Tú vs Usted (informal vs formal)

In Español peninsular, unlike in English, we have two personal pronouns for "you" singular: tú  and usted.

We use  to say "you" informally, i.e when talking to a friend, a person we know well, a child, and young people in general. For example:

Daniel, ¿ vas al parque los sábados?
Daniel, do you go to the park on Saturdays?

Yo no como nunca pescado, ¿y ?
I never eat fish, and you?

Mamá, ¿tú cuándo descansas?
Mum, when do you have a rest?

All these above are informal situations where the speakers know each other well. 

Note that when using pronoun , the verb must be conjugated in the 2nd person singular, e.g. vas, descansas.

Usted

We use usted to say "you" formally, i.e when talking to a person you do not know or elderly people. It is also a way to show respect. For example:

Señor, ¿puede usted firmar aquí, por favor?
Sir, could you sign here please?

Señora, ¿usted tiene nietos?
Madam, do you have grandchildren?

The first example above is a formal situation, e.g. in a bank, with a lawyer. The second example expresses the way one normally talks to elderly people. 

Note that when using pronoun usted, the verb must be conjugated in the 3rd person singular, e.g. está, tiene, puede.

Special note on usted

In some parts of Spain, generally more rural areas, people speak to their own elderly mother or father referring to them as "usted" despite being their own family. For example:

Madre, ¿está usted cómoda en esa silla?
Mother, are you comfortable on that chair?

compared to 

Mamá, ¿ estás cómoda en esa silla?
Mum, are you comfortable on that chair?

This is a custom that doesn't reflect the general use but it still happens in some places.

In writing you will sometimes see the abbreviated form of the word usted which becomes "Ud.", for example:
¿De dónde es Ud.?

 

This is the general rule

  • Use for informal situations such as with a friend, children, young people, people you know very well.
  • Use usted (Ud.) for formal situations such as in a job interview, in a bank, with elderly people, with someone you don't know or you have just met.

Also remember to conjugate the verb in the right form!

Bear in mind that while this is the general rule, it may vary depending on the speaker's preferences. Some people are more inclined to drop the usted form than others, and vice versa.

 

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Señor, ¿puede usted firmar aquí, por favor?
Sir, could you sign here please?


Mamá, ¿tú cuándo descansas?
Mum, when do you have a rest?


Madre, ¿está usted cómoda en esa silla?
Mother, are you comfortable on that chair?


Yo no como nunca pescado, ¿y ?
I never eat fish, and you?


Mamá, ¿ estás cómoda en esa silla?
Mum, are you comfortable on that chair?


Daniel, ¿ vas al parque los sábados?
Daniel, do you go to the park on Saturdays?


Señora, ¿usted tiene nietos?
Madam, do you have grandchildren?


Q&A

Nicole

Kwiziq community member

13 April 2019

2 replies

Hello, Kept pressing enter... sorry about that. I get confused as to when to use the "usted" and or "vosotro". Could you please clarify this for me

Hello,

Kept pressing enter... sorry about that.

I get confused as to when to use the "usted" and or "vosotro".  Could you please clarify this for me.  In Latin America, they use "ustedes" for "you all".  Is vosotros the informal or formal use of "you all"? 

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

13 April 2019

13/04/19

Hola Nicole

This lesson is about the use of  (the informalyou) andUsted (the formalyou) in Spanish from Spain. Their plural equivalents are Vosotros (the informal you plural) andUstedes (the formal you plural). Usted/ustedes will be used only in formal situations when talking to people you do not know, or specific places like a bank, an interview that are considered more formal. Also sometimes to address elderly people as a form of respect.  and vosotros will be used in all other situations that are more informal, with people you know, friends, family and young people and children. 

As Kwiziq hasn't done yet a Latin American version, this is only focused on the usage of these pronouns in Spain. We are hoping to offer Latin American Spanish lessons soon.

But as you said, in Latin American all or most countries only use "ustedes" for both informal and formal situations. They do not useVosotros

Saludos

Inma

Nicole

Kwiziq community member

15 April 2019

15/04/19

Thank you, Inma.

Linda

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2019

2 replies

In the explanation, you use Tú when referring to Mamá and Usted when referring to Madre. In the Kwiz, you had a question with “father”. How can we

know whether tu or usted is required.  Could it not be either, depending on the formality, which is not stated?

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

8 April 2019

8/04/19

Hola Linda

The examples given for mamá and madre are in a special note where we explain the use of formal usted and the word madre (instead ofmamá) in some rural areas, but as we say in the explanation box, this doesn't reflect the general use. As a general rule, you would use the form when speaking to your mum and dad. 

I hope this helps.

Un saludo

Inma

Linda

Kwiziq community member

8 April 2019

8/04/19

Muchas gracias!

I'll be right with you...