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Spanish Matters - a blog in English and Spanish for those learning the language

This blog is entitled "Spanish Matters", because it does! Matter, that is. If you have committed to living in Spain, you should also make a commitment to learn some Spanish. So this is a blog about matters Spanish, as well as promoting the notion that Spanish does indeed matter. The blog contains articles in both English and Spanish. Don Pablo hopes it will be helpful to those learning the language.

Sunday, February 11, 2024 @ 7:06 PM

Most Western European languages have two ways of saying "you". A formal/polite way and an informal/familiar mode. This happens with all of the so-called Romance languages, ie those derived from Latin and spread across Europe by the Roman legions during their long-standing eponymous empire.  This occurs in French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and, of course, Spanish. It also happens in the Germanic languages, ie German, Dutch and Flemish, but strangely NOT in English.


So, what are the rules?

In my experience, which only extends to Dutch, French, German and Spanish, the "rules" are different. In France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, you'd better stick to "vous" and "Sie" until such time as you come to an agreement to switch to "" and "du" and their equivalents.

Oddly, though, abroad, eg here in Spain, Germans are happy to go striaight for "du" and "ihr". Not the French, though.

Many years ago I had a professional friendship for many years with French counterparts from Chalon-sur Saone (Burgundy). It was the twin town link with St Helens (Merseyside) where I was in charge of educational and work experience exchanges for students.

When, after some time, I had the temerity to suggest we dropped the formality and used Christian names and the familiar form, you could have heard a pin drop!

Nevertheless, we did try it from that point on, but one lady, my main contact, Marguerite Ligier (Guite) occasionally called me Monsieur Whitelock and used "vous". She found it really hard to maintain the switch.



España es diferente

The situation in Spain is totally different, particularly since the death of the dictator Franco in 1975 and Spain's return to democracy.

Here, it's mostly "" and "vosotros", although, as I get older, I am more often addressed as "usted". I hate that. When I ask my interlocutors why they don't use "", I am told the use of "usted" is a mark of respect for an older person (I am 73).

My strategy for years has been to only use the familiar form. Well, most people are younger than me, so that's ok, according to the "rules of the game".




What to do, then?

My colleague, Peter Edgerton, a long-time Spanish resident, runs a bar, The Shakespeare, in Malaga City (see below), as well as being a columnist for SUR in English. He's just published an article (09/02/2024) that tackles the problem in an amusing manner.

Here's a link to his piece: Peter Edgerton: To use 'tú' or not to use 'tú' | Sur in English

What more can I say? A great article. Thanks, Peter.


©  Don Pablo


The Shakespeare

C/ Muro de Puerta Nueva, 5, Distrito Centro, 29005 Málaga

English-style pub in the heart of Malaga, The Shakespeare is a hub for expat activity. Run by Peter Edgerton, musician and writer, there is a strong sense of community here.

Right in the centre of Malaga, just off Plaza de la Constitución, there is always something going on with a full itinerary of events each week (follow The Shakespeare on Facebook for events). They include live music (with weekly ‘open mic’ nights), bilingual pub quizzes and language exchanges.

Major live football and rugby are also shown on the two screens.

With a selection of beers, both bottled and on tap, and spirits, your more international tastes are catered for here.




Peter Edgerton

SUR in English

The Shakespeare






Nathalie FLE






Austria, Belgium, Chalon-sur-Saône, Don Pablo, du, Dutch, English, Facebook, Flemish, Franco, French, German, Germanic, Germany, Guite, Interlenguas, Italian, Marguerite Ligier, Netherlands, Peter Edgerton, Portuguese, Roman, Romance, Romanian, St Helens, Sie, Spanish, SUR in English, Switzerland, tu, tú, ud, usted, vosotros, vous, Whitelock, Wikipedia

Like 1


dontknow said:
Monday, February 19, 2024 @ 11:04 AM

Interesting article, thank you.
NB. Wales should be in light green on the map because in the welsh language we use the familiar and polite for You which is ti and chi.

PablodeRonda said:
Sunday, March 10, 2024 @ 7:27 AM

Hi, dontknow.
Thanks for your comment. I must admit I didn't know that about Welsh.
I happen to be half-Welsh myself, but hardly know any of the language. My Welsh dad, from Neath (Glamorgan), did not speak Welsh back then. He was born in 1917.
It was much, much later that Welsh came to the fore, and is now widely spoken, especially in North and West Wales.

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