Vos vs Tú: A Los Pedos

So you’ve been listening to your Spanish lessons as you drive to work or as you exercise at the gym. You practice rolling your r’s in the mirror every morning. You’ve stuck stick-it notes on the items in your house to help build your vocabulary.  As you open the refrigerator, you mouth out the items: leche, agua, huevos, queso, jamon, yogur, uvas, manzanas. You make it a point to say “Hola” and “gracias” to your Latino neighbors. And then you land in Buenos Aires and realize they don’t speak Spanish here. 

It’s Castellano, or Rioplatense Spanish, a dialect of Spanish spoken in the areas of the River Plate, and it can be quite different. Mostly the pronunciation is different, but there are different words too. To me, Castellano has an Italian rhythm with a Brazilian Portuguese softness. Overly romanticized? That’s very possible, after all, we are talking about language, which ranks up there in my top three favorite topics.

So how can you prepare? Maybe we can help.

Vos vs  

In most Spanish-speaking countries, the pronoun for you (informal) is . In Argentina, they use vos. Whether the vos comes from Brazil’s você or from Spain’s vosotros isn’t clear, but don’t worry if you use , Argentines will still understand you. You only need to know that when they use vos, they’re talking to you.

Conjugating with Vos

It would be much easier if all one had to do to speak Castellano were change the  to vos. But as luck would have it, the verbs are also different. For example, in most Spanish-speaking countries to ask where a person is from you would say “¿De donde eres tu?” In Castellano it’s “¿De donde sos vos?” Notice that the two verbs–eres and sos–are completely different. 

There aren’t too many verbs that change so drastically. In most cases, it’s the accent and maybe a missing vowel that accounts for the difference between verb forms and vos verb forms. Actually, the vos verb forms are easier. Drop the final -r on the verb, add an -s, and put the accent on the final syllable. Simple.

Verb                                           Vos                                           Tú

ser (to be)                                   vos sos                                     tú eres

estar (to be)                                vos estás                                  tú estás

tener (to have)                            vos tenés                                  tú tienes

querer (to want)                          vos querés                               tú quieres

venir (to come)                           vos venís                                  tú vienes

decir (to say)                              vos decís                                  tú dices

pensar (to think)                        vos pensás                               tú piensas


Castellano a los Pedos

In our next blog post will cover the major pronunciation differences, but to have a little fun before getting serious again, let’s talk about the colloquialisms. 

Argentines have a very particular slang and they absolutely love to use it. Slang makes for some hilarious misunderstandings and that’s half the fun of learning another language. 

For example, a friend of mine got a new job. I called her after her first day to see how it went. She said it was fine, she spent the entire day al pedo. Pedo literally means fart. I had an image of my friend sitting at her new desk with nothing to do and farting all day. People would walk in and think, “boy, the new girl really stinks” or “I wonder what she had for dinner last night.” 

She’s a close friend, so felt I could ask her if her job was so dull that she spent the day forcing farts out to make the time pass faster. She explained that al pedo means something was a waste of time or effort. I still kind of like the image of her there in her new job farting away. In the end, I wasn’t that far off.

Other Pedo Expressions

  1. ni en pedo – no way
    “Hey, want to come with me to the laundromat?”
    Ni en pedo.”
  2. de pedo – by chance
    “So how did a guy like that get a girl like her?”
    De pedo.”
  3. a los pedos – very fast (literally it means to the farts which gives a nice visual)
    “He’s a crazy driver.”
    Siempre a los pedos.”
  4. cagar a pedos – to lecture or chew out (literally it means to shit farts, another visual but not so nice)
    “Did he yell at you when he fired you for farting all day?”
    Si, me cago a pedos.”
  5. al pedo – something that is a waste of time, money or effort
    “That guy just doesn’t get that you aren’t into him. What’s up with all the gifts?”
    Si, el está al pedo.” 

    “Want to come with me to Uruguay tomorrow?”
    Si, se estoy al pedo.” 



