1 and usted

We address the family, the friends and equals as . We address people as usted in sign of respect or when by age or social situation there are a superior and a subordinate. Some people see in the treatment of usted the wish of separating from the interlocutor or an old-fashioned sign of respect.

and its plural vosotros use the second persons of the tenses. Usted and its plural ustedes use the third persons of the singular and the third person of the plural, respectively.

Some people do not like to be addressed as usted. When addressing someone as usted, this person is placed in a superior position, which is not always comfortable. Some people interpret the usted as a false respect or as an innecessary distance. Years ago the children addressed their parents and grandparents as usted; nowadays, this use is less common. In general, the use of usted is withdrawing. The advertising language uses more and more ; the thing is to move the product closer to the customer and not away from him with a formal usted.

The treatment of may also be respectful combined with expressions of courtesy (perdona, gracias, ¿te molesta que…?) and respecting other people’s thougts and wishes.

2 Other expressions for the second person

  • In Spanish there are very formal structures to address to persons of high standing. These are some of them:
Su / vuestra eminencia to a bishop
Su señoría to a judge, a representative
Su majestad to a king, a queen
Su alteza to a prince
Su santidad to the Pope
Su excelencia to an ambassador

They are used with the third persons of the singular (with the pronouns el / ella or usted). Most of the times they express respect.

Su majestad nos ha honrado con su presencia en la inauguración de la nueva biblioteca universitaria.

However, in the Congreso, the parliament members call each other su señoría, but they insult each other being more or less witty. In this case, su señoría is a conventionalism.

Su señoría es un demagogo y un político oportunista.

  • Vosotros and ustedes. In Western Andalucía and Canarias vosotros / vosotras is not used but ustedes with conjugated verbs in the second or the third person of the plural. In this case ustedes is not related with formal addressing.
  • Use of the first person of the plural instead of the second of the singular. Sometimes the speaker is in conflict: could be disrespectful, usted is too distant and the point is to show closeness with someone.

¿Cómo estamos hoy? popular ( Says the doctor to a sick old man in spite of ¿Cómo está usted hoy?)

3 Vos

There are two types of vos:

  • Vos was used centuries ago as treatment of courtesy addressed to one person. Vos eventually spread and turned to be disrespectful, then appeared vuestra merced and vuessa merced as sign of respect. Our present usted is the evolution of the long vuestra merced. In Spain, vos, vuestra merced and vuessa merced have disappeared from the everyday Spanish; although they last in the classic texts of the literature, and in the liturgy referring to God.

Vos, Señor, vinisteis para salvarnos…

  • In present language of some countries in Latin America this vos did not disappeared; moreover, it evolved as taking the value of of the peninsular Spanish. This use is called voseo and it is a standard use in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. In Chile vos is considered excessively familiar or popular, whereas in México, Perú, Cuba, Santo Domingo and Puerto Ricois kept as standard. In Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay ustedesis used instead of the peninsular vosotros.
  • These pronominal forms correspond to the historic vos and to the voseo, and ustedes:
Voseo Ustedes
Vos A Vos B
Subject pronoun Vos Vos Ustedes
Direct object pronoun Os Te Les
Indirect object pronoun Os Te Los, las
Prepositional pronoun Vos Vos Ustedes
Reflexive pronoun Os Te Se
Possessive pronoun Vuestro Tuyo De ustedes
Vuestra Tuya
Vuestros Tuyos
Vuestras Tuyas

In the case of the voseo, the verb under goes some changes in the ending’s accentuation and the diphthongs. In fact, vos agrees with second persons of the singular; but the tenses are different from the peninsular Spanish. The literary and liturgical vos agrees with conjugated verbs in second person of the plural. Ustedes is used with verbs in third person of the plural.

4 Yo

Yo is the subject pronoun for the first person singular. But yo is sometimes uncomfortable and the speaker needs space or do not want to be personally involved. Other times the idea of yo is emphasized (even not taking part in the action). It depends on the person’s ego and the situations.

See Reflexive and reciprocal verbs

  • In case of despersonlizing, the third person of the singularis used instead the first of the singular with popular expressions as mi menda, un servidor, etc.

Una servidora no ha sido. (= Yo no lo he hecho.)

Mi menda no es un imbécil. (= Yo no soy imbécil.)

Other nouns are also used to emphasize the speaker’s personality.

Este periodista siempre ha estado al pie del cañón. (= Yo siempre he estado al pie del cañón.)

  • The plural of modesty, i.e.the use of plural instead of the singular:

Como decíamos ayer… formal (= Yo decía ayer… )

Someone is sheltered after a plural, so after the protecting idea of group. Yo may be rude and the plural softens this impression. This plural is used by orators, writters and journalists.

Nuestra empresa será la primera del sector. (The owner of the company speaks)

  • Se usan se, uno / una and are used to despersonalize yo or to generalize.

Se come lo que se puede. (= Yo como lo que puedo.)

Uno no puede decir lo que piensa. (= Yo no puedo decir lo que pienso.)

dices lo que piensas y todo el mundo te mira mal. (= Yo digo lo que pienso y todo el mundo me mira mal.)

Se and uno / una agree with the third person of the singular,with the second. They are always used in popular Spanish.

5 Nos: the royal we

One single person, the king or the Pope, refers to himself as Nos this pronoun agrees with first person of the plural.

Nos ordenamos que el señor duque venga a nuestra presencia.

It has a very limited use: the present King of Spain does not use this structure, and is limited to old laws treaties, classic texts of the literature and films about past epochs.