Choosing between vosotros, ustedes and vos is something that even advanced students ask us about. They’re all correct but they are used in different contexts and different countries. They are all versions of the plural you.
Confusing? Not really, when you take into consideration that Spanish is a pluricentric language. For example, how likely are you to hear ‘y’all’ in central London? Not very. The same thing happens with ‘mate’, which can become ‘pal’, ‘bro’, ‘bud/buddy’ or dozens of other words according to the place and context where it is being used. The same happens with ‘vosotros’, ‘ustedes’ and ‘vos’.
In Spain, we mostly use vosotros. Usted (singular you) and ustedes (plural you) are used in very formal situations or when talking to figures of authority. A Spanish person will use usted to talk to a judge or to the king, for example. In our normal daily lives, however, we prefer to use ‘tú’ (singular you) and ‘vosotros/ vosotras’ (plural you). Remind yourself that we might omit the pronoun itself, since we can tell by the verb form.
However, vosotros is not widely used in any Latin American country. So, even though it is taught in school, it will sound odd in daily discourse. The preferred term throughout most Latin America is ustedes, which remains the same regardless of gender (unlike vosotros/vosotras). Latin American speakers also prefer the singular form ‘usted’ instead of ‘tú’, unless they have an incredible close relationships with the person.
The biggest exception to ustedes is the use of vos in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. These countries use ‘vos’ both in spoken and written form. Some Central American countries (Costa Rica and Honduras, but also in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador) are also adopting ‘vos’ as an informal form of ‘ustedes’. Furthermore, ‘vos’ is used in some regional dialects throughout South and Central America.
Because of this geographic distribution, ustedes is also what you are probably going to hear in the United States. The biggest Spanish-speaking communities come from countries where ustedes is the preferred form, such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Venezuela.
Foreign speakers should use the form they have learned or are most comfortable with. Those learning Spanish in Europe are more likely to use vosotros, whilst those who had Latin American teachers will use ustedes or vos. If you’re traveling to Spanish-speaking country, then investigate which term is most common over there.
Curious to know more about the differences between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish? Keep following our blog or enroll in one of our Spanish group courses.