Filed under argentina, culture, customs, language

16 responses to “Vos vs Tú: A Los Pedos

  1. Vos actually originated in Spain – it is an archaic form that was brought to the Americas by the Spaniards. It was used in Spain as a formal second-person sing. address, but “usted” (coming from “vuestra merced”) later replaced it there. The Spanish word “vosotros” comes from “vos otros” – in other words, vos preceded vosotros, in which “otros” was added to address more than one person. Obviously there’s a lot more to the evolution and history of these pronouns, but that’s the general idea.

  2. Thanks for this great information Modern Tanguera. It’s so curious to me how all of the Latin-based languages have played around with the second-person pronouns (singular or plural, informal or formal).

    At first, Latin had only tu for adressing one person and vos for addressing two or more people. Then vos was used to address the emperor in the fourth century, which happened to be when there were actually two emperors (Rome and Constantinople). The evolution continued and of course affected all Latin-based languages. Even in Macedonia the singular-plural distinction (Ti-Vie) is changing. Vie is being used more and more for 2nd-person singular/polite.

    The part I find most interesting is the sociolinguistic reasoning behind a choice. In Italian, for example, there are several ways to address someone: tu, Lei, voi, Loro. Voi can be either plural/informal or singular/formal. Lei is usually third-person singular for women, but can also be used as second-person singular/formal. When Voi and Lei are 2nd-person singular/formal, it’s the level of respect and whether the speaker is from a rural or urban background that dictates the use. In the country, you’re more likely to hear people use Voi and in the city you’ll hear Lei. Voi is seen as archaic, which according to some is also more polite. You could even use Loro (which would typically be plural in a singular situation). There’s so much information embedded in the choice that it’s mind-boggling.

    Back to the vos in Argentina. While the word originally comes from Spain and was used in Spain as it is used here, it wasn’t being used that way when the Spaniards arrived here. The first Spaniards to arrive didn’t use vos. Some sociolinguists have questioned whether Spanish speakers here may have begun using vos again because their nearest neighbors spoke Portuguese and used você. To me it makes sense. The vos existed, was easy enough to switch back to, and probably made communication with Portuguese speakers a bit simpler.

    Alright, I could go on forever and it would all be al pedo anyway. Thanks for commenting. Take care!

  3. Actually – in Italian, the whole “voi” thing as formal second person is something you can thank Mussolini for, who declared it effeminate to use “lei”…

    (A quote from socioligist Peter Berger:)

    “But Mussolini made a speech in which he said that the use of is a sign of effeminacy, a degenerate way of speaking Italian. Since the purpose of the Fascist Revolution was to restore Roman virility to the Italian people, the good Fascist did not say ; the good Fascist said — from the Latin — which is the second person plural. From that point on, everyone who used or was conscious of being engaged in a political act.”

    So the use of “Lei” was considered an anti-Fascist gesture, while “Voi” was more supportive of the Fascists.

    Now, nobody uses “Voi” unless they are a lot older or live in rural areas, but even then it’s sort of rare. “Lei” is what’s commonly used. (I lived there for a while and work in the Italian language so am obsessed with stuff like this).

    As for Castellano, that’s the only Spanish I speak as I learned it here in Buenos Aires, but I’m trying really hard to remember “tu” as well, in case I wind up in other Spanish-speaking countries… 🙂

    Great article!

  4. Ooooh you lived in Italy too! Well, in that case I *must* add you to my blogroll 🙂

  5. Wow. I had no idea the “Voi” was thanks to Mussolini. I heard contadini in the country using Voi and the landowner speaking to them used Voi as well. I used Lei with everyone, so I asked her why they used Voi. She left out the fascism part, which is sort of odd because she lived through WWII. Her father was arrested by the fascists, and her uncle, who was a fascist, had to hide out in her family’s basement during the end of the war. She was always my greatest source of information during my years in Italy… absolutely amazing stories.

