Voseo

Early Old Spanish inherited from Latin the practice of using the 2nd person plural subject pronoun vos as a singular deferential term of address (as happens today in modern French with vous). In the 12th century epic Poema de Mio Cid, for example, the Cid entrusts his standard to his knight Pero Bermúdez using the following language: E vos, Pero Vermuez, la mi seña tomad ‘And you, Pero Bermúdez, take my insignia’ (line 689).

Old Spanish forms of address
Non-deferential Deferential
Singular
tu
vos
Plural
vos
vos

Gradually, however, vos lost its deferential value, while retaining its capacity for singular reference, meaning it came to be effectively synonymous with tu. As a consequence, from about the 15th century onwards, vos was replaced in its deferential function by the honorific vuestra merced ‘your Grace’, which was inflected in the plural to vuestras mercedes.Map showing distribution of voseo

In its (now largely familiar) plural function, vos underwent agglutination to otros ‘others’, yielding the modern 2nd person plural pronoun vosotros and in the singular it was for some time in competition with . During the Golden Age and the colonial period, this competition was resolved differently in different areas, with emerging triumphant in Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico and Peru, vos being preferred in Central America and the Southern Cone, and other regions retaining both forms.

Over the same period, vuestra merced came to be contracted to usted (intermediate forms such as vuesarced, vucé etc. are common in the plays of Calderón, for example) with ustedes emerging as an analogical plural. This latter form acquired non-deferential value throughout Latin America, as well as in western Andalusia and the Canaries, thereby preventing vosotros from taking root in those areas. 

Vos itself is normally used in the modern era with verb forms that descend from the Old Spanish 2nd person plural verb endings (reflecting its origin as a pronoun that was plural in terms of its number). Except in the preterite, these Old Sp. plural verb forms ended in -ades, -edes and -ides. The d (pronounced [ð]) in these endings was ultimately lost, in the 15th century for forms stressed on the penultimate syllable and in the 17th century for forms stressed on the antepenultimate syllable. The resulting hiatus was resolved either through dissimilation ([e] > [j]) or assimilation ([e] > [a/e/i] > Æ). Except in the -ir conjugation, where such endings were the only ones available, the assimilated endings were abandoned in the Peninsula but they prevailed in the voseante areas of Latin America. In those regions, then, the forms shown in the table below may be encountered, although the future tense endings and to a lesser extent those for the present subjunctive are often replaced by the corresponding endings. Note also that, through normal sound change, the vos endings that descend from forms that were stressed on the antepenultimate syllable (i.e. the imperfect, the past subjunctive and the conditional) coincide exactly with the corresponding forms.

 

The erstwhile plural verb forms of modern voseo
(Old Spanish etyma shown in parentheses)

 

-ar

-er

-ir

Pres. ind.

cantás
(cantades)

comés
(comedes)

vivís
( vivides)

Pres. subj.

cantés
(cantedes)

comás
(comades)

vivás
(vivades)

Imperfect

cantabas
(cantávades)

comías
(comíades)

vivías
(vivíades)

Past. subj.

cantaras
(cantárades)

comieras
(comiérades)

vivieras
(viviérades)

Past. subj.

cantases
(cantássedes)

comieses
(comiéssedes)

vivieses
( viviéssedes)

Future

cantarés
(cantaredes)

comerés
(comeredes)

vivirés
(viviredes)

Cond.

cantarías
(cantaríades)

comerías
(comeríades)

vivirías
(viviríades)

 

The usual modern vos imperative (cantá ‘sing’, comé ‘eat’, salí ‘come out’ etc.) also appears to be the outcome of assimilation. Modern Peninsular -ad, -ed and -id stem from the Latin plural endings -āte, -ēte, -ĭte, -īte through the voicing of [-t-] and the apocope of [-e]. The voseante forms have an identical source, but what seems to have happened in their case is that the [ð] resulting from the voicing of Latin /t/ in intervocalic position was lost and the subsequent hiatus was resolved through assimilation: [kantaðe] > [kantae] > [kanta] cantá etc. Assimilated imperatives were common in the Peninsula until the early modern period, surviving there only when followed by enclitic os (e.g. acordaos ‘remember!’).

 

In the preterite, usage varies between forms ending in -ste (as in vos cantaste) and forms ending in -stes (as in vos cantastes). The latter may simply be the old 2nd person plural endings or they may be the outcome of the analogical addition of final [s] to the endings. Forms ending in -ste are generally preferred by educated speakers.

 

Finally, in the perfect, has is the usual form of the auxiliary used with vos. The archaism habís may still be encountered at the vernacular level in rural areas, however.

 

The clitic pronouns and possessives that correspond to vos are the same as for (see examples (1) and (2) below), but vos occurs as the object of a preposition (see example (3)):

 

(1)     ¿Te acordás de mí? (‘Do you remember me?’)

(2)     ¿Vos creés que en tu casa no se habrán dado cuenta? (‘Do you think that in your house they won’t have realized.’)

(3)     Claro, como todos viven pendientes de vos. (‘Of course, as everyone’s life centres around you.’)