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AlwaysSpanish is Retiring!

After a long awkward silence, here's something to break the ice – all over again. I can totally see why you should be upset to see no action from the Burro for over a month now, but trust me, your wait was all worth it. The news here is that your beloved Burro has just moved into a brand new home – one that's a whole lot richer, swankier, and easier to live in. I'm talking about PeppyBurro. That's the name of the new website! Isn't that cool? At least it tells you all about the Burro's pepped up temperament right off the bat, right? This post is not about Spanish-learning tricks (although I will drop in a couple out of habit, I guess) or grammar lessons. This one's all about our new home!

The Witchcraft Of Spanish Vocabulary

The very first step to conquering a language is to tame its vocabulary. And sadly, that's the part that puts off most novice learners because memorizing strange-sounding words is too darn boring! A never-ending chant of rote rehearsal and a nervous prayer can see you through an upcoming test, but the process just won't cut it if your goal is to actually use the language in the street. It's a mystery how this incredibly inefficient method has survived this long and still continues to be perpetuated by schools and educators around the world. So is there any nirvana around this assault of monotony in our miserable lives? Anything that could make learning foreign words less painful?

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Always Spanish has retired. Please visit the new blog at for all future articles.

Tú Or Vos? The Culture Dilemma

English, as we know it today, is a very simple language when it comes to addressing people. You have just one word (you) that can be used for strangers and acquaintances alike regardless of your level of intimacy with them. With Spanish, life gets a bit complicated because depending on where you are and who you are with, you must carefully choose from three different pronouns to sound appropriate. While knowledge of and usted is commonplace, it’s vos that’s relatively unknown to most Spanish learners. Here, we will try to explore voseo – the usage of vos – in different cultural contexts throughout the Hispanic world.

Why is it important?

Voseo on a billboard in Buenos Aires: Note “vení” instead of “ven”
Voseo on a billboard in Buenos Aires: Note “vení” instead of “ven”
Photo credit: Qqqqqq licensed CC BY-SA 3.0
Voseo stands for the usage of vos for the second person singular pronoun. A similar word for the usage of is tutear. Although not a part of standard Spanish anymore, vos does have significant currency in certain parts of Latin America where its knowledge is an absolute necessity.

It’s only ironic, however, that it’s now completely extinct in the country of its origin, i.e., Spain. Most courses skip this pronoun simply because the two largest dialects of Spanish, Castillian and Mexican, don’t have it in their inventories. But if the dialect you’re aiming to acquire is, say Argentenean or Uruguayan, you just can’t do without vos.

As mentioned before, voseo is not a global phenomenon. It’s rather dialectical and, more often than not, an aspect of non-standard, regional speech. So, what cultures actually embrace this practice and to what extent? You can take it for granted that regardless of its currency in other countries, voseo is non-existent in Spain and most of Mexico. As for the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, let’s see this one culture at a time.

Cultures with predominant voseo

Voseo at a Nicaraguan airport
Voseo at a Nicaraguan airport
Photo credit: Mbhskid520 licensed CC BY 2.0
  • Argentina and Paraguay is practically non-existent in the Rioplatense and Paraguayan dialects, the ones spoken in these countries. In these cultures, usted is sometimes used in some formal settings but vos is the way to go otherwise.
  • Uruguay – Uruguay, too, follows the Rioplatense dialect and runs predominantly on vos. In several areas, however, is also used albeit with the vos conjugations. Usage of with verbs conjugated in the form is alien to Uruguay.
  • Costa Rica and Nicaragua – Here, just as in Uruguay, vos can be used with verbs conjugated in both vos as well as forms. Usage of as a pronoun is non-existent in Costa Rica and rare in Nicaragua. Usted is generally used for new acquaintances or strangers but can, in certain parts, be extended to all situations. Unlike Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, however, is still preferred in Costa Rica and Nicaragua when it comes to formal communications, such as media, formal correspondence, or while addressing foreigners.

Cultures with extensive voseo

  • Guatemala – Here, vos coexists with and usted; however, its usage is generally frowned upon by the older generations and those who come from the upper economic class who see voseo as vulgar or uneducated. Usted is the way to go with the elders; vos is the most intimate form and is used with younger family members or close friends; tú, on the other hand, is a little less intimate. One peculiarity here is that vos is preferred amongst men regardless of their intimacy; two men using with each other is seen as a sign of homosexuality. Many couples, despite their intimacy, choose to use the less casual with each other as a sign of romance and respect.
  • Chile – Here, usage of vos conjugations with is spreading rapidly while vos as a pronoun is generally reserved only for very intimate encounters. Usted is the preferred pronoun with strangers and the elders; also, some couples use usted despite their intimacy to show respect for each other out of mutual love.
  • BoliviaVoseo is universally used in the Lowlands of Eastern Bolivia where the population is predominantly mestizo, Criollo, or of German ancestry (e.g., Tarija, Beni, Pando, Santa cruz, and the Lowlands of La Paz). In the Highlands of Western Bolivia, however, where the population is predominantly indigenous (e.g., Potosí, Oruro, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, and the Highlands of La Paz) is predominantly the pronoun of choice albeit with verbs conjugated in the vos form.
  • Honduras and El Salvador – Here, vos is the most intimate of the three pronouns showing maximum familiarity and, often, least respect. Usted is preferred with strangers and the elders while is the way to go with new acquaintances or not-so-close friends.

