There are two main forms of addressing someone in Spanish, the “tú” form (the informal form) and the “usted” form (the formal form). As a beginner, it’s important to know when to use each one — especially if you’re doing your best to fit in and sound natural in a Spanish-speaking country.
When and how to use the informal “Tú” in Spanish?
In general, you should use the “tú” form with people who are your age or younger. This also includes friends and people you’ve known for a while, such as your siblings and your colleagues.
In your travels, you’ll notice that some cultures tend to be more informal than others. For example, Spain tends to use formal speech less often than what you’ll find in Mexico. In Latin America, a good rule of thumb is to default to formal speech when in doubt.
When and how to use the formal “Usted” in Spanish?
Use “Usted” with older people and those who you want to show more respect to. For example, at work, you would address your boss with “usted” and not with “tú.” Even if your boss is younger than you, “usted” would be the correct word to use, unless you’ve been asked by your boss to use “tú”.
Most people in Mexico also use “usted” with their grandparents, their friends’ parents, and sometimes even their own parents or other family members who are older than them.
In general, you can use it with anyone who looks older than you — even if you just met them randomly on the street.
How to Ask Someone to Speak to You Informally
If you’ve been friends with someone for a long time or your younger boss doesn’t feel comfortable with being addressed by “usted,” they might ask you to use the informal you and call them by “tú” instead. These are some phrases they may use:
When to Use “Tú” and “Usted” Examples
If you’re learning Spanish so you can visit Spanish-speaking countries, chances are you’ll end up lost at some point as you explore (it happens to everyone, don’t worry! Check out some phrases you can use to ask for directions in Spanish.
Here we’re going to give you some examples of phrases you can use using “tú” and “usted” to talking to people if you were to need help finding a place while traveling.
Sometimes when you’re using “usted” to address someone in a group of people, it’s helpful to emphasize the “usted” to make it very clear who you’re talking to simply because the verbs conjugated with “usted” are just like verbs conjugate verbs with “él” or “ella.”
For example; the verb “estar” is conjugated as:
- Yo estoy
- Tú estás
- Él / Ella / Eso / Usted está
- Nosotros estamos
- Ustedes / Ellos / Ellas están
So, by adding the “usted” to a phrase you can avoid confusing the people you’re talking to.
- ¿Cómo está?: How are you (informal)? / How is he or she?
- ¿Cómo esta usted?: How are you (formal)?
Making a first impression is always important — especially if you’re in a foreign country. Knowing the difference between “tú” and “usted” will help you navigate the various cultural customs while also giving you the confidence to interact with new people. It’s a vital tool to have in your Spanish-learning toolkit!