Every language has a way of communicating with people we consider close and others we don’t know very well. Today, we will learn how to use the formal and familiar forms of Spanish verbs to address people correctly.
Formal and familiar second person
We conjugate verbs according to the person used in the sentence. In Spanish, the first person is yo (I) while the second person is tú (you). Additionally, we find usted (you), which is another second person that we use in more formal contexts.
The conjugation of the verb when using tú and when using usted marks the central difference between the formal and familiar forms of the verb.
Note: A very important detail is that most of the time, you can use just the conjugated verb and omit the explicit mention of the person, which often acts as the subject of the sentence. The conjugation will already tell you if it is a formal or familiar form.
How to use verbs with tú
Tú is the familiar second person with which we address a friend, relative, or coworker we know well.
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- Tú cocinas un delicioso desayuno para toda la familia cada mañana. (You cook a delicious breakfast for the whole family every morning.)
- Debes aprender a sumar sin contar con los dedos. (You must learn how to add without using your fingers.)
As you can see in the second example, we can omit the subject and the sentence will still be correct.
Conjugate verbs with usted
Usted is the formal form of the second person. We use it to talk to a person of authority or someone we don’t know very well. Let’s look at some examples:
- ¿Usted sabe cuánto cuesta este jugo de fruta? (Do you know how much this fruit juice costs?)
- Disculpe, pero para usar el programa, debe aprender las reglas básicas de toda computadora. (Sorry, but to use this software you have to learn the basic rules of any computer.)
- Si (usted) coloca su dedo en esa taza, se quemará. (If you put your finger in that cup, you will get burned.)
Notice how we can also omit the subject and the formal conjugation will still be there, conveying distance or lack of familiarity between speakers.
That’s it! You can now choose between formal and familiar verb forms to show how close you are to those you’re communicating with.
Written by Isabel Matos