Cultures with voseo in some areas

  • EcuadorVoseo is predominant only in certain regions, i.e., the Esmeraldas, the center, and the Sierras.
  • VenezuelaVoseo is prevalent in the northwest of the country, especially in Zulia State.
  • Peru – Apart from some areas in the north and the south of the country, voseo is also widespread in Arequipa.
  • Mexico – Overall, voseo is not a Mexican thing; vos is almost alien to Mexican ears. However, it is widespread amongst the poor indegenous peoples of rural Chiapas. Usage of vos in once-voseo states, like Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Yucatán, is on the decline.
  • Colombia – The Spanish of Colombia is a whole new world. Here, must be used with caution, though voseo is not a common feature in this country. Not only is its usage considered gay between two men, it’s also taken as a sign of being flirtatious or romantic if a man uses it with the opposite sex! Generally is reserved for family members and strangers (except for the situations just mentioned); for younger people, usted is preferred. Usted is preferred between two men, where would sound uncomfortably effeminate. Vos is preferred amongst people from western (Chocó, Nariño, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca), central (Primarily the Paisas of Caldas, Antioquia, Quindío, and Risaralda), and north-eastern (Cesar, La Guajira, and Norte del Santander - Ocaña Region) Colombia.


Before you fret over the thought of having to learn yet another conjugation for a new pronoun, let me assure you that vos conjugations are much simpler than their counterparts.

Let’s start with the present indicative tense, for example. All you do here is drop the -r from the verb, replace it with an -s ending, and accent the last syllable. That’s it. And no stem-changing nonsense. Sweet, ain’t it? So, your hablar becomes hablás, vivir becomes vivís, and comer becomes comés.

Now the commands, or in other words, the imperative. Again, simplicity is the name of the game here. Just drop the -r ending and accent the last syllable and you are done. So, vivir becomes viví, andar becomes andá, and comer becomes comé. The only tricky verb in the vos world is ir which cannot be conjugated in this method. Solution? Use the synonym, andar instead! So, the command to go would be andá. Hasn’t this simplicity won you over already?

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  1. Very interesting article although I found some grammar mistakes in the article such as "much more simpler" and "its" instead of "it's". Let's remember this is an article on linguistics...

  2. Ouch! That was an embarrassing typo. But thanks for your eye for detail and for pointing it out to me instead of just skimming through the read. Have corrected them and hope all is error-free now. I also hope you read more of my articles and point out to me any such errors you might come across. We're all humans after all and I depend overwhelmingly on readers like you in keeping this site as helpful and grammatically accurate as it gets. Thanks again for your time. :)

  3. No it the vosotros conjugation with vos. Actually it was the original vos. The vos as it used now is really vosotros with the i taken out Comeis comés hablais hablás or in command form without the d comed comé venid vení. . Wiith ir verbs it is the sam becuase the ending is two letters. vos decis vosotros decis al Venezuelans from other state frown upon it. One that I met from there use the pronoun vos with the usted ending and another uses tu to avoid confusion. My Argentine friend Leo also recgonizes and use tu with me, but sometimes in a unguarded moment vos slips out. Of all the vos conjugations the Rioplatense is easiest to remeber because it just affect two forms.

  4. Quite interesting, really. It seems one would largely depend on the context to decipher the correct interpretation. So, I gather they would use vos/vosotros in familiar settings and usted/ustedes in others. The confusion, however, would start when they start mixing these conjugations with tú or usted. And perhaps the best way to learn them is by actually interacting with the locals on their home turf as such norms can never be condensed in a finite set of grammar rules.

  5. But, I do agree that the vos conjugations are much easier to get than those of tú.

  6. Yes it would be easier to learn there.

  7. Voseo is equivalent to medieval THOU.
    In the United States, at 2mil, Salvadorans are thee largest voseo speakers by far. They are the third largest Hispanic group in the U.S. its is widely used in Los Angeles because it holds the largest Salvadoran population, and they are the second largest Hispanic group in that city alone. The U.S capital Washington DC is the only city in the U.S in which Salvadorans are the largest Hispanic group over all, thus its the only city in all the United States where the Spanish spoken there is Voseo Spanish. Washington DC's Spanish is firstly voseo. Salvadorans are followed by other Central Americans who speak in voseo, such as Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Costa Rican.


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