With about 20 countries (plus the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico) counting Spanish as their primary language, it seems natural that variations in accent and colloquial vocabulary have emerged over the past several hundred years. What many people don’t realize, however, is that grammatical variations have appeared as well. One of these variations continues to create a minor separation between the Spanish spoken in Spain and the Spanish spoken throughout most of Latin America and parts of the Caribbean. It’s a pronoun called “vosotros”.
Before we jump into how to use “vosotros”, let’s take a quick look at where the Spanish language came from.
- The country now know as Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with Portugal.
- The Romans conquered the peninsula in the second century B.C., leaving behind Christianity (Roman Catholicism) and the Latin language.
- The peninsula was invaded by the Moors of North Africa in the year 711 A.D., bringing with them the architecture, food, and customs of this Muslim people, as well as the Arabic language.
- The Christians began to fight for control over the land in the 12th century, establishing new kingdoms like Aragon and Castile. New languages began to form, some of which are still spoken in parts of Spain, including Catalan, Galician, Basque, and Castilian.
- Castilian (castellano) began to take root as the common language of the Castile region. King Alfonso X of Toledo began to standardize this Latin-influenced language in the 13th century by hiring scholars to write extensively in Castilian on a variety of subjects.
- A scholar named Antonio de Nebrija published a book in 1492 called Grammar of the Castilian Language, establishing the grammatical rules for this emerging language and asserting its importance alongside the powerful and widespread Latin language.
- With the spread of the Spanish empire in the 16th century, the Castilian language of Spain also began to spread to the newly conquered people of the Americas.
- Many remnants of Arabic can still be found in modern Castilian Spanish, including words like guitarra (guitar), aceituna (olive), garbanzo (chickpea), camisa (shirt), and azúcar (sugar).
- Castilian Spanish has changed quite a bit over the past centuries, but one distinguishing feature that remains is that there are four ways to say “you” in Peninsular (Castilian) Spanish.
“Vosotros” comes from the Latin-derived pronoun “vos”, which in most of the Spanish-speaking world has since evolved into “tú”. “Vosotros” was used to refer to “vos y otros más”, meaning “you and others”.
The pronouns “usted”, “ustedes”, and “tú” are used in every country where Spanish is currently spoken. Latin American and Caribbean countries also use “ustedes” for the plural, informal “you”, and while this can certainly be done in Spain as well, using “ustedes” to directly address a group of friends or classmates in Spain will most likely get you some funny looks from the group.
“Vosotros” is a much more natural way for Spaniards to talk to a group of people in a casual way, and it’s not very difficult to learn.
(Note: Some Spanish speakers in Latin America and the Caribbean will understand the “vosotros” form, but many won’t. It’s not often taught in schools in this part of the world, so it’s usually best to stick to “ustedes” when informally addressing a group of people anywhere outside of Spain.)
Here are 10 easy steps for mastering “vosotros”:
1. Don’t be intimidated by this additional pronoun. Think of it as a way of saying “you all”, (or “y’all”, if you’re from the southeastern United States).
vosotros = you all
2. Understand that when using this pronoun to refer to a group of girls or women, the ending will change to make the pronoun feminine, which results in “vosotras”. This does not affect the verb conjugation in any way. The verb conjugation for “vosotros” is the same as the one for “vosotras”. When a group includes both males and females, use the masculine “vosotros”.
[Note: This same concept applies to the first person plural pronoun “nosotros” (we). When the group is completely female, it changes to “nosotras”.]
3. Learn the verb endings, just like you would for any other pronoun (yo, tú, usted, etc.). Start with the simple present and build from there.
4. Practice conjugating some common verbs.
infinitive verb - ending + conjugation ending
hablar - ar + áis = habláis
beber - er + éis = bebéis
recibir - ir + ís = recibís
5. Learn the irregular conjugations. In the present indicative the irregulars are:
ir = vais
ser = sois
dar = dais
ver = veis
(Notice that none of these include an accent mark.)
6. Look at some example sentences to get the feel of how to use the tense.
¿Qué queréis hacer? - What do you all want to do?
Vais a la escuela mañana. - You all are going to school tomorrow.
Podéis comprar ropa nueva. - You all can buy new clothes.
Tenéis que estudiar mucho para el exámen. - You all have to study a lot for the exam.
7. Learn the direct/indirect/reflexive pronoun for vosotros ---> os.
¿Qué os gusta comer? - What do you all like to eat?
¿Alguién os ha ayudado? - Has someone helped you all?
Os vais el sábado. - You all are leaving on Saturday.
8. Learn the possessive pronoun for vosotros ---> vuestro/a
Vuestra casa es muy bonita. - Your (all) house is very beautiful.
¿Me podéis dar vuestros números de teléfono? - Can you all give me your phone numbers?
9. Watch Spanish television shows and movies to hear examples of vosotros “in the wild”. Turn on the subtitles if you need some help understanding at first. Some great options are El Gran Hotel, Pulseras Rojas, El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth), Volver, Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother)
10. Start learning the endings for conjugations in other tenses, as well as the subjunctive and imperative (command) moods. A great resource for this is http://www.spanishdict.com/conjugation. Type any Spanish verb into the search box and take a look at the resulting conjugation charts. Look for the patterns in the “vosotros” conjugations in other tenses and moods.