Have you ever come across a student who is inquisitive about every aspect of the Spanish language? I know I have come across students who want to know more about the etymology of a certain word. Sometimes as tutors we may not know directly off the top of our heads how a word came to be, but we may turn their questions into an interesting online scavenger hunt. After our search, we may end up with multiple theories about how a word came to be or why it is used a certain way in a sentence. If the latter is the case, and if it falls under the umbrella category of idiomatic expressions, then I explain that it is an expression that sounds natural to a native speaker of the language. Many times learning a foreign language is all about immersing oneself in the language and not beating oneself up in trying to literally translate every phrase into English. One concept that triggers students’ curiosity is when they first learn about the subject pronouns in Spanish. For those who learned Spanish in school, remember when your Spanish teacher said, “Don’t worry about vosotros…”?
Well, even though vosotros is only used in Spain, I still believe explaining its meaning and how it came to be is an important concept to mention to any student who is beginning to learn the language. In any standardized Spanish verb chart, vosotros is still going to be on there. Knowing the differences between the subject pronouns helps the student tremendously in acquiring the language. The English you in Spanish has tú (singular you) and vosotros (plural you), both of which come directly from Latin. In Latin, the plural form of you was vos, and the -otros ending was added in Spanish to get vosotros (and also nosotros for we) during Medieval times. However, the vos emigrated to Latin America during the colonial period and for a time, the tú and vos were in constant competition. That is why in certain parts of Central and South America, speakers use vos instead of tú, and the vos conjugations are not all the same
The other singular and plural form of you in Spanish, and the one taught explicitly in class, is usted and ustedes. This word came to be because of the expression vuestra merced, which is what one used in Medieval times in Spain when addressing a person from royalty. It is like saying “your honor” in English. Over time the expression gradually lost some of its letters and syllables and became usted and ustedes (vUeSTra mercED). Even though usted and ustedes are technically the second singular and plural form of you respectively, they conjugate in third person singular and plural form in Spanish. So, tú and vosotros on a verb chart would correspond to second person, whereas usted and ustedes would share a box with él, ella, ellos, and ellas (he, she, they).
Overall, the dreaded vosotros shouldn’t be forgotten. It is still an important subject pronoun, and students should still study it even if they have no intention of traveling to Spain. Students still encounter it at some point in their Spanish language studies, as it is used quite often in Spanish literature and culture. So, students should be able to recognize it and know what it means. I would even challenge them to memorize the vosotros verb conjugations. It gets interesting with the commands! ¡Aprended de memoria!