Dear Duolingo: What is "vosotros" and when do I use it? (2024)

Welcome to another week of Dear Duolingo, an advice column just for language learners. Catch up on past installments here.

Dear Duolingo: What is "vosotros" and when do I use it? (1)

We're back this week with another learner-inspired Dear Duolingo post! We've gotten a number of similar questions about this topic, and it's one I remember thinking about a lot, when I first traveled to Spain:

This week's question:

Dear Duolingo,

I just celebrated my 365-day streak in Spanish on Duolingo, and I’ve recently tried to read some Spanish books to test my skills. I came across vosotros and looked it up, because vosotros and the verb endings were unfamiliar to me.

So my question is: Is this something that will come in later units, or has there been a reason not to incorporate this?

Thank you,
Is Vosotros Verb-oten?

Ahh, vosotros–that's the form of "y'all" used in Spain! What is it, why is it there, and do you need to know it?

When I studied Spanish in school in the U.S., one year we needed to know vosotros and the next we didn't, and it was always back and forth like that. You'd sort of see it in textbooks, but it was often skipped, and I was mostly told to ignore it…and then I studied abroad in Spain.

Today we'll get into Spanish verb forms and how vosotros fits in. It'll be a quick tour through pronouns, etymology, and Spanish dialects!

Ok, ¿estáis listos? (That's the Spain verb form for "ok, are y'all ready?")

Pronouns 101

To understand what vosotros is in English, first let's review what pronouns are and how they work in English and Spanish (and in many other European languages).

Pronouns like vosotros replace a noun, and languages have different pronouns for different linguistic situations. In Spanish and many European languages, there are basically six slots for types of pronouns, and here they are in English:

SingularPlural
First personIwe
Second personyouyou
Third personhe / she / itthey

Now, there's something a little weird in that English pronoun chart: English has the very same word—"you"—for referring to just one person and for talking to a group of people. That's because of some very old, very gradual changes in the history of English, and over time English dialects around the world have evolved to solve this problem, by creating new second person + plural pronouns, to be different from singular "you": Irish English often uses ye (a very old pronoun!), many English speakers say you guys, you'll hear youse in parts of the northeastern U.S., y'all is used in many regional and ethnic dialects across the U.S., and in Duolingo's hometown of Pittsburgh, you might hear yinz!

Spanish has a parallel six-slot pronoun chart that you might have seen used for verb conjugations. Here's the full chart, including all pronouns, as they are used in Spain. (Note that usted and ustedes are used with third person verb conjugations!)

SingularPlural
First personyonosotros / nosotras
Second personvosotros / vosotras
Third personél / ella / ustedellos / ellas / ustedes

As you can see, vosotros (and the feminine form vosotras) are in the same slot as plural you (or y'all, or youse, or yinz).

So…why doesn't everyone learn vosotros in Spanish? And why is it only used in Spain?

What’s the deal with "vosotros" in Spain?

English pronouns have the oddity that "you" has two meanings, and Spanish pronouns have a different complicating factor: formality.

Spanish and many other languages have special pronouns used when you have to show extra politeness to someone, maybe because they are a stranger, they're older than you, or they are in a position of power, like a professor or judge. So in Spanish, to talk to your best friend you'll use (informal "you"), but to talk to your sweet, elderly neighbor, you'll use usted (formal "you"), which came from vuestra merced (sort of like "your honor").

Or…that's the TLDR today. 👀

In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Spanish began colonizing the Americas, the Spanish pronoun system worked something like that: for speaking directly to one person you could speak to informally, vosotros for speaking informally to a group of people, usted for speaking directly to one person you wanted to speak formally to, and ustedes for speaking formally to a group of people. And so that's how things started in many of the Spanish varieties used in the Americas.

But formality is sort of a weird thing. It's easy to see how being formal with someone can create distance, like politeness, but using formal words with people you're close to can also show affection, like saying "you are worthy of some extra respect, sweetheart/pal/momma." That's what happened in English: you was originally for groups of people (like "y'all") or for being formal and polite, and over time it became the one way we talk directly to anyone, whether we're being formal or informal.

