In Spanish vosotros/tu is used in an informal conversation and usted(es) in an formal one. Whereas in the majority of the countries in Latin America, usted(es) is used constantly. The same goes with Portuguese, você is formal and tu informal but it's way more common in Brazil to use você in most of situations.

Is it a coincidence that those countries use formal second person more frequently than the countries that colonized them ?

Without any deep knowledge into colonization of South America I suppose that colonies must have been taught to speak in a formal way to Spanish and Portuguese.

Do we observe this elsewhere ?

  • Do you realise that your header states exactly the opposite of the body of your question?
    – fdb
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 12:55
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    Are you asking only about Spanish and Portuguese, or all languages? Is this about colonial language as widely-adopted first language, or colonial language as "occasionally used"?
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 14:24
  • I don't know enough to offer an answer, but my suspicion is that Spain and Portugal avoiding formal pronouns is the innovation, not Latin America using formal pronouns: that Spain and Portugal are doing a post-1968 European thing. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 14:39
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    Well, English managed to ditch informal "thou" and completely switch to formal "you", without being colonized.
    – jick
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 15:53
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    @jick England was sort of colonised. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 16:12

1 Answer 1


Québec, which originated as a French colony in North America, offers a very clear counterexample: it is well-known that speakers of Québécois French use tu in many more situations and much more readily than speakers of European French do. And when Québécois French speakers start with vous, they tend to shift to tu more quickly than a speaker of European French would.

(Tu is French's second-person singular informal pronoun, analogous to Mexican Spanish , and vous is French's second-person singular formal pronoun, analogous to Mex. Span. usted, and also a second-person plural pronoun in all circumstances, analogous to Mex. Span. ustedes).

  • Thanks, that is a good point. I might argue with the fact that in Brazil for example você is used in formal and informal settings. But in Canada French you wouldn't use tu to a lawyer or a doctor. I agree that the transition from tu to vous is smoother and faster in Canada than in France. I think I should clarify my post because I don't take into accounts modern social changes. Like it's way more common (and encouraged) in some companies to tutoyer your boss in France.
    – 0xmax
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 15:33
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    Tu is much more common than Ud in colloquial Mexican Spanish.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 21:52

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