In the Spanish language, there are some different ways to say “you” and it can be confusing for non-native speakers. If you have Colombian friends or if you like the Colombian culture, you probably have realized the different ways we have to use this personal pronoun (tú, usted, vos).
If we compare the use of “usted” with other countries in Latin America, it is common to hear that people use it as a way to show respect to others, particularly to older people or people that you meet for the first time. This is true, but in Colombia, we can use “usted,” “tú,” and “vos” in different ways that are important to understand in order to have a more natural interaction with the locals.
In this article, you will find some helpful advice to use these three pronouns like a native speaker. To begin with, and as it was mentioned before, “usted” is the most formal pronoun. So if your intention is to break the ice with someone who you think might be your friend, it is better to start with “tú,” but if you are not sure if the person wants to be treated in that way, you can ask ¿puedo tutearte? This question means that you want permission to use the pronoun “tú” to have a more relaxing conversation with this new person. If you go to the Caribbean coast in Colombia, people like to chill and you will find that everybody is using “tú”; it does not matter if the person is older or if the person if your boss. On the Caribbean coast, using “usted” means not only to be extremely respectful, but it also means you really want to maintain a distance with that person.
However, if you want to visit cities like Cali or Medellin, you will find another challenge to face. In some places, people prefer to use the personal pronoun “vos” that is the same as “tú,” but with a different verb conjugation. When you want to use “vos,” it’s the singular person; it is not the same as “vosotros” * so you need to be careful in the way you conjugate the verbs. For example, when you use “tú,” you can say “¿De dónde eres?” but if you want to use “Vos”, then you ask “¿De dónde sos?” Do not get confused, these two ways are perfectly understood in the whole country; “Vos” is simply a way to show that the person is Caleño or Paisa, but it does not change the meaning of the conversation.
In conclusion, to feel more integrated into the culture or just to show your language abilities, you can mix the pronouns up based on the situation you are in. If you are in a job interview, talking to an older person or you want to show respect to others, it is recommendable to use “usted.” If you are with your friends, people your age or just someone you might consider to be a new friend, it is better to use “tú.” And if you want to sound like a local person from Cali or Medellin, you can use “vos” (but this is better if your Spanish level is very advanced and you feel comfortable enough to use it).
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Written by Andrea, profesora at Whee.