/ / Ustedes vs Vosotros: ALWAYS know when to use which one!

Ustedes vs Vosotros: ALWAYS know when to use which one!

Ustedes VS Vosotros Explained: When and Where Do You Use Them? (+Conjugation!)

In Spanish, there are two words for YOU in plural: ustedes and vosotros. I know, WHY? In English there isn’t even a separate word for plural you, and in Spanish we have 2???

When do you use which word? Or better, WHERE do you use which word? 

I’m Paulísima, and today I’m going to clear up the debate once and for all. Let’s take a look.

1. Where to use it: Hint it’s only used in one country 

Let’s start simple: ustedes and vosotros, both mean “you”, the plural you. Like when in English people say “you guys” or “you all”. 

You will not hear people using the word “vosotros” in Latin America. We only use ustedes. Vosotros is used in Spain only (and not even the whole of Spain, there are parts, like Canarias and Western Andalucía where they don’t use vosotros). 

So if you are learning the Spanish of Latin America, just only ever use ustedes. You can now turn off this video. Nah, just kidding haha: you’ll still hear vosotros in books, movies, series, and there is some really interesting story about the difference between the two, which I will share in just a moment. You will even be able to teach your Latino friends a thing or two! 

2. When to use it 

So, in Spain they use both ustedes and vosotros. The deciding factor is the level of formality that you want to convey. In Spain, vosotros is informal and ustedes is formal, while in Latin America, ustedes is both formal and informal. 

If you’re in Spain, in a busy restaurant, you and your friends are waiting for your table. The hostess comes… And give the people behind you their table, you’re like: How dare you?!?! But politely ask:

Person 1
¿Cuándo estará lista nuestra mesa? 
(When will our table be ready?) 

Person 2
Ustedes son los siguientes.
(You’re up next.)  

Ustedes, not vosotros. Ustedes in Spanish is formal, so use it just to address a group of people with whom you’re not on a first name basis. 

Now let’s practice the informal bit, with vosotros

Mañana voy a ir al museo de antropología. ¿Vosotros queréis ir conmigo? (Tomorrow, I’m going to the anthropology museum. Would you guys like to come with me?)

Any people from Spain watching this? Let me know how I am doing! 

This is how you’d say it in Spain, though in Latin America you’d hear: 

Mañana voy a ir al museo de antropología. ¿Ustedes quieren ir conmigo? (Tomorrow, I’m going to the anthropology museum. Would you guys like to come with me?)

More:

  • Vosotros sois los mejores seguidores que un YouTuber podría tener. (You guys are the best followers that a YouTuber could ever have.)
  • Ustedes son los mejores seguidores que un YouTuber podría tener. (You guys are the best followers that a YouTuber could ever have.)

Even more: 

  • Vosotros escribís comentarios muy lindos. (You guys write very nice comments.)
  • Ustedes escriben comentarios muy lindos. (You guys write very nice comments.)
  • Vosotros estáis viendo el mejor canal de YouTube para aprender español. (You guys are watching the best YouTube channel to learn Spanish.) 
  • Ustedes están viendo el mejor canal de YouTube para aprender español. (You guys are watching the best YouTube channel to learn Spanish.) 

3. Conjugation 

Attention! 

Remember that in Spanish, the conjugation of verbs changes with each personal pronoun, so even if vosotros and ustedes only vary in the degree of formality, the way the verb is conjugated will change significantly. 

Notice again: 

  • Vosotros sois los mejores seguidores que un YouTuber podría tener. (You guys are the best followers that a YouTuber could ever have.)
  • Ustedes son los mejores seguidores que un YouTuber podría tener. (You guys are the best followers that a YouTuber could ever have.)

Vosotros sois versus ustedes son. Even if I don’t encourage my students to look at conjugation tables because in a conversation you just won’t have the time to remember them all. Just for the sake of explaining this particular point, let’s have a look for the verb ser

PersonaConjugación (presente)
yosoy
eres
El- Ella es
Nosotros somos
Vosotros sois
Ellosson
Ustedesson

Let’s have a closer look:

Ustedes son. Ellos son. Wait what? 

So it turns out that even if both ustedes and vosotros refer to the second-person plural, like you guys, you all, the pronoun usted actually matches the same conjugation form of the pronoun, THEY, which is the third-person plural! 

It’s alright, I am a native speaker, I’m a language teacher and still…. This can be very confusing. That’s why I love being a Spring Spanish teacher, because we will never ask students or teachers to deal with these tables! 

The one good thing about this mess is that, because ustedes and ellos share a conjugation, that’s one less conjugation form for you to learn! The bad thing… Because their verbs are the same, sometimes we don’t know who we’re talking about? 

Están viendo el mejor canal de YouTube para aprender idiomas. (You are watching the best YouTube channel to learn Spanish.) 

Están.. están … están matches both: you all are, and they are!!! This confusion often gets bypassed by adding the corresponding pronoun. 

Ustedes están viendo el mejor canal de YouTube para aprender idiomas. (You guys are watching the best YouTube channel to learn Spanish.) 

Or 

Ellos están viendo el mejor canal de YouTube para aprender idiomas. (They are watching the best YouTube channel to learn Spanish.) 

4. The history of it all 

Now, why do we have so many words to say “you”? Two in singular and two in plural. Why does it change according to different regions? 

En inglés es muy fácil, solo hay YOU both for the singular and the plural form, formal and informal. But actually that’s kind of recent and kind of an exception in the world of languages. Way back then, in English there was an equivalent of vosotros and ustedes. Ye. 

No fue siempre el caso. Los españoles llegaron a América y trajeron con ellos su idioma y, el español, como todos los demás idiomas ¡está vivo! ¡Vivo! Así que evolucionó en  formas diferentes.

(That wasn’t always the case. The Spaniards came to American and with them, they brought their language, and Spanish like all the other languages, it's alive! Alive! So it evolved in different ways.) 

According to the paper:

A lo largo del siglo XIX, tanto en España como en el continente América, ustedes ganaron terreno a costa de vosotros. Sin embargo, en España no se elimina el vosotros, sino que solo se le reserva para dirigirnos a personas conocidas y de confianza. En América, por lo contrario, cambiamos hacia una rápida eliminación de vosotros y su total reemplazo por ustedes. 

(Throughout the XIX century, in Spain just as in the American continent, ustedes gained strength compared to vosotros. However, in Spain the use of vosotros was not eliminated, but it was reserved to use with people we are close with. In America on the contrary, we completely eliminated the word vosotros in favor of ustedes.)  

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