Fw: Second person singular (Spanish)

Dave Hause dwhause at JOBE.NET
Tue Jul 1 04:16:35 UTC 2008

>From my daughter (HS Spanish teacher.)  Changed to plain text for list
legibility;  if anybody wants the original HTML version, drop me a note.
Dave Hause, dwhause at jobe.net
Waynesville, MO
----- Original Message -----
From: Emily Hause
To: Dave Hause
Sent: Monday, June 30, 2008 10:02 PM
Subject: RE: Second person singular (Spanish)

I did a little bit of research, because when I first saw the pronoun vos, I
thought it might be a direct or indirect object pronoun, but apparently
"vos" is equivalent to tú which is the second person singular whereas
vosotros is the second person plural.  The following article does a good job
explaining its use, or lack of.  Vosotros is primarily used in Spain, and
much of what is taught in school is more Mexican Spanish.

Why Is Vos Ignored?

Question of the Week

  Related Resources
• Using Vos in Argentina
• Question of the Week
• Questions and Answers

I am wondering why the Spanish pronoun vos seems to be so ignored. My
Spanish textbook doesn't mention it at all, and another book I have about
Spanish describes it as "archaic." My Spanish teacher got a minor in the
subject without ever having heard of the existence of this pronoun. I
wouldn't know of its existence either if I hadn't practiced Spanish with
native speakers through the Internet. I would say that about a third of the
people I have talked to use vos and not tú.
Well, I found a dictionary with a map showing which areas use which. For
those who haven't heard of vos before, it is used in Uruguay, Argentina,
Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica; in
parts of Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and Bolivia; and among some Chileans,
while, of course, the countries I haven't mentioned used tú. Its forms in
the present tense are, as far as I know, always identical to vosotros, minus
the i that comes before the s in -ar and -er verbs, and in other tenses it
is identical to tú.
Anyway, aren't Spanish educators doing us a disservice by neglecting to even
mention to us at least how to say "¿Cuántos años tenés?" and "¿De dónde
sos?" Or that "decime" is preferable to "dime" to many native speakers of
My quick answer would be that vos isn't taught because you can get by very
well without it, it isn't used everywhere, the conjugation of verbs that go
with vos can vary according to region, where it is used it sometimes implies
an intimacy you as a foreigner aren't likely to have with many native
speakers, and it is uncommon in writing. Some participants in our forum
recently gave more thorough (and better) answers.
Response 1: I think your estimate of a third is a bit high. I would
calculate that not more than about 15 percent, probably less, of the
Hispanic population uses vos regularly and consistently instead of tú,
although it is understood everywhere. Also, vos usually carries a
connotation of intimacy that most foreigners don't achieve, and it is a
regional phenomenon. Maybe that's why it's ignored. It is not really a part
of "standard Spanish." However, I agree that it is common enough that a full
course in Spanish should at least expose the student to it.
I studied Spanish for five semesters in a university with three different
teachers and, while we were made aware of the vos pronoun, we never studied
it. One of my teachers was from Cuba, one was from Puerto Rico, and the
other was from the United States, and all three have traveled to basically
every Spanish-speaking country. I, personally, have never run across anyone
that uses vos, nor have I seen it used in any of the Spanish newspapers or
magazines that I read. I don't think it should be ignored, but I don't think
too much emphasis should be place on it either.
Response 3: As a Salvadoran American, I must say that the widespread neglect
of vos seems like a disservice to learners of Spanish. However, in many
cases, I can see why it would be ignored by teachers in the United States,
Vos is used throughout Central and South America as a second-person
familiar, but its acceptance and prestige vary from place to place. In my
experience, only Argentines trumpet the conjugation as something to be proud
of. Some countries present a socioeconomic divide for pronoun used — tú for
middle/upper classes, and vos for the working class. In still other places,
vos is universal but is a source of grammatical shame — speakers will try to
mask vos by using tú with the vos conjugation: —Tú tenés que ir conmigo.
Those "vos" speakers who migrate to the States are suddenly found in the
uncomfortable situation of being surrounded by Spanish speakers who only use
tú, and so quickly adapt to what they see as standard, shedding vos for tú.
I would imagine that since most Spanish-language media in the U.S. are made
up of Mexicans and Caribbeans, where vos is practically unheard of, the
Spanish taught emphasizes a sort of Standard Latin American Spanish, a rough
equivalent to the U.S. General Midwestern neutral accent.
Response 4: I think of it kind of like teaching "y'all" to a learner of
English. Sure, there is a significant number of people who use that pronoun,
so it might be handy to be aware of it, just so you'll recognize it when you
encounter it. But it wouldn't be the highest priority, because other than
marking yourself as a Yankee, failure to use "y'all" in the South doesn't
interfere with communication from you to them; and just being aware that it
exists is about all you need to know to understand the Southerners who use
Response 5: You know, I lived in Ecuador for 6 months and they use vos
there, too. The thing is, it is usually a derogatory pronoun. It's something
a patron would use with a menial worker. The weird thing is, it is also used
by parents towards their kids, too, but in a loving way. I guess vos can be
derogatory in the sense that it implies one is a child or subservient. I
thought it was interesting.
Response 6: Let me join the debate because I'm from Nicaragua, where vos is
almost universal.
Vos is used in place of tú and tú does not sound strongly Nicaraguan;
therefore I would venture to say that el voseo is inseparable from our form
of Spanish, Nicaraguan Spanish, and in our country it is not considered
especially lax or informal; it used exactly as tú. It is used by all
Managuans. Outside of Managua, you will certainly find tú-users, but in
Managua tú-users are usually foreigners, though some people in Managua do
use it. However, in every case I have encountered, they always picked up the
habit outside of Nicaragua. Singular "you" in Nicaraguan Spanish is either
vos or usted, and it is not seen as lax or ignorant. Internationally,
though, throughout the Spanish-speaking world, the attitudes toward vos
differ greatly. In Chile and Colombia, for example, it can convey
economic/social status, but not in Nicaragua. The poorest and the richest
both use it.

> And is some parts of South America, vos and its verb forms (from
> vosotros?) is used as the 2nd person singular familiar (so vos tenés,
> rather than tu tienes).
> Barbara
> Barbara Need
> Chicago
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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