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Tu vs. Usted


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So I'm confused as to when you would use "usted" and when you would use "tu". Everything I've looked at tells me they mean the same thing, yet I hear them both being used by the same people and can't define the difference. Is it a cultural thing?

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"Tu" is generally said to someone you're close to. You family, your boy/girlfriend etc.

"Usted" is used when you're not too close to the person you're speaking to.

For non-native speakers is ok to use them interchangeable though, since most people won't mind.

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I suppose this is hard for a native English speaker, we have the same structure in Portuguese. It's pretty much like jbepp says, tu is for someone you have confidence with (family or friends) and usted for someone older or in a professional relation.

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From what I understand, they both mean the same. But "tu" is the informal use while "usted" is the formal use. Latin people are big on addressing people properly, at least the older generation is. It's kind of like how in the old days, we would always address someone older as ma'am, madame, Mrs, Ms, Mr, and etc.

Anyway, "tu" is for people you are very familiar with in an informal way, like children, your husband, or your best-friend. While "usted" is for people who are older than you, people you don't know, your boss, or just someone you don't want to be with familiar with, someone you want to show old-fashioned respect to.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Make sure not to make the mistake of thinking "Ok, I want to be friendly with this person I don't know, so I'll use ." If you want to ask a question to a middle-aged person in Latin America you don't know, use Usted and not . You can offend someone by addressing someone as and not Usted. (Remember, that both these words translate as "you" in English.)

There are regional differences however. In the majority of Spanish-speaking Spain, the use of Usted is much less common than in Latin American countries. And in different regions (especially throughout Central America), the distinctions are complicated with the use of vos in addition to or in place of and Usted. I believe in some areas of Colombia, everybody (even young people talking to each other) addresses everbody as Usted. If you travel, don't be surprised to encounter things that are very different from what you learned.

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"tu" is for people you are very familiar with in an informal way, like children, your husband, or your best-friend. While "usted" is for people who are older than you, people you don't know, your boss, or just someone you don't want to be with familiar with, someone you want to show old-fashioned respect to.

This.

Basically my advice to be safe is that with someone you're not familiar with, specially who's older than you it is best to use "usted" and speak formerly. Use "tú" for the kids.

For the rest mimic the way they address you, if they say tu, use tu. If they say "usted" to you, you say "usted" when talking with them.

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I always thought they were interchangeable, but usted was used in more formal settings. You are going to use usted instead of tu if speaking to someone older than you to show respect. That's what I was taught.

It is, but usted can also be used when talking to someone you don't know personally like a teacher anybody that is not a friend of yours. While tu is used when talking to someone you know personally like a friend, sister, or brother.

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I was taught that usted was to be used in a setting where you are talking to your superior, like a boss or a teacher (and I suppose that it could apply to your elders as well). Tu was a term that you would use when you are talking to your peers, being friends, co-workers, etc.

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  • 1 month later...

I was always just told to err on the side of caution if you were unsure and use usted. I usually do that, and wait to be corrected or given some other sign that tu is appropriate (such as them using it to refer to you).

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Yes, I gather it depends on the country, so check your localization to be certain.

But in Spain, you would use Usted in a similar context that you would use "Mr. Smith" instead of a first name, or would add a "Sir" or "Ma'am" in English. So; formal or professional settings, older people, and anywhere respect is due or should be implied. Anyone you're not on a first name basis with basically.

So, as a child in school we used Usted with all of our teachers, and likewise I would with my in-laws until given permission to do otherwise. But, I would also use it when dealing with a customer, for instance, regardless of age or position.

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  • 3 months later...

The difference is very simple: You should always use "usted" when you address an older person, meaning if that person is a young or adult and of course an elder. If you are talking to someone you just met and you both are the same age (adults or older) you should use "usted" as a sign of respect as well. For the rest of occasions you should only use "Tú"

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I'll go ahead and beat the dead horse again real quick. Use tú when you know someone well, or they are some kind of friend/family member of yours. (Could be a co-worker as well that you have been around for a while, etc.) However, it is best to default to using usted. If anything, the person can always tell you to call them tú. Usted is more of a formal way of saying you.

I worked with a woman from México, and she got angry/annoyed that I didn't address her as Señora or use usted when talking to her. So just use it when you're not sure. :smile:

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Both tu and usted are used as the second person pronoun. However as everyone has mentioned, tu is a more informal, colloquial way of addressing someone. It is used mainly when talking to your family, children and very close friends. Usted is more formal, and is used when talking to complete strangers, elder people (as a sign of respect).

However, it is also largely a cultural thng. I think someone mentioned that in some countries it is complicated by the use of a third form which is vos. That is true. I come from Colombia, and even among Colombians, people use tu, vos and usted differently. In Bogota, where I was born, the use of usted is largely extended. Men use usted to refer to everyone except when talking to women. And women prefer to use tu when talking among them, and to men of their own age. It is considered disrespectful to talk to someone using tu when you don't know them very well. The use of usted is so extensive that I even talk to my best friend as usted, because he is a man as well. And even sometimes when talking to my parents I use usted. That's because usted is very common in Bogota.

In the Caribbean coast of Colombia, most people use tu always. And in Antioquia, people use the vos. In Bogota, we never use vos; we just don't grow up hearing it or using it.

