In Spanish, as in many languages, there are two ways of addressing people, one of them familiar and the other formal. In English this is achieved by the use of first names or last names.
Tú is used for people with whom you're familiar. For example, friends and acquaintances would be referred to as tú. So would children, pets, and, usually, all family members.
Usted, which is more formal, is used for people older than you, authority figures, strangers, and people you are meeting for the first time. In parts of Colombia usted is widely used, even among friends.
- In most of Spain the plural of tú is vosotros and the plural of usted is ustedes.
- In Andalusia and all of Spanish America, the plural of tú is ustedes, i.e., plural second person doesn't differentiate between familiar and formal form of address.
|Friends or acquaintances.||Strangers or recent acquaintances.||Use of usted when the other person expects tú shows distance or contempt.|
|Online, people prefer to keep conversation informal by referring to each other in the "tú" form, whether they've met before or not.||Online, this is equivalent to the English use of sir. E.g. usted es un excellente professor means you, sir, are an excellent professor.|
|*||Relatives||Relatives (rare)||Older relative-Younger relative|
|People of the same age||People with big age difference||People with big age difference (the young one uses usted)|
|*||Colleagues who know each other||Recent business acquaintances||Boss-subordinate|
|Person with high social status-Person with low social status. See below.|
|Use of tú when the other person expects (or should expect) usted shows disrespect. e.g. police officer to crime suspect|
* Depends a lot on the country