Hello everybody! As usual, I am going to tell you some stories about someone's saga learning the Portuguese language and stuff. But this time the main character is going to be a little bit different. The character in this article is… Me!!!
Yeah! Native speakers can also have some nice experiences with their own languages... So, let me tell you five short stories about Li and the controversial tu versus você. Wow! It will be funny to talk about me as the character in my own article. Let's see!
Story #1: Memories of school
First of all, you will need to understand what exactly você and tu mean in this context. To explain it, I will tell you what Li learned when she was at school:
Tu is a personal pronoun. It is a second person singular pronoun and it usually has a subject function or is predictive of the subject function. The plural form of tu is vós. To give you an example, if you want to tell to someone that he/she is smart, you can tell him/her: “tu és inteligente.”
Você is the contraction of vossa mercê. This is a treatment pronoun that is used when someone talks to another person (a second person), but it requires third person agreement with the verb. The plural form of você is vocês. For example: “você é muito educado” means "you are very polite". There are a lot of treatment pronouns in Portuguese (like senhor, vossa senhoria, vossa excelência, etc.) and você is the least formal of them all.
At this point, try not to focus on which region each one is used in, but instead on what situations they should be used in. Tu as a second person pronoun should be used to indicate to whom you are talking. Você also has this function, but provides a more polite way of treatment.
The lesson to this story… Both tu and você can be translated into “you” in English and both can be used to indicate to whom you are talking. This is valid for any country that uses Portuguese. So, independent of your target region, it is a good idea for you to have at least a basic idea of both.
Story #2: Born among tu
Li was born in Brazil. So, in her early conversations she was used to hearing people say tu.
"Wait! Wait! Wait!!!!!", you may say. Maybe you've often heard something like "in Brazil people use only você.” So how could people use tu to talk to Li?
Well, Li was born in the capital of Paraíba state, a city called João Pessoa. This state is in the northeastern region of Brazil (in Portuguese, this is called nordeste). In this region, the majority of people use tu. The region has nine states. As Li has relatives in some states belonging to this region, you can imagine how many times Li heard tu.
All these years talking to people from this region, she noticed that although many people use tu by conjugating the verbs in the correct way, many people had the habit of using tu with verbs in the third-person. Something like this: “tu vai para onde?” This is incorrect grammar, which is used to say “Where are you going?” The correct conjugation would be: “tu vais…”.
The lesson of this story… Tu is used in Brazil too. And even though many people may use tu with the third-person conjugation, it is totally wrong! So, if you are in a region that uses tu and prefer to adopt it to blend in with the locals or with your co-workers, remember how to use it properly.
Story #3: Introduction to the popular você
When she was three years old, Li's parents moved to São Paulo city, the capital of São Paulo state. This state makes up part of the southeastern (sudeste) region of Brazil. There are four states in total. The sudeste region has the most popular television channels, the most populated cities, etc., and there, você is widely used. In this region, the use of tu has practically disappeared.
The interesting thing that Li noticed about Brazilian regions that use você, is that você has lost it’s sense of treatment pronoun and has assumed the role of a personal pronoun instead of tu to talk to family, friends and even to talk to people that are not so close. But, they still need a pronoun to help when they want to show some respect. For example, when a younger person meets an older person for the first time, sometimes they do not feel comfortable using você. Also, when people need to talk to someone in authority they do not use você. So, in some situations people adopt another treatment pronoun, o senhor or its feminine form a senhora.
The lesson to this story... Você is more common in Brazil. It has become the standard on TV and it is used in the most populated regions in the country. So, it's the best option if you prefer to use the most popular phrasing. But, remember that in some situations that require formal or even semi-formal treatments, people prefer to use senhor because você can sometimes be considered improper.
Story #4: Você vs. tu and travelling in Brazil
Eventually, Li grew up and was able to visit other regions. The first one was Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul state. This state is in the south (sul) region of Brazil. Li was impressed by the number of people saying tu. Actually, almost everyone used the second-person conjugation in Porto Alegre. Well, she was even more impressed when, in this same state, she visited another city called Caxias do Sul. People used você all the time there.
Some time after, still in the sul region, she visited some cities in Santa Catarina state and she noticed that they often used the second-person conjugation, but always omitted the pronoun. For example, they said “fizeste aquela rota?” (did you take that route?).
Well, I have to tell you that her impression that almost everybody used tu in the Sul region died completely as soon as she visited those cities in Paraná state where people used você all the time.
But, the big surprise came when she visited some cities in Bahia state. This state is located in a region very familiar to her, the nordeste region. Remember? In the majority of cities in Bahia state, people use você.
What about the capital of the country? Yes, Brasília city, that is in the central (centro-oeste) region. This region has four states (including the Federal District). Li noticed that the majority of people that she knows in the centro-oeste region used você.
She also had contact with people from the northern (norte) region of Brazil, where the famous Amazonas state is located. There are seven states in that region. And it was very challenging to Li because in the norte region, even in the same city, some people use tu and some people use você.
But nothing, my friends, compares to Rio de Janeiro (in the sudeste region), where the same person can sometimes use tu and sometimes use você.
Oh! I almost forgot to mention that even where tu is not used, its corresponding oblique pronoun te and its corresponding possessive pronoun teu are still widely used.
The lesson to this story… Yes, the variation is crazy! My advice here is not to worry too much. You can feel free to use the one that makes you feel more comfortable according to the region.
Story #5: Você vs. tu and travelling in Portugal
After all this, imagine how curious Li was about the use of tu and você when she visited Portugal. She was used to talking to her Portuguese and Angolan friends in Brazil, and they always preferred to use tu and always conjugated it in the correct way (remember the second person, please!). Well, many things were confirmed and some things were real surprises...
She confirmed that tu and você have more complex uses in Portugal. Li noticed that choice is not random there because the option for tu and você is directly related to issues like hierarchy, status, age, gender and close relationships, etc. Tu is more commonly used for family, friends, long term colleagues or children/teenagers. The option for você indicates a certain distance when compared to tu, even when it does not reach the formality of senhor.
Something new to Li was when she saw an old woman talking to an old man called Manuel. She said “O Manuel já leu este livro?” (Did Manual already read this book?). Li only heard this once while in Portugal, but it is something that she had never heard in Brazil.
Now the big surprise to Li was to notice that people didn't use vós in Portugal. For the plural, people prefered to use vocês. Some of her friends told her that in north of the country some people use vós, but in the major part of the country this pronoun is only used in religious contexts (like in Brazil). But, when using possessives, people used vós corresponding to the pronoun vosso.
The lesson to this story… If you are learning Portuguese to live or work in Portugal or the other countries that use European Portuguese (like Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde), you should get into the habit of using tu because it is the most widely used there.
I hope this article gave you an idea of where people use tu and where people use você. This information can be very useful because you can tailor your studies according to your needs.
For example, the conjugation of verbs is something that is very important in Portuguese. So, if you are learning Portuguese to study in São Paulo, Brazil, you can focus your studies on the third-person conjugation. But, if you are learning Portuguese to work in Lisbon, Portugal, you can focus on the second-person conjugation.
If you have any experience of using você or tu, please share it in the comments section below.