If you are trying to learn Spanish but get confused when you should address someone by tú and usted, then this blog post is for you! How and when these two words are used changes depending on the country. For example, to use usted in Spain is way more unusual than in South American countries!
Once you learn the meanings and contexts in which they are used, you will be able to choose according to the specific person you are talking to, no matter where you are. Keep on reading!
Tú and usted are two Spanish words that mean the exact same thing; you. So, what’s the difference between them? The level of formality. That’s right! You will choose one or the other depending on who you are talking to and how close you are with that person.
In Spain, usted is generally used with authority figures, the elderly and in formal/professional settings, like in a job interview. Tú is used with friends, casual acquaintances, neighbors, family, coworkers, complete strangers who appear to be around your age and children.
In South America usted is used with everyone, including coworkers and strangers who appear to be around your own age or younger. Tú is reserved only for close friends, very young children or family.
In Spain, you should use usted to address:
– People whom you wish to show respect like a customer.
– An older person who you want to show respect (for example your friend’s grandfather).
– An honorable figure or an authority.
– A public audience (using ustedes in plural).
You should use tú to address:
¿What does tutear mean?
Sometimes when you are talking to someone and addressing them as usted, that person says: “tutéame, por favor” or “me puedes tutear”. But… what does that mean? Basically that person is giving you permission to use tú and be less formal when addressing them.
Let’s see some examples:
- ¿Me podría (usted) prestar un mechero?- Can you lend me a lighter?
- ¿Me podrías (tú) prestar un mechero? – Can you lend me a lighter?
In Spain you would use the first one with an old person, for example, and the second one with a colleague. It is just a matter of how close you are with someone or how much respect you want to show.
A piece of advice though… it is always better to be too formal than to appear disrespectful!