd person plural.
Way to make things easier! It is true that verbs conjugated in the plural tend to be the same when talking about the 2nd and 3rd person. Both regularly take the 3rd person singular and add an “n” at the end. For example:
Ellos empezaron a estudiar español con Lingvist.
¡Tú y Leo empezaron con el escándalo!
¡Ustedes tienen buen oído musical!
Carmen y Pepe tienen un nuevo apartamento.
*When conjugating in the past perfect, this rule doesn’t apply. Instead, look at the verb in the infinitive:
- If it ends in -ar/-er, use the infinitive form and add -on at the end.
- If it ends in -ir, use the 3rd person singular form and replace the last vowel with -eron.
Of course, irregular verbs need to be studied individually:
Ella era impuntual.
Ustedes eran muchos para una sola pizza.
Daniela y Héctor eran buenos colegas.
Él cayó sobre su rodilla.
Cuando cayeron tú y tu amiga en el pozo.
Cayeron 5 árboles por los fuertes vientos.
Ella no quiso una torta tan grande.
Ustedes quisieron compartir la mesa.
Quisieron rescatar el parque.
Conjugation table forVosotros
¿Qué haréis más tarde? Podéis pasar por mi casa a cenar.
¿Ya habéis visto el último episodio de House of the Dragon?
Fuisteis a estudiar juntos usando Lingvist.
Ibais a comprar tomates cuando yo estaba en la tienda de enfrente.
Tú y Esteban seréis buenos ayudantes para esta semana.
Vos and “tú” in daily life
Even if it’s not part of their daily vernacular, many schools still teach both forms of second person plural. Children are likely to be exposed to at least one piece of literature, maybe from the 17th century or before, when vos was used. That being said, it is not a universal experience, and not all people have access to education, so it is possible for a Hispanic to grow up without ever using or hearing vos or vosotros.
However, if you’ve been exposed to media in Spanish, a Lingvist article, or a telenovela, it is impossible nowadays to be unaware of tú. It’s simple to use, it’s versatile, and it’s everywhere in songs, books, and social media posts. It is now the default for commercial Spanish, alongside usted for formalities, and it is necessary to master. Tú became a form of affection: “Te quiero,” for example, uses that form.
Make Spanish grammar enjoyable with Lingvist
Voseo can be a tricky subject, but it’s pretty interesting, right? Try it out the next time you encounter a Spanish speaker and tell us how it went. Mastering voseo is about trial and error, but it is easier once you start practicing with your Spanish and Latin American friends and colleagues.
It is good to know that Spanish speakers also get confused by this topic, so go easy on yourself and remember that the main goal is to communicate and enjoy the process of learning the language.
We invite you to download Lingvist for free to make your learning experience more efficient and improve your Spanish skills in record time.