And the same happened in Spanish! In the Spanish of the Americas (and the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of Africa), that more formal ustedes became the way of talking to all groups of people, whether formally or informally. Once ustedes had claimed this new territory of second person plural, vosotros gradually bowed out of the scene in the Americas. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in Spain, the pronouns didn't change in this way; in fact, today in Spain you're unlikely to hear much ustedes at all—it's reserved for the most formal of situations, and for many Spaniards it has the feel of being unnecessarily distant.

Should I learn vosotros?

Well, it depends!

If you go to Spain and use ustedes, everyone will understand you, and I think that's the most important thing. You'll be able to communicate and express yourself, even if you won't really hear others use ustedes. You won't sound like you're from Spain, but vosotros isn’t the only unique feature of Spanish in Spain!

Of course, in Spain you'll hear lots of vosotros used, but as you'll see below, the vosotros verb forms just have different endings, so with a little practice you'll get used to understanding them quickly. If you're someone who will be spending a lot of time in Spain (like I was at the beginning of my study abroad, not knowing my vosotros!), you'll pick it up in the same way that you'll pick up slang, expressions, words used only in Spain, culture, and pronunciation. No single course, app, instructor, or textbook can teach you everything you'll need in your particular situation, in a particular city with a particular age group and context (work? school? travel? digital nomad?), so look for the best foundation in the language.

For example, Duolingo's Spanish course for English speakers teaches ustedes and not vosotros because there are many more Spanish dialects that use ustedes, and as we've said, ustedes is understood in Spain as well. We've gotten lots of Dear Duolingo questions about Spanish dialects around the world, so we'll get into dialects and learning them in another post!

What is the "vosotros" conjugation?

The basic verb endings for vosotros are -áis/éis/ís:

VerbVosotros form
-ar verbshablarhabláis (y'all speak)
-er verbscomercoméis (y'all eat)
-ir verbsvivirvivís (y'all live)

And, naturally, the more irregular verbs have slightly different vosotros forms.

VerbVosotros form
sersois (y'all are)
estarestáis (y'all are)
hacerhacéis (y'all do/make)
tenertenéis (y'all have)
quererqueréis (y'all want)
ponerponéis (y'all put)

There's just a couple of other words that go along with vosotros in Spanish:

  • vuestro/vuestra/vuestros/vuestras. To say "y'all's" (like "y'all's shoes"), you'll use a form of vuestro, which works just like nuestro (ours): vuestro zapato (y'all's shoe), vuestra casa (y'all's house), vuestros zapatos (y'all's shoes), and vuestras casas (y'all's houses).
  • os. Spanish has direct and indirect object pronouns, and for both of them you'll use os, which works just like nos: for example, os quiero (I love y'all), os gusta la música (y'all like the music), and os doy el regalo (I give yall the gift).

And—I can't resist a little word origin information—if you know another Romance language like Portuguese, French, or Italian, did you notice anything else about vosotros to help understand when it's used? Nosotros and vosotros started as two words! Nosotros began as nos otros (literally, "we others," sort of like "all of us"), and vosotros began as vos otros (literally, "y'all others"—like "all of yall"!). Can you see the link between the words for "we" in other Romance languages (nós in Portuguese, nous in French, noi in Italian) and the words for "y'all" (vocês in Portuguese, vous in French, voi in Italian)?

Y'all keep practicing your Spanish, ok?

After just a couple weeks in Spain, I was using vosotros myself and was well on my way to getting the hang of food words and other slang expressions, too. Did you see the recent post on French dialects? What other dialects and languages would you like to see us discuss?

You can submit your own Dear Duolingo language and learning questions by emailing us at DearDuolingo@duolingo.com!

Dear Duolingo: What is "vosotros" and when do I use it? (2024)

FAQs

When would you use Vosotros? ›

The Meaning of Vosotros

If you're referring to only female plural subjects, you use vosotras. Vosotros is used when an individual person or speaker is addressing a group of 2 or more people. Vosotros in English stands for “you” as the plural “you and others.”

Why does Duolingo omit vosotros? ›

For example, Duolingo's Spanish course for English speakers teaches ustedes and not vosotros because there are many more Spanish dialects that use ustedes, and as we've said, ustedes is understood in Spain as well.

