Using ‘Vos’ in Colombia and Beyond
In her second guest post on this blog Avalon from the Colombia Immersion Spanish school explains how, when and why some Colombians use ‘el voseo’ in Spanish.
The first time I was asked “¿Y vos de dónde sos?” (“and where are you from?”), I was confused. ‘Vos? Does this have to do with vosotros? What’s going on?’.
I quickly learned that using “vos” (referred to as voseo) instead of “tú” (also called tuteo) to say “you” is a common practice in many Latin American countries, including some parts of Colombia.
In Colombia, voseo sits somewhere between “tú” and “usted” in formality, and can often be used with friends or family. You’re likely to hear voseo in some of the following ways in Colombia:
Muy bien, ¿y vos?
¿Vos qué tenés?
¡Vení pa’ aca!
Vos no sabés nada
El voseo is used only in certain regions of Colombia, such as in the Antioquia department. Here, you’ll meet Colombians from the Boyacá department that grew up without using the voseo, but who then adopted it after moving to Antioquia.
Overall, voseo is an important part of Colombian Spanish, and understanding and using voseo correctly will take you that next step closer to speaking like a local in many regions.
In Medellín, a local politician uses voseo to communicate his campaign (source)
A little history of el voseo
If you think that the voseo sounds related to the vosotros used in Spain, then you’re entirely correct. Looking back at the history of the Spanish language, you’ll find that vos existed in Spain before vosotros did.
Here’s what happened: ‘vos‘ was used as both a singular and plural second person subject pronoun (just like “you” can refer to one person or multiple people), and eventually the plural version was used in conjunction with the word “otros” so often that it just became one term: vosotros.
Probably a bit like how English speakers in some parts of the US gradually changed from saying “you all” to “y’all”. That’s kind of how vosotros was born.
At a certain point the voseo ceased to be used in Spain altogether, but by then the Spanish colonies in Latin America had already been using it extensively. It has continued in much of Latin America until the present day.
Where in the world is voseo used?
Nowadays, both tuteo and voseo are common throughout Latin America, with about 40% of Spanish speakers in Latin America using the latter (source).
In general, Latin America sees a mish-mash of tuteo and voseo including in the following places:
- It’s dominant in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Costa Rica
- It’s mixed with tuteo in Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador
- It’s less prominent In Chile, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador
Dark Blue = primary spoken and written form
Medium Blue = Voseo generally used in spoken form
Light Blue = Voseo coexists with the tuteo
Grey = Voseo not used
Image by Marcel Montes via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.5,
When should I use the voseo?
When to use voseo depends on where you are, who you are, and who you’re talking to.
In places like Colombia and Uruguay, people often switch between the tuteo and voseo depending on the relationship between the two speakers (source).
In Argentina and Paraguay, on the other hand, voseo is the only informal pronoun used and you might get laughed at for using tú. Conversely, in Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, tú is used pretty much exclusively.
Finally, in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, people use tú or vos based on social class: vos is considered substandard and is used by the ‘lower class’, whereas tú is taught in school, considered “correct”, and is generally used by the ‘higher class’.
About Voseo in Colombia
Let’s talk about voseo in Colombia and where, when, and how to use it.
It’s a safe bet to use voseo in Medellín and anytime you are talking to a “paisa” person. In addition to the Antioquia department, you can commonly find it in Cali and the Valle de Cauca, Caldas, and Nariño. The below map shows a more complete map of the usage of voseo in Colombia.
Map of voseo in Colombia (source)
There are no hard and fast rules about when to use vos in Colombia, but the general idea is that vos is slightly more formal than tú and less formal than usted. Even for Colombians the use of voseo varies and is entirely up to personal preference, whether use it frequently with friends and family, or not to use it at all.
Some Colombian guys, for instance, prefer to use “vos” (or “usted”) when talking to their male friends as they considering “tú” to be overly intimate and therefore inappropriate.
How to conjugate with vos
I’ve got some good news about using vos: the conjugations are quite simple! Just drop the ar/er/ir from the infinitive and add ás, és, or ís. Here are a few examples:
Regular Conjugations (Present Simple)
Hablar → habl → hablás
Comer → com → comés
Vivir → viv → vivís
Note that the stem does not change when conjugating for vos. For example, querer is conjugated as querés (without the i present in quieres when conjugating for tú). Here are a few more examples:
Tener → Tenés
Empezar → Empezás
Pedir → Pedís
Also, there are a few irregular verbs worth noting:
Irregular Conjugations (Present Simple)
Ser → sos
Ir → vas
Haber → has
It’s also not too complicated to use voseo in the affirmative imperative. Just remove the -r from the infinitive, and leave the stress on the last vowel.
Regular Conjugations (Affirmative Imperative)
Hablar: → hablá
Comer → comé
Vivir → viví
The negative imperative/subjunctive tense has its own conjugation, which we won’t get into here (you can find a complete conjugation chart here).
Luckily, there aren’t many tenses to memorise: other than these above tenses, you can conjugate vos just like you conjugate tú.
For the grammar-oriented, here are a few final notes on the usage of voseo. For reflexive verbs or using the direct and indirect objects, you can use “te”:
Ex: Te me pagás la renta cada mes.
Ex: Vos te bañás todos los días
To say “contigo” using vos, say “con vos”.
Ex: Esperá, voy con vos.
To say “a ti” using vos, say “a vos”. Ex: Gracias a vos, sé hablar el español.
Can you spot the use of voseo in these posters from Medellín? (source)
The voseo is a weird, cool aspect of the Spanish language that not everybody has the chance to use and understand. It reflects how languages morph and change meanings and uses across time and space.
If you get the chance to use voseo, whether in Colombia, Argentina, or elsewhere, go ahead and give it a whirl: you already know the conjugation isn’t difficult. Plus, it makes you sound like a local.
Go for it, ¡vos podés!
About the author
In 2015 Avalon made the move from San Francisco to Medellín and now runs the marketing at Colombia Immersion. When she’s not writing about the Spanish language and places to eat in Medellín, you can often find her speaking the Spanish language while eating in Medellín.
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¡Qué oso! – Slang from Bogota
As far as possible, on this blog I try to examine slang phrases which are used in the whole of Colombia. However, some expressions are so essential for anyone staying in a given city or area, that it’d be remiss of me not to explain these too. This is most definitely the case for the phrase “¡qué oso!” in Bogota.
Using ‘Vos’ in Colombia and Beyond
In some parts of Colombia, people use “vos”, instead of “usted” or “tú”, when addressing others. In a guest post, Avalon from the Colombia Immersion language school explains how, when, where and why this happens.