Should you use tú or usted? For the native English speaker, the choice of tú or usted can be problematic. Teachers sometimes advise you to go with usted if in doubt, but this only works well in genuine borderline cases. Native Spanish speakers, not being linguistic outsiders, are generally unable to give reliable guidance on the matter.
Candle for San Judas Tadeo, Jude the Apostle, Mexico City
The best advice I can give here is that you should observe which forms are used by the people around you and in which situations they use them. Even so, just because your friend uses tú with his mother doesn’t mean that you automatically should (or shouldn’t). And since not all relationships are reciprocal, you can’t simply use the same form that others use with you. Keep in mind that it is possible to give offense using usted when tú would be appropriate. I’ve been corrected curtly for erring in both directions. Appeals to your status as a learner will unfortunately not engender much sympathy.
Hablar de tú
In school you learned that tutear means use the tú form (rather than usted). For humorous effect, you could say No me tutees, que no somos iguales. However, colloquially you are more likely to hear hablar de tú.
- Háblame de tú, por favor. Please use tú with me.
Note the nominative form here. Hablar de ti is grammatical, of course, but means something different: speak about you.
As you can imagine, hablar de usted can mean either talk about you or use the usted form. Context will determine which meaning is intended.
— ¿Por qué me hablas de usted? Why do you use usted with me?
— Por ranchero, me imagino. Because I’m shy, I suppose. Because I come from a pueblo.
The noun trato also makes an appearance in this area:
- Señor Guitiérrez, el trato de usted es más apropiado. It would best if you used usted with me. (a high school teacher speaking to her student, telenovela dialogue)
You can also use the verb tratar: tratarlo de tú or tratarla de tú = hablarle de tú.
See also: usted tranquilo