Hispanic Culture: The Familiar (Informal) Form “Tú”

Hispanic Culture: The Familiar (Informal) Form "Tú" via The LEAF Project

Hispanic Culture: The Familiar (Informal) Form “Tú” via The LEAF Project

Hispanic Culture: The Familiar (Informal) Form “Tú”

The use of the familiar “tú” form will vary quite a bit from country to country, from region to region within a given country, from family to family, and among individuals. The familiar form is used more readily in some countries than in others; however, in recent years there has been a tendency to use the familiar form in situations previously reserved for the more formal “usted” or “X” form. For example, it would not be unusual for the “tü” form to be used by a sales clerk when addressing a client, even in a large city like Bogota.

The familiar “tú” form has traditionally been used to denote familiarity, thus establishing an informal atmosphere between speakers who address each other on the first name basis. On the other hand, the “X” from has generally been used to indicate a certain formality, thus establishing a “distance” between people indicating respect, social standing, and/or lack of familiarity. An example of this is when a younger person addresses an older person using the “X” form (perhaps using the older person’s first name preceded by the title of Don or Doña), while the older person addresses the younger person by his/her first name, using the familiar “tú” form. In short, the use of the familiar form is influenced by such factors as age, rank or social standing, the length of time two people have known each other, whether the speakers are in a work-related or social setting, and family and regional customs.

The first dialogue in this Cycle illustrates the way to ask someone to change from the formal form of address. Sometimes the change will be less obvious: one person will begin by using the “tú” form, the change takes place with no further ceremony. However, if the second person feels that it is not yet time to make the change, he or she will indicate this by continuing the use of the formal “X” form. When this happens, the first person will usually revert back to the formal, not pressing the issue. It is advisable to let the host country national be the one to make the change from the formal to the familiar.

It is both flattering and gratifying to be invited by a host country national to tutearse (to address one another with the familiar form, “tú”). When this happens, you will know that you have “arrived.” Nevertheless, once you have been in the country long enough to feel comfortable with this aspect of the language, there is no reason why you should not feel free to do the “inviting.”

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