Excuse me if this question sounds familiar, but I've searched and couldn't find what I desired.

In the Spanish second-person, there is usted (formal), (familiar), and ustedes (plural for both).

In Argentina, the role of is usurped by vos, and in Spain, the role of the familiar ustedes is (usually) usurped by vosotros.

With these verbs comes different conjugation:

  • You are
  • Usted es
  • Tú eres
  • Ustedes son
  • Vos sos
  • Vosotros sois

I'm not a native Spanish speaker but these all seem very natural to me now, and when using them you can understand how they came to be and why they exist in the way they do.

I'm helping my friend with his Spanish and I've told him that there are a few concepts in Spanish that don't exist in English and can't really be translated, diversity in second-person pronouns being one of them.

This got me thinking, though. Are there any English dialects where you isn't simply used for any possible reference to the second-person? Y'all is often considered as a rough approximation of ustedes and vosotros. Is this as far as it goes? Any others? And what's so different about English that causes it to not develop in the way that Spanish does?

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    In various places in the USA, "yiz, y'all, youse, you guys, youse guys," etc. are common in colloquial lects. In England, there are plenty of places, especially in the Northern counties, where no American is likely to recognize any of the pronouns without a local guide. Moreover, local usage of and usted varies, as well. In Mexican Spanish usted is reserved for very important people, and is used with almost everybody, though ustedes is the normal plural. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 17:14
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    Related regarding formal/respectful forms: Did English ever have a formal version of “you”?, “Thou” or “You”? This is the problem!, In what region is “thou”, etc. used in dialect?. Hmm, should we have a tag for T-V distinction?
    – choster
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 17:23
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    You missed one version: the original vos sois or vos podéis instead of the Rioplantense norm of vos sos or vos podés; it’s an archaic 2nd-person-formal now reserved ironic or affected use with kings and popes and such. The entire voseo situation is actually unbelievably more complicated than “oh, just replace with vos” might lead you to believe. Concordance, especially of clitics, is nearly peculiar to each region, and subjunctives might switch. There’re even places in America with three-way opposition between tú, vos, and Usted.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 18:26
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Yes, that’s right. See the referenced article for places where “a three-tiered system is used, that indicates the degree of respect or trust: usted, tú, vos. Usted expresses distance and respect; corresponds to an intermediate level, expressing familiarity, but not deep trust; vos remains the pronoun of maximum familiarity and solidarity, and also lack of respect.” This is like Iberian Portuguese’s unofficial o/a senhor/a → você → tu sequence. The only thing like 3-way for plural would be los señores → Ustedes → vosotros in Spain, but the first is waiter-talk. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


Are there any English dialects where you isn't simply used for any possible reference to the second-person? Y'all is often considered as a rough approximation of ustedes and vosotros. Is this as far as it goes? Any others?

There are still a few spots of dialects left in the northern parts of the UK and Scotland where a different second person singular pronoun, the modern development of the older standard thou, has persisted in various forms, mostly pronounced [ða] or [ðə], sometimes [ðɛ].

As John Lawler says in his comment, there are many more variations than just y’all; y’all just happens to be the most common one. I don’t think there are any English-speaking areas that don’t have some kind of ‘double plural’ to mark a specifically plural you, be it y’all, yiz, youse, y’uns, yous’uns, all y’all, or even the almost comical alls y’alls’uns, which by my count marks its pluralness no less than five (!) times.

And what's so different about English that causes it to not develop in the way that Spanish does?

Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

You see, every single language on the planet develops in its own, unique way.

  • Some develop an intricate, elaborate, and confusing system of pronouns (Japanese, for example, has an intricate system of pronouns that depend on both the gender and social status of, as well as the speaker’s attitude towards not only the speaker and the addressee, but also the physical antecedent of the pronoun);
  • others develop very simple systems (standard Mandarin—if we exclude various dialectal or extremely formulaic forms, as well as artificial orthographical choices—has no case, gender, or numerus distinctions and makes do with just three in total, one for each person);
  • and others yet never develop a system of personal pronouns at all (Vietnamese, for example, uses conventionalised nouns rather than actual pronouns).

So it’s not that there is something ‘different’ about English that makes it not develop like Spanish, but rather that they’re different languages and therefore, quite unavoidably, develop in different ways.

As it happens, I would say that they have developed in very similar ways. They have both gotten rid of nearly all case forms throughout the language, but maintained a greater level of case distinction in the personal pronouns than elsewhere (Spanish maintaining three cases in some pronouns, English managing only two); and if we limit ourselves to at least some voseo-speaking areas, they have also both gone through a shift where the second person plural became used to signify politeness, followed by the singular being perceived as impolite and subsequently all but dropped entirely; and the original plural being then used mainly as a singular, from which a separate plural must be secondarily formed.

If you ask me, that’s quite a parallel thing to do—though it must be mentioned that it is in no way a rare thing for Indo-European languages to do. Rather the opposite.


English developed differently from Spanish because of their origins. Spanish is almost exclusively a Romance language, arising from Latin. English is only partly derived from Latin. It also has roots in Germanic, Celtic & Anglo-Saxon languages, which give it different verb forms, sentence structures and pronouns, among other things.

  • This is not an answer to the question. It should just be a comment.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 17:50
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    This is in fact (intended to be) a partial answer to the question, specifically to "And what's so different about English that causes it to not develop in the way that Spanish does?" Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 17:58
  • Per Tolkien, an authority on such matters if ever there was one, there’s no such thing as a language named “Anglo-Saxon”. And English has much more Norse influence in it than it has Celtic. Both Old English and Old Norse are Germanic languages, so that covers both bases.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 18:05
  • Various modern Celtic and Germanic languages also have vos forms, so simply noting that English is not a Romance language does not explain its lack of one.
    – choster
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 18:08
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    Spanish is not ‘almost’ exclusively a Romance language—it is a Romance language. English does not derive from Latin at all, nor does it have roots in Celtic languages—it is a Germanic language, and it has its roots in Anglo-Saxon languages, which form one section of the Germanic languages. @choster What exactly do you mean by vos forms here? Specifically plural forms (= vosotros)? Or singular, informal forms not based on a t-initial pronoun? If the latter, then I don’t think there are any modern Celtic or Germanic languages that have counterparts. Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 18:35

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