This lesson introduces students to the concept of formal and informal grammar in Spanish. The lesson outlines the two ways of saying you in Spanish and gives examples of sentences that use each one. The video includes information on when to use each form and the concept of dropping the subject pronoun, which is allowed in Spanish but not in English, is discussed.
Formal and Informal Language
In English, we have just one way of saying 'you.' We use the word 'you' no matter to whom we are speaking, whether it be a child, a business client, or the president. In Spanish, there are different ways of saying 'you,' depending on whom you are speaking to. When speaking to a friend, a child, or a family member, for example, you would use the word tú. This is informal, and so it would be used if you were addressing someone you are familiar and comfortable with.
However, if you were addressing someone you do not know, like a store clerk, or someone in a position of power, like the president, then you would want to use the word usted. Usted is a more formal way of saying 'you.' When meeting someone new, generally, usted is used.
Dropping The Subject Pronoun
In the 'Greetings and Introductions' lesson, you learned informal ways of asking questions. ¿Cómo estás?, ?Cómo te llamas? and ?De dónde eres?. But even though these are informal, none of them have the word tú. What gives? Well, in Spanish, the subject pronoun, in this case tú, is not required. We could actually add tú to each of those questions, and it would mean the same thing: ?Cómo estás tú? and ?De dónde eres tú?. Wondering why it's not required? Well, the answer is that you can tell by looking at the verb to see who the subject is. When you see estás, llamas and eres, you know that they are referring to tú, whether it's explicitly stated in the sentence or not.
You will notice the same thing occurring when you ask these questions in a more formal manner. To ask the dean of the university how he is doing, you can say either ?Cómo está? or ?Cómo está usted?. To ask your boss what her name is, you can say ?Cómo se llama? or ?Cómo se llama usted?. And to ask the president where he is from, you would use either ?De dónde es? or ?De dónde es usted?.
Look at the difference in the verbs used here: está, llama and es. Do you see the difference between these verbs? All the information about the subjects is encapsulated in the verbs.
Let's practice a bit. First, I will give you a phrase, and you will decide whether it is informal or formal.
- ?Cómo se llama usted?
- ?Cómo estás tú?
- ?Cómo te llamas tú?
- ?De dónde es usted?
- ?Cómo está usted?
- ?De dónde eres tú?
(Answers: formal, informal, informal, formal, formal, informal)
Now, I'm going to make it a little harder and remove the subject pronouns. Don't forget to look at the verb to figure out where each sentence goes.
- ?Cómo estás?
- ?De dónde es?
- ?Cómo te llamas?
- ?Cómo está?
- ?Cómo se llama?
- ?De dónde eres?
(Answers: informal, formal, informal, formal, formal, informal)
Let's make sure we're comfortable with who counts as formal and who counts as informal. For each of the following people, choose whether you would use usted or tú.
- Your daughter
- A store clerk
- A business client
- The king of Spain
- Your best friend
- Your dog
(Answers: tú, usted, usted, usted, tú, tú)
You should have a pretty good sense now of when to use each pronoun. When in doubt, use the formal. This will generally keep you out of sticky situations. It is important to note that each Spanish-speaking country has slightly different rules about who is formal and who is informal. But the rules given in this lesson should give you a good idea of what to expect.
One final note: usted is often abbreviated as 'ud.' Don't let this confuse you if you read it - it means the same thing.
To review, Spanish has two ways of saying you: tú, which is informal, and usted, which is formal. We use the informal style when speaking to a friend, a family member or a child. We use the formal style when speaking to someone in a position of power or someone we are meeting for the first time. Both the subject pronouns and the verbs used in a sentence tell you whether you are speaking formally or informally. In Spanish, you have the option of leaving off the subject pronoun.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to understand when to use or leave off certain subject pronouns. You could also recognize different ways of saying 'you' in Spanish and understand when to use formal and informal phrases.