    Their basement held 300 families and was connected to other houses via an underground tunnel. The tunnel is now filled with water, but her father had tried to flee the black-shirted zealots via the tunnel. He got caught.

    Thanks for adding this information. Sounds like you and I have a lot in common. So glad you liked the article.

    Take care Tina!

  6. stilllifeinbuenosaires

    To take all of this cerebral discourse down a notch, you have me repeating “vamos a pedo” as I walk through the streets now! : )

  7. Tina, thanks for adding us to your blogroll!

    Still Life…. talk about bring us back to the practical side of all of this. As long as you’re saying “a pedo” and not doing it, I’ll walk with you again. Had a great time last night at Due Ladroni!

  8. You know, it’s odd because the older I get the more fascinating I find sociolinguistics. I mean, even in English it’s fascinating to consider how you=usted and thou=tú and how we’ve lost the hierarchy that once existed in our language to distinguish between class, profession, intimacy. In the village I was teaching in in West Africa, everyone used the French “tu” instead of “vous,” even though the latter is a sign of respect. And yet I find that “tu” brought people together, it was used with the assumption of community, and “vous” was used both for distinction, foreigness and to create distance. And yet, in Colombia, parents address even their kids with “usted.” Fascinating shit.

  9. Age does have its advantages! Thanks for adding those examples… the idea of solidarity in W. Africa with the use of one pronoun for all levels of society really appeals to me. I’ve never liked the classicism that goes with the formal/informal you’s.

    It’s strange to me that parents and children would be so formal with one another in Colombia. Makes you wonder what their relationships are like? In Italy the formal pronoun was used with grandparents. I always wondered how little kids figured it out. How did they know with whom to use the formal or informal? I guess they were instructed by their parents, but I was having such a hard time with it and the kids weren’t.

    I guess in English, since thou is gone, we use other terms: like calling a man you don’t know “sir” vs “dude.” Or the fact that my mom calls her mom “Mother.” “Yes, Mother.” Yuck, it’s so stuffy and distant.

  10. Castellano is not only spoken in Argentina, but all “spanish/castellano” speaking countries. Labelling the language “spanish” was like a marketing ploy according to my basque born “spanish” teacher, because each region has their own dialect, and most people would not know where the language castellano was spoken, because you know most people don´t know how to read maps or such as find NY city on it, and therefore we should, such as, send aid to Africa, so they could learn how to read maps, such as…and it would stop the spread of AIDS and bring world peace 🙂

  11. Hey Miss Tango… that’s interesting about your Basque-born teacher. I remember that from high school. We were taught that there were four Spanishes spoken in Spain. Castilian was the one we were being taught. But it wasn’t Castellano in the sense of the Rioplatense dialect. Actually, I think we were taught Mexican by our Catholic brother.

    Anyway, the Spanish spoken outside of Spain is more similar to Castilian than say Catalan. It would be more accurate if Argentines said they spoke Rioplatense and all Spanish-speakers said they spoke Castellano.

    For an analogy, it’s as if we said we didn’t speak English but instead called it Londonian or some other area in England. Then we could say that really everyone speaks Londonian. Even people in Australia speak Londonian. I guess we could say the differences between Rioplatense and Castilian Spanish are somewhat similar to the differences between English dialects, say Australian English vs. North American English. I bet for English learners, they seem like two very different languages, just like Castellano and Spanish sometimes do.

    As far as map reading goes… I hear ya sister. I once lived in Panama and a friend was coming to visit who thought Panama was in the U.S. She might have been thinking of Panama City, Florida. Anyway, she didn’t have a passport and didn’t get one before coming. She got on the plane somehow without a passport and the Panamanian authorities let her in the country with her driver’s license. I guess telling her we actually went to war with Panama was pretty pointless. Oh brother…

  12. Some people are just blessed with a whole lot of ignorance. I have a few friends like that, they are such a happy lot.

