Spanish formal conversations: Pronoun “usted”

spanish formal conversations usted 1

When we are learning a new language, sometimes we have concepts that are difficult to understand. They are those that do not have a similar meaning in their native language. The English language does not have much difference between how we use and say “you” formally or informally. But some languages, like Spanish, do.

In some parts of Spain and Latin America, they say the word “Usted” to their relatives or parents. It is generally said “usted” in rural areas. This is due to family traditions as a way of showing respect by saying “usted” to their elderly mother or father. In some parts of Latin America (or LATAM), we use the pronoun “usted” even among young people, but this is not the general rule.

Learning when to use “usted” is not too difficult. And with a few guidelines, you can learn how to use it. So, read on and learn how to use it in different contexts.

How to use “usted”

We use “usted” in Spanish to say “you” in a formal way. We often abbreviated it as “Ud.”. We can use it when talking to a person we do not know or with older people. It is also a way to show respect.

Here are some examples.

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, in a bank, with a lawyer. The second example expresses the way one talks to older people. Note that when using the pronoun “usted”, we must conjugate the verb in the 3rd person singular. Also, the object pronoun for “usted” is “lo” or “la“. We use these pronouns to simplify sentences.

For example:

Lo llamé a usted esta tarde.

I called you this afternoon.

However, if you are going to use “usted” in a question, it is almost the same as saying “do you…?” in English. For example:

¿Sabe usted si va a abrir el banco mañana?

Do you know if the bank is going to open tomorrow?

“Usted” as a direct object pronoun

In the subject pronoun, “usted” and “ustedes” are tricky. “Lo” and “la” are the direct object pronouns for “usted” and “ustedes”. But, you must consider the gender of the “usted” that you are replacing with a pronoun. In Spanish, “usted” is a third-person pronoun but has singular and plural versions. Although, in English, “you” is a very vague pronoun since it can refer to one person or more people.

The plural form to say “usted” is “vosotros” or “vosotras”, depending on the gender, that we can use in Spain. On the other hand, in LATAM we usually use “vos” for the plural of “usted”. It is easier in Spanish when you want to address a group to tell them “ustedes”. This way, it will be easy for you to express yourself.

For example:


Pasen ustedes primero, por favor.

You come first, please.

Ustedes son los mejores amigos del mundo!

You guys are the best friends in the world!

In Spanish, direct object pronouns are not capitalized unless they are the first word of a sentence. Even though the abbreviated forms of you are “Ud.” and “Us.” They are always capitalized.

Let’s see an example:

Ud. es el señor Alberto?

Are you Mr. Albert?

“Usted” against “tú” (when to use them)

In Spanish, there are two ways of saying “you”. As we said before, there is the informal form and the formal one, which is “tú” and “usted”. Whether you use “tú” or “usted” depends on many factors. Always remember that the basic difference between them is how close or intimate the person is to you.

Here are a few basic rules to help you.

​​The general rule is to use “tú” for informal situations. Such as with friends, children, young people, and people you know very well. And, use “usted” (“Ud.”) for formal situations. Such as in a job interview, in a bank, with the oldest people, or with someone you don’t t know or you just met.

You use “usted” when:

-The other person is older than you.

-The other person is in a position of authority like a teacher, professor, boss, or others.

An example,

Doctor, aquí están los exámenes que usted me pidió.

Doctor, here are the tests you asked for.

You use “tú” when:

-Talking to family members or friends.

-Talking to someone the same age as you, who is not in a position of authority relative to you.

Another example,

Tu felicidad también es mía, mamá.

Your happiness is also mine mom.

-When someone asks you to.

In the latter case, we can use the verb “tutear”. It means that we can address someone else using the form “tú” instead of “usted”. This is very common in Spain and Latin American countries. You can ask the other person if you can do this when you feel there is no longer any need for formality between you. In this way, we make the conversation more relaxed.

For example,

¿Le puedo tutear? – Por supuesto.

Do you mind if I address you as ‘tú’? – Of course.

In summary, the best way to talk to another person is to always use the treatment of “usted”. Unless the interested party tells us otherwise. If you do not know, we must continue to use the “usted” always. You never want to make the mistake of calling someone “tú” when they expect more respect. So, be careful when you use it.

When you are getting to know someone, it might be difficult to know when to make the switch from formal to informal. A good rule of thumb is to wait for the other person to start calling you “tú”. However, if you keep getting a “tú” in response to your “usted”, you may want to consider keeping the conversation more casual.


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