What is the ettiquette behind tú and usted?

What is the ettiquette behind tú and usted?


I understand that Tu is used informally between friends and colleages, while usted is used to show respect, and for one's superiors.

However, I am not of sure the ettiquette involved in the actual changeover - ie when you stop using usted, and change to tu. When I was learning French - admittedly quite some time ago - being asked to "tutoyer" with someone was quite a big thing, and signalled a fundamental change in your relationship with that person.

I've been corresponding with a charming lady in Peru for a while now, and have been respectfully using the usted form when writing to her. Now, she has said that, "between friends like ourselves" (her words) it is usual to use the tu form.

Of course, I'm delighted to do this, and honoured that she has asked, but what I need to know is, is this such a "big thing" between Spanish speakers? Basically, if I write back, and tell her that I am honoured and pleased by this, will she think that I am strange, and should I rather simply accept it and just use the tu form in the future?

updated FEB 28, 2010
edited by 0074b507
posted by sheila-foster
Excellent question. I find myself being too informal and using tú with my professor. - gadjetman, DIC 18, 2009
added accent mark to your title. - 0074b507, DIC 18, 2009

2 Answers


I wrote for a while to a woman in Buenos Aires (90% in English). She finally asked me why I didn't use the tú form when I wrote in Spanish. (vos was out of the question). I explained to her that I would never address a woman with tú unless she had given me prior permission. She explained that that was totally against Spanish custom. In Argentina strangers address each other with tú (or vos). Usted is used only with people holding high ranking offices in the government or courts.

I tried to explain to her (the now outdated) custom that we used to have here in the US about not addressing a woman by her first name until given permission (Miss/Mrs./Ms. Jones...please, call me Mary) and relating it to tú/usted, but she couldn't even grasp the analogy it was so foreign to her.

updated DIC 18, 2009
posted by 0074b507

I think it's a regional thing.

When I was in southern Mexico I used "usted" when talking to my host family, an elderly couple. They never invited me to "tutear" so I never stopped using the "usted" form. However, my professors used "tu" and encouraged us to use that form of speech with them.

As for Spain, I asked Heidi once about using "usted" when taking to strangers in Madrid and she said that people almost always use "tu," even when talking to strangers, new acquaintances, etc.

As for your friend in Peru, I'd just start using the "tu" form and not make a big deal out of it. I'm really glad you have a friend grin

updated DIC 18, 2009
edited by --Mariana--
posted by --Mariana--
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