Formal vs Informal

Hello everybody!

Today I got to think about personal pronouns and how they are used differently according to the language you speak. I’ll clarify. I’m referring in particular to the personal pronouns (You-second person singular and plural/he/she) that we use in both formal and informal contexts. In our daily conversations using the correct form is important because it can denote intimacy, distance or higher/lower social rank. I speak four other languages, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Norwegian, and I’d like to explain very briefly below the use of these pronouns in formal vs informal situations.

In Italian, we use the pronoun lei (third person singular) in formal situations and we use it with people we don’t know, such as authorities or high-level professionals. In a conversation with friends and family, we use tu (you, second person singular) instead.

In Spanish, they use usted (you) as a formal pronoun. I’ve lived seven years in Spain and if you have ever had the chance to get to know Spanish people or live in their wonderful country you’ll have perhaps noticed how friendly these people are. In fact, even if the formal pronoun should have been used in formal situations, using an informal pronoun such tú (you) is still okay. But I did meet people, such as professors, who still like to use the formal way.

Instead, in some countries of Latin America, they still use usted even in informal instances or vos (you) from voseo (this is the use of the pronouns vos in place of tú or vosotros in combination with the verb conjugated in the 2nd person plural) .

In Norway, du (you) is always used no matter the context or social rank, like in English today. The form de is a very old form which is not used anymore, as thee in English.

In Portuguese, the general rule is the same as in Spanish : tu (you) for informal situations, você (you) for formal situations. But in Brasil they always use the formal way você/vocês (you-second person singular and plural) for both formal and informal situations. 

Personally, I like to use the informal way as in Norwegian and in English, I feel comfortable with it because I think that giving importance to social rank or expressing distance is not necessary.  Respect should not be defined by grammar or by the use of formal pronouns. We can respect someone simply by using the right words.

How amazing are languages? And how hard is it to learn and remember all those rules?

What do you prefer to use: formal or informal way? What do you think?

I would love to read your opinions.  

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