So as you see, there are no fixed rules, and it's in large part a cultural thing. I also suggest that when in doubt use usted. If the person you're talking to prefers tu, they won't be offended and may tell you to refer to them as tu. But if you're talking to someone as tu, when they don't like it (like me), it might offend them (not me, but I know some people who are).

Hope it helps.

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  • 4 weeks later...

As a general rule ''usted'' is used for  people who are older than you or people with some kind of  higher rank or an authority position.  In some Latino American countries they often use ''Usted'' a lot, even among young people!  Which is super uncommon where I come from, because ''tú'' is the informal version of ''usted'' and is always preferred.

They both mean the same, but one is  formal and the another one is informal. I personally use ''Usted'' every time I met someone new who is older than me. It's a way to show respect. Wouldn't be nice to use ''tú'' with my grandma.

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  • 7 months later...

They are interchangeable. However, usted is often used in familial or close relations while tu is a more generalized and less formal version of the term. It's alright to use tu in most cases when you're unsure of which one to use since either way the generalized term will be accepted.

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  • 3 months later...

To the Spanish native speakers, does it really bother you if someone will use these pronounce incorrectly? Is it a big deal in your culture especially if the speaker who made the mistake is non native? Would you be more forgiving or that is just the way it should be and should be followed by all means?

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I believe tu is informal and Usted is formal. For instance if you are talking to a friend or someone very familiar you use tu. If you are talking to your boss, an older person, or interviewer you use usted.

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To the Spanish native speakers, does it really bother you if someone will use these pronounce incorrectly? Is it a big deal in your culture especially if the speaker who made the mistake is non native? Would you be more forgiving or that is just the way it should be and should be followed by all means?



Speaking for myself and my cultural environment, it's not very important in Mexico City and almost every person would be understanding if a foreigner didn't use these words properly.
I like one of the posts in this thread that specifically mentions "usted" for those you're not "in a first name basis with." That's much more accurate than just formal/informal.

For example... I'm 26, I work in sales, so I deal with many people. The only people I address as "usted" are strangers noticeably older than me (older than 35 maybe?), and people I know but I'm not very familiar with and just if they're older than me. Calling someone around my age "usted" even if they're unknown to me just sounds ridiculous and would likely get me weird looks, or at least make them think "he's such a square."
In-laws for example, I initially called "usted," but people break that barrier with time. Within a week they asked me to address them as "tu."
Even for people you think you can be friendly to referring to them informally, the polite thing is to ask "le puedo hablar de tu?" ("may I address you as 'tu'?").

Here in Mexico only people from rural backgrounds, from very old generations (think currently above the age of 65) or very fancy, snobby "old money" types you can expect to be offended by improper usage. The guidelines I described above are pretty safe.
That said, this doesn't necessarily apply to other countries. I've had many confusions of the kind talking to people from Costa Rica, Argentina, Spain... If you err, do so on the side of caution and go for "usted." Especially if your Spanish isn't flawless and people realize you're a foreigner. At worst we'll think you're too proper and find it amusing.

EDIT: Another type of person who could be offended here is someone in a professional setting in a higher hierarchical position than you, if the work environment is such. In my job, my boss' boss calls me the equivalent of "dude" or "bro."

Edited by Elimination
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Speaking for myself and my cultural environment, it's not very important in Mexico City and almost every person would be understanding if a foreigner didn't use these words properly.I like one of the posts in this thread that specifically mentions "usted" for those you're not "in a first name basis with." That's much more accurate than just formal/informal.

For example... I'm 26, I work in sales, so I deal with many people. The only people I address as "usted" are strangers noticeably older than me (older than 35 maybe?), and people I know but I'm not very familiar with and just if they're older than me. Calling someone around my age "usted" even if they're unknown to me just sounds ridiculous and would likely get me weird looks, or at least make them think "he's such a square."
In-laws for example, I initially called "usted," but people break that barrier with time. Within a week they asked me to address them as "tu."
Even for people you think you can be friendly to referring to them informally, the polite thing is to ask "le puedo hablar de tu?" ("may I address you as 'tu'?").

 

It really helps if you get immersed in the culture and I am glad to hear from someone who is a native speaker. I think you said it right in your comment and I appreciate it. I now understand it better given the examples you mentioned above

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  • 1 month later...
On 11/29/2013, 6:03:57, caparica007 said:

I suppose this is hard for a native English speaker, we have the same structure in Portuguese. It's pretty much like jbepp says, tu is for someone you have confidence with (family or friends) and usted for someone older or in a professional relation.

It's only hard because our version of "usted"—"thou"—is archaic. We used to have the same concept in English, but it's gone out of use.

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  • 4 months later...
On 4/26/2015 at 9:46 AM, OddVisions said:

They are interchangeable. However, usted is often used in familial or close relations while tu is a more generalized and less formal version of the term. It's alright to use tu in most cases when you're unsure of which one to use since either way the generalized term will be accepted.

Actually that is not quite the case... it's way safer to use ''Usted'' in any case, otherwise you might be perceived as extremely rude.  But is not so hard...  I always use ''Usted'' with people who are older than me, but never people who are younger than me.  But always to be safe at first use ''Usted''. 

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Yes, technically "tú " and "usted" mean the same thing. Now well, don't confound "tú" and "tu". "tu" is a possessive pronoun the same way as "your" is.

"Your house"->"Tu casa" 

"You are in my building now" -> "Ahora, estas en mi edificio"

Usted is a safe formal form. Nothing else. "Tú" is very strong and rude.

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