¿De dónde SOS?, ¿Cuántos años TENÉS?, ¿Y VOS?.
These questions quickly confront anyone who comes to Buenos Aires or any other city in the vicinity of Rio del Plata.
Even if you are an experienced Spanish speaker you may be surprised when you first hear these pronouns and verb forms. So what in the world is VOS?
“VOS” is the second-person singular pronoun – it replaces the more common pronoun “TÚ” that is used in most other Spanish-speaking countries. It is the equivalent of the English “YOU” when used to address a single individual. VOS has its own set of verb conjugations that are distinct from those used with other pronouns.
Vos sos una buena persona. (Here “sos” replaces “eres” that is normally used with “TÚ”)
You are a good person.
Note that “VOS” is the informal form of address. For formal means of addressing a single individual use “USTED” the same way it is used in Spain or other Spanish-speaking countries. The use of “VOS” is referred to as “voseo”. In Argentina it replaces “TÚ” completely. You will never hear anyone use “TÚ” in Buenos Aires (but people will understand you perfectly if you use it).
VOS and Standard Spanish
Sometimes students looking for a Spanish course get concerned that Argentinian Spanish is non-standard. “Will I be able to speak Spanish elsewhere if I learn all this VOS stuff?” – they wonder. In practice this is never a problem. First, all you have to know about VOS is described in this article. Secondly, if you learn Spanish in Argentina you will have no difficulty in understanding or using “TÚ”. All Spanish teachers in Argentina make it a point to teach both forms. Conversely, if you already learned Spanish elsewhere Argentinians will understand you perfectly.
Conjugations of VOS.
When using vos, verbs are conjugated differently in just two cases: Indicativo Presente and Imperativo Affirmativo. All other conjugations are the same as “TÚ”.
VOS in Indicativo Presente.
The Indicativo Presente form of VOS is actually easier to remember than that of any other pronoun. It always follows on simple rule:
1. Replace the last “R” with “S”
2. Add an accent over the last vowel.
Accordingly the VOS form of a verb is pronounced differently than “TÚ” because stress is always on the last syllable. Here are the conjugations for VOS in Indicativo Presente.
There is only one exception: Indicativo Presente of the verb SER for VOS is SOS.
Tú eres medico.
Vos sos medico.
You are a doctor.
VOS in Imperativo Affirmativo.
The formation of Imperativo Affirmativo for VOS is also very easy. The rule is as follows:
1. Drop the last “R”
2. Add an accent over the last vowel.
Accordingly the VOS form is pronounced with the stress always in the last syllable. Here are the
conjugations of regular verbs in Imperativo Affirmativo:
There is only one exception: the Imperativo Affirmativo conjugation of IR is ANDÁ. Here are conjugations in Imperativo Affirmativo for some common irregular verbs.
Note: In Imperativo Negativo VOS is conjugated the same way as “TÚ”.
The History of VOS
VOS comes from the second person plural pronoun YOU in Latin (also VOS). Around V century the plural form VOS started to be used to address the Roman Emperor as a sign of respect because the Emperor represents the people.
Later his use of plural YOU has spread to other social groups as a general form of
polite address. Many languages still retain this influence.
For example in French the plural VOUS is used to address a single person in a formal way.
In Spain and it’s colonies the use of VOS evolved to replace TÚ even in informal contexs such as among friends and family.
Thus VOS lost its original purpose as a means of polite address of people in authority.
The Spanish aristocracy then came up with a new mode of polite address VUESTRA MERCED which later
with time became abbreviated into the now common USTED.
With the rise of USTED as a formal way of address TÚ made a comeback in Spain and regained its
original use as a familiar form of YOU. The use of VOS correspondingly declined. However, the countries such as Argentina that were less connected to the Spanish Empire and thus were less
influenced by its fashions have retained the use of VOS for the familiar form of address
that was common when the country was originally settled.