What is an example of Vosotros? ›

What Is Vosotros? I like to think of vosotros as the Spanish equivalent of “you guys” or “y'all.” In other words, use it in Spain to mean “you” when referring to multiple people in an informal situation. For example: ¿Vais a la fiesta de Pablo? (Are you guys going to Pablo's party?)

At what point in Duolingo are you fluent? ›

There isn't an official number of how much XP it takes to be fluent in a language by using Duolingo. However, you can use your language levels and the Duome to figure out how many vocabulary words you have learned which can be an indicator of how close you are to fluency.

Which version of Spanish does duolingo teach? ›

With respect to pronunciation, vocabulary choices and pronouns/verb forms, it teaches a Latin American variety of Spanish (closest to Mexican, Cuban or Venezuelan), but also accepts other forms (for example, words typical of Spain, or Argentinian voseo verb forms).

What do Mexicans use instead of Vosotros? ›

When using the formal version, use the “usted” (singular) or “ustedes” (plural) form. In Mexico, it's not necessary to differentiate. The same goes for the second-person plural (used when addressing a group, such as “you all”). In Spain, you should use “vosotros,” whereas in Mexico you use “ustedes.”

Why is Duolingo ineffective? ›

Duolingo doesn't work.

In fact, it's just as bad as the education system Von Ahn criticizes. Duolingo outsources its translation services, allowing for awkward sentences to slip in undetected. And translation (the core of its platform) is already widely known to be an ineffective way to learn a language.

Is Duolingo Spanish a waste of time? ›

Duolingo is the most well-known language-learning app. But, it is only meant to teach some beginners level skills. Don't expect any meaningful proficiency. It is not worth it.

Why is Duolingo changing so much? ›

Anton Yu, Duolingo's product manager, said the app's redesign was shaped by feedback: Users wanted more guidance and content with less complexity. All new features except the Practice Hub, unlimited hearts, legendary status and no ads will be available to both free users and Super subscribers.

Do I need to learn Vosotros? ›

Learn the vosotros form, at least a little bit. You'll need it if you really want to know Spanish. I have some Dominican friends who laugh when they hear it used. To them, it is something used only in church.

Is Vosotros used in America? ›

Vosotros is used in Spain only (and not even the whole of Spain, there are parts, like Canarias and Western Andalucía where they don't use vosotros). So if you are learning the Spanish of Latin America, just only ever use ustedes.

Why don t we use vosotros? ›

One theory is that vosotros was seen as harsh and bossy (kind of like “hey, you guys!”) in regions with bigger class disparities and a large rural population, and people found it more accommodating and polite to use the formal Ustedes instead.

Can you actually become fluent from Duolingo? ›

And this comes from a lack of human interaction and real speaking practice. So, no, you can't become fluent with Duolingo alone. But, if you pair it with other resources, it can be an amazing tool to boost your studies as a beginner to intermediate learner.

Will you be fluent if you finish Duolingo? ›

Duolingo can't make you fluent by itself

The other way in which the research is misleading is that learning a language requires more than just an app, in the same way learning just about anything requires more than just a textbook.

Which is better babbel or Duolingo? ›

Approach to learning. The biggest difference between Babbel and Duolingo is the approach to language learning. Babbel is a better option if you want traditional language instructions through modules and lessons. By contrast, Duolingo works great if you need a playful, gamified experience.

What happens if you use Vosotros in Mexico? ›

Vosotros/Ustedes

In Spain, there are also two forms for the second-person plural: vosotros for informal and ustedes for formal; however, in Mexico, there is no second-person informal — you always use ustedes. The English equivalent of vosotros is often likened to “you all” or “y'all.”

What is the difference between nosotros and vosotros? ›

"Vosotros" is a pronoun which is often translated as "you", and "nosotros" is a pronoun which is often translated as "we".

Is Vosotros used anymore? ›

While "vosotros" spread to the rest of Spain, you still meet people in the south (at least in Seville) who avoid using "vosotros", like in Latin America. "Vosotros" is not used because it is not useful outside of Spain.

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