Usted vs Tú: How To Avoid Confusing The Spanish “YOU”

usted v tú

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It’s easy to see why the usted v tú is commonly confused by Spanish students.

Both pronouns in Spanish mean “you”, whereas in English, we use “you” as a one-size-fits all, regardless of how you are speaking to.

The easiest way to remember the differences between both words is that usted is formal while is informal.

If you remember this rule, then you’ll avoid confusing the two words, 90% of the time.

We should mention that while remembering this rule will help you, the use usted v tú as formal vs informal is more common in some Spanish speaking countries than others.

Generally, you don’t need to worry about disrespecting somebody by using the wrong pronoun, especially as Spanish student, since locals will understand that you aren’t speaking your native language.

Now with that little introduction out of the way, let’s look at the differences between how usted v tú is conjugated with the most commonly used Spanish verbs.

Conjugating Tú vs Usted

Let’s review how to conjugate some basic verbs.

Verb Usted Tú 
Ser / To be  es eres
Estar / To be  está estás
Tener / To have tiene tienes
Ir / To go va vas
Querer / To want  quiere quieres

Now, let’s review how usted v tú is used with reflexive pronouns and direct object pronouns.

Pronoun Usted Tú 
Direct object  Lo (masculine)

La (femenine) 

Le ( Objects)

Te
Reflexive pronoun  Se Te

Now, let’s see some examples of formal v informal sentences based on using usted v tú.

Formal (usted) Informal ()
¿Usted es su mamá? – Are you her mom? ¿Tú eres su mamá? – Are you her mom?
¿Quiere que lo/la despierte temprano? – Do you want me to wake you up early? ¿Quieres que te despierte temprano? – Do you want me to wake you up early?

Hola, ¿Cómo está? ¿ En qué puedo ayudarlo/la? – Hello how are you? How can I help you?

Hola, ¿Cómo estás? ¿En qué puedo ayudarte? – Hello how are you? How can I help you?
¿Se siente bien?- Do you feel good? ¿Te sientes bien? – You feel good?

As you can see, the differences in conjugations are subtle, yet noticeable.

When To Use Tú

Below are the most common scenarios when you’ll need to use the pronoun.

1) When there is a relationship of trust between people:

Use  to talk with friends, family, coworkers, couple, classmates

  • I came early to help you with the project – Vine temprano para ayudarte con el proyecto
  • Mom, I’m going to invite you to lunch today – Mamá te voy a invitar a almorzar hoy
  • You told me you’d go to the party with me, don’t leave me alone – Tu me dijiste que irías conmigo a la fiesta, no me dejes solo/a

2) When you talk to a stranger who is perceived to be of a similar age:

You can use to talk to waiters, waitresses, sellers, hotel receptionists, people on the street to ask for the time, etc whenever they appear to be a similar age to you, or younger.

  • Could you please bring me the menu? – ¿Por favor podrías traerme el menú?
  • Can you tell me the price of those pants? – ¿Puedes decirme el precio de ese pantalón?
  • Are you lost? If you want, I can go with you to the police station – ¿Estás perdido/a? Si quieres, yo puedo ir contigo hasta la estación de policía.

3) When you talk to children

To talk with children, always use the simplest vocabulary and always use tú.

  • Do you want to eat now or later? – ¿Quieres comer ahora o más tarde?
  • You have to do your homework – Tienes que hacer tu tarea
  • Call your grandmother and say thanks for the gift – Llama a tu abuela y da las gracias por el regalo

Sidenote: Remember that in Spanish, personal pronouns can be omitted, but conjugations must match.

When To Use Usted

1) To talk with older people:

It’s common for some people to use usted with their in-laws in order to show respect.

You can also use it to talk to your friends’ grandparents, or anyone older than you, whether you know them or not – it’s simply a nice gesture of respect.

  • Do you want me to help you with dinner? – ¿Quiere que le ayude con la cena?
  • You were very pretty as a young woman and still are – Usted era muy guapa de joven y aún sigue siéndolo
  • Could you tell me your last name to find  your reservation? – ¿Podría decirme su apellido para buscar su reservación?

2) To talk to your boss or senior executives:

Whenever you talk with your boss, or a coworker who has a higher rank within the company, it is better that you use usted instead of tú.

  • Here are the documents you requested early – Aquí están los documentos que me solicitó temprano
  • Remember that your meeting starts in 15 minutes – Recuerde que su reunión comienza en 15 minutos
  • Do you want me to send someone to buy your lunch? – ¿Quiere que mande a alguien a comprar su almuerzo?

 Don’t want to use Usted? No problem, change it for Señor or Señora

For some people, using usted may seem a bit too formal or awkward.

In that case, you can show the same level of respect for the person you are speaking to by simply substituting usted for Señor (Sir, Mr.) or Señora (Lady, Mrs.) before the person’s name.

The conjugation of the verb stays the same, as if you were using usted.

  • Good morning, Mr. Pablo – Buenos días, Señor Pablo
  • Good evening, Mrs. Patricia – Buenas noches, Señora Patricia
  • Mr. Francisco, how are you today? – ¿Cómo está hoy, Señor Francisco?
  • Have a nice day Mrs. Clara – Que tenga un buen día Señora Clara

Usted vs Tú: Some Final Examples

Before we wrap up this blog post, we’ll leave you with a couple of final examples of common expressions that differ in conjugation depending on whether you choose to use usted vs tú.

English Usted
How are you? ¿Cómo estás? ¿Cómo está?
Need help? ¿Necesitas ayuda? ¿Necesita ayuda?
What’s your name? ¿Cuál es tu nombre? ¿Cuál es su nombre?
Where are you from? ¿De dónde eres tú? ¿De dónde es usted?
Can you give me your phone number? ¿Me das tu número de teléfono? ¿Me da su número de teléfono?
Let me help you with this Déjame ayudarte con esto Déjeme ayudarlo/la con esto
I go with you Yo voy contigo Yo voy con usted
Do you want something to drink? ¿Quieres algo para beber? ¿Quiere algo para beber?

Usted v Tú: Exercices

Choose the correct conjugation based on whether the sentence should be formal or informal.

1) No se _______ Señor (preocupe / preocupes).

Don’t worry sir.

2) Puedo _______ con tu tarea (ayudarlo / ayudarte)

I can help you with your homework.

3) Bienvenido al hotel ¿Me _____ su apellido? (dices / dice).

Welcome to the hotel. Can you tell me your last name?

4) Ella es _____ nueva compañera de trabajo (tu / le).

She is your new coworker.

5) Tú _____ mucho trabajo atrasado (tienes/ tiene).

You have a lot of delayed work.

6) ¿Señora  _____darme su pasaporte por favor? (puedes / puede)

Mam, Can you give me your passport please?

Answers

  1. No se preocupe Señor
  2. Puedo ayudarte con tu tarea
  3. Bienvenido al hotel ¿Me dice su apellido?
  4. Ella es tu nueva compañera de trabajo
  5. tienes mucho trabajo atrasado
  6. Señora, ¿Puede darme su pasaporte por favor?
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