  13. Filologo

    Hey, nice blog.
    “Castellano is not only spoken in Argentina, but all “spanish/castellano” speaking countries. Labelling the language “spanish” was like a marketing ploy according to my basque born “spanish” teacher, because each region has their own dialect, and most people would not know where the language castellano was spoken, because you know most people don´t know how to read maps or such as find NY city on it, and therefore we should, such as, send aid to Africa, so they could learn how to read maps, such as…and it would stop the spread of AIDS and bring world peace”
    This the truth. Castillian o castellano is actually what in english is named “spanish language”.
    And, please, dont take wikipedia so seriously.
    A dialect isnt about a word or two, if that were the case, only uk would speak english language, and usa dont, because there is the word tube in uk and subway in usa, lorrie and truck, etc.. Or in australia people wouldnt speak english due to their weird australian pronunciation.
    But if you think about spaniard dialects, you have el gallego, el leonéss,bable,andaluz,riojano,mozarabe,montañes o cantabro y del aragonés.
    We havent invented a new language (ye):P.
    Buen finde!!!

  14. I’m realizing I wasn’t very clear in my post about why I used the word castellano. I said “castellano” and not “Castilian” because Argentines say they speak “castellano” not “español.” I was trying to be a little humorous by saying Argentines don’t speak Spanish, they speak Castellano. And I linked to the wikipedia page because it’s a good explanation of just what Rioplatense Spanish is. Did you read that wikipedia page? It was the most clearly written and useful description online-not too academic or technical for those who just want an overview. Blogs, wikis, etc. aren’t authoritative sources, so people taking their information from them should always double-check the facts. But there are times when wikipedia gets it very right.

    The Englishes spoken in the UK, Australia, and the US are different dialects of the same language. The same is true for Rioplatense Spanish (called castellano by those who speak it). It’s a dialect of Spanish because not only are there differences in pronunciation, there are differences in vocabulary and grammar. I didn’t mean to imply that Argentines have invented a new language, although I have talked to a lot of tourists whose Spanish skills come from the dialect of Spanish spoken in the States that think it’s a totally new language when they first arrive. I personally love the fact that languages are so alive and malleable. How dull life would be if we were all alike.

    Hope you had a good weekend!

  15. Pingback: Enrolling at University of Buenos Aires « Still Life in Buenos Aires

  16. Anquises

    1. El voseo (el cambio en la conjugación de la segunda persona del presente y el imperativo de los verbos):
    tú miras / vos mirás
    mira /mirá,
    no aparece solo en los países rioplatenses sino en casi todos los países latinoamericanos -con la excepción del Perú y los hispanoparlantes del Caribe. En la Argentina y Paraguay la sustitución es completa, en los demás países es parcial o solo se halla en algunas regiones.
    También hay un cambio en la conjugación de la segunda persona del plural:
    Vosotros miráis / Ustedes miran
    Mirad / Miren

    Aquellos que han aprendido el español que se habla en Perú, en casi todo México o en España, no deben preocuparse por estas variantes: serán perfectamente entendidos en cualquier país de idioma español, de modo que, en principio, no tienen por qué cambiar nada. Los españoles que vienen a la Argentina o los argentinos que van a España nunca lo hacen. En cuanto a las expresiones vulgares, lo mejor es no utilizarlas hasta que uno tenga dominio completo del lenguaje (si alguna vez necesita decir algo subido de tono, hágalo en su propio idioma, no hay nada más tranquilizador que los juramentos en lengua materna 🙂
    2. La lengua oficial de la Argentina es el castellano o español. En la Argentina se sigue utilizando la primera palabra en los libros de texto de las escuelas, aunque es un poco anticuada. Las primeras 14 ediciones del diccionario de la Real Academia Española (de la que ahora forman parte 22 academias de países hispanoparlantes) llevaban el título “Diccionario de la lengua Castellana”, pero desde 1925 el diccionario se llama “Diccionario de la lengua Española”. Tal vez sería apropiado imitar a los angloparlantes y llamar “española” (spanish) a nuestra lengua.

    My two 5 pesos bills (sorry, but I need my cents for the ‘colectivo’)

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