Nowadays, it’s essential to know how to conduct yourself correctly in different conversational situations, especially when speaking a language that is closely bound to the protocol.

Although there’s no doubt that Spanish is considered by many as a fairly relaxed language when referring to forms of address, at AIL business, we want to show you the differences between situations within formal and informal conversation, and we’ll show you this in ascending order:

 

1. The first stage: ‘Tú’/‘vosotros’ and ‘Usted’/ ‘Ustedes’.

In the majority of encounters, there is the option of addressing someone with “tú” or “usted”, considering some factors such as age, profession and your relationship with the interlocutor.

In the case of “tú”, we can use it with confidence in the following situations:
– With friends
– With family
– With work colleagues
– With people younger than ourselves. In this case, it’s important to take into account our own age in relation to our counterpart, as the situation changes if someone who is 60 years old, wants to address someone who is 30 years old or someone who is just a mere 10 years younger at 50 years old.

Referring to the last situation, where the most confusion arises, one must focus on their own feeling about the circumstance, so that you can choose the correct form of address.

We use “usted” in the following situations:
– With the elderly
– With unfamiliar people in general, taking into account their age and using your own judgement. Here, we include members of public administration, of security forces, of health workers or of anyone who works within services in the public eye.

Again, the second situation remains something of confusion and we have to rely upon our own judgement and common sense. When dealing with the public administration it is not the same being attended by a civil servant who is 30 and by a civil servant who is 50. As before, the situation is also influenced by our own age in relation to our interlocutor.

 

2. The second stage: “Señor/a” y “Don/Doña”

We use “Señor/a + surname or “Don/Doña + surname” in a generalized way within a work, social or political environment when we want to exemplify our respect towards the interlocutor. We use this when speaking at public events as named officials, tributes, interviews, receiving a prize and official presentations for example.

 

3. The third stage: “Ilustrísimo/ a señor/a” or “Excelentísmo/a señor/a”

Finally, we’ll discuss how to address officials, with phrases such as “Ilustrísimo/a Señor/a + position” or “Excelentísmo/a señor/a + position” which are used occasionally in areas of high powered public institutions, such as:
– The Royal Household
– The Judicial power
– The Executive Power
– The Legislative Power
– The Armed Forces
– Representatives of Autonomous communities
– The State Council

Upon establishing the differences between the two, there are certain positions that dictate the use of one type of address or the other, using “Ilustrísimo/a” and “Excelentísimo/a” to those that occupy a lesser position.
Recently, these types of address are falling into disuse as a result of the Institution of the State wanting to integrate themselves more closely into society, so it is more and more common to hear or read “Señor/a + position”, when asking “What’s your opinion of the President?” for example.

 

4. The fourth stage: “Su Majestad” and “Su Alteza”.

Very few people are given the privilege of being treated as “Su Majestad” (in the case of the Royals), where one must use second person plural. For example, when the King of Spain addressed his Father on the day of his wedding, still as the Prince of Asturias: “Majestad, no tengáis ninguna duda de que siempre pensaremos en España”. However, if we were to address him/her for a second time, we should use “Señor/a”, but never “Usted”.

In the case of Royal children or of the Prince and Princess of Asturias, the most appropriate address would be “Su Alteza” just as “Señor/Señora” are appropriate to use the second time that you are addressing Royals.

 

We hope that this revision of appropriate forms of address within different situations has been useful. Every environment is different, and because of this, it is essential to be able to respond to the demands of each situation, although we know that strict rules do not exist regarding these uses, and that inevitably, experience will give you the confidence to know when to use each one.

Now you know how to address different interlocutors in Spanish, you can put your knowledge to the test. If you have any problems, do not hesitate to get in contact with us. We will be delighted to help you!