Formal Spanish Use in Argentina

Argentine Spanish — By

One difficult thing for English speakers to get used to when speaking Spanish is speaking formally, by using the “usted” form.  In English, you say “you” to everyone, because there is no distinction between formal and informal.  In Spanish, “you” can either be “vos” (remember that in Argentina, they don´t use “tú” they use vos) or “usted.”  When you want to speak to someone formally, to show them respect, you use “usted.”

The problem we English speakers have, is deciding WHEN you need to speak formally, because this is never perfectly clear – there is no “rule” that one can follow.  Do you speak formally to a taxi driver?   How about someone you meet who is older than you, but not a senior?   Your boss?  Your friend’s mom, even if you are now good friends?   How about the shopkeeper?  Yes, it can be very confusing, and to make matters worse, it works differently in all Spanish speaking countries.

Now for the good news – in Argentina, things tend to be informal, much more so than most other countries.  Their use of Spanish follows this same trend. In general, you are ok using the “vos” form in almost any situation.  It is fine to refer to people you don´t know by vos, people you meet randomly that are older, people in services such as taxi drivers, store clerks, hotels, etc.   Basically, you only need to use “usted” with seniors,   family members of your friends, and in professional business situations.   However, if you are ever unsure, then you are better off using usted!!

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1 Comment

  1. Brian says:

    I came from living a while in Spain, where it’s “usted” for almost everyone except children and close friends, but here people actually get offended if you use usted in a non formal situation. They think you’re trying to be snobbish or something. They DO use the plural, ustedes, though as there isn’t a plural to “vos”

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