The Spanish ‘Vosotros’ Form and How to Use It
Ah, Spain. The people, the culture, the Spanish. What a wonderful place to live, work and visit. As birthplace to the Castilian Spanish dialect and the hispanosphere, just like the language, the culture is rich and full of both tradition and diversity. But, what are all those vosotros sentences you keep hearing?
Upon first arriving in Spain to visit or live, you’ll notice one of the most characteristic differences of Spain’s Spanish (as opposed to North, Central, and South American Spanish) is the general usage of the subject pronoun vosotros.
This pronoun is the rough equivalent of “you all” in English, and is used as the plural form of the subject pronoun tu, informally meaning “you.” Although this informal plural “you all” subject pronoun exists as a part of the Spanish language, it is seldom found in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world.
If you’re heading to Spain in the near future, here are four important things to know about the Spanish vosotros form. Then, after reading this, make sure to brush up on your skills!
Vosotros is an important part of Spain’s communication style.
Spanish Vosotros is everywhere. Maybe it’s the casualness of this pronoun that’s so appealing. Maybe it’s a tradition that just didn’t stick elsewhere around the world. I’ll touch more on the specifics of when to use vosotros below. But it’s important to note that even if you aren’t incredibly familiar with this form and its conjugations, you will hear it used a lot in Spain.
When all else fails, you can revert back to using the ustedes form for communication if this is more familiar to you. Just be aware that you aren’t talking like the natives around you.
There is a difference between vosotros and ustedes.
If you’re wondering when to use vosotros instead of ustedes, pay attention now.
Essentially, these two pronouns mean very similar things, though one is more formal and the other is not. Vosotros being the more informal plural form of “you all” is frequently used in everyday conversation, with kids, with friends, with pets, and so forth.
In Spain, usted (singular) and ustedes (plural) are used as well. But this happens only for more formal occasions, or occasions where respect must be shown. So, if you meet the Pope while in Spain, be sure to use the usted form.
In other Spanish-speaking countries, however, vosotros is never (or rarely) used. So, even in casual situations where, in Spain, this form is present, other countries still opt to use ustedes for plural “you” communication.
Spanish Vosotros is not widely taught in the US
Are you having trouble recalling learning this subject pronoun in all those Spanish classes from your younger years? Well, there’s a reason for that! Most Spanish teachers of English students may not be familiar with vosotros, and have just not taught it in the past.
Especially if you studied in the US, where teachers usually favor the Latin American variety from which vosotros is absent!
When to use Vosotros in Spain
Vosotros is present in any context where
1) There is more than one person
2) The occasion is rather informal.
According to a Madrileña with whom I recently spoke, the usted/ustedes form would be appropriate when speaking in an entrevista (interview), con un jefe (with a boss), or in similar situations. Otherwise, the vosotros form rules the day in Spain.
Whether or not you have previous exposure and familiarity with vosotros, you’ll find that Spaniards are patient, gracious people who are very willing to support others in their quest to learn Spanish. They may even help you along the way – even if, to their ears, you’re using ustedes all wrong!
When do you use the Spanish vosotros subject pronoun? Share your stories with us below!
This article was originally published on September 11, 2017, and then was edited for comprehensiveness on June 14, 2023.