Você vs. O senhor / A senhora

I’ve read that “você” is not used as much in European Portuguese as it is in Brazilian Portuguese. Is this true? Should I be using “o senhor / a senhora” in more formal contexts when I don’t know the listener well? I used “o senhor” with a man I had just met and he said it made it sound like I thought he was old. Would it be better to just drop the pronoun entirely?

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In Brazil, since “você” is actually the informal treatment, they do use it a lot. In Portugal, “você” is formal and many people do tend to avoid using the pronoun itself, for some reason*. “O senhor/a senhora” is a good formal alternative, but so is using no subject at all, as you suggested at the end. For example:

  • “O senhor vive aqui?” :white_check_mark: Full formal sentence.
  • “Vive aqui?” :white_check_mark: Still formal, but simplified sentence.

While I doubt that the man you met took offense at it, he does have a point about “o senhor/a senhora” making him feel old. People may not expect a full formal treatment unless they’re older in age (especially if significantly older than the person adressing them), or in some kind of advantageous position, such as a customer being served or someone hierarchically superior. When in doubt, just keep it simple and you should be safe!

*P.S.: No one will actually die if you use ‘você’ here and there :upside_down_face:

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I may have hallucinated it, but pretty sure people use “o senhor” with me when I’ve been a customer etc. So maybe that senhor was just more sensitive about his age than most, since you were just trying to be polite!

I agree with your instincts of just dropping the pronoun completely in most situations. That’s what I’ve done and it seems to work.

As to whether “você” should be used or not, avoiding it is safer when in doubt, especially if there are other options, (like when you know the person’s name or title etc)… that said, I believe this also varies depending on whom you ask. I had an older teacher at the Faculdade de Letras in Lisbon say that for him, using the pronoun você was an acceptable option for when you aren’t quite in the informal “tu” territory, but also don’t want to be too formal, like when you’re being served by a friendly, younger person in a café. I believe when I told @ruicoimbra, he disagreed with this idea of “você” being an informal-formal option (I should let him speak for himself!), but that’s just to say that there is never a super clear answer that all natives can give you.

As much as we hate to hear it, this comes with experience, and the best we can do is go with the options that work 80% of the time, then give them a cute estrangeiro smile when we inevitably mess up the other 20% of the time :innocent:

Molly, have you seen How to Address People Formally vs. Informally?


Would be curious to hear what you and others think, as it’s a living article that we’re improving over time. You’ll find infographics etc to help explore this formal/informal territory a bit further…

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Why have I never seen this before? This is awesome.

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There are some places in Brazil where you can use tu, but it is apparently not conjugated in the same way. You could say, for example, “tu pode” (you can). I find this especially confusing.

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You haven’t seen it because it’s buried in the Learning Notes that are assigned to individual lessons. But planning to bring more visibility to these Notes across the site soon!

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There have been a lot of Portuguese addressing me in emails as “O Sr. Josh”, and these same people will try to translate literally in their head when speaking on the phone with me. It comes across as a bit stilted: “Mr. Josh”. I don’t think anyone has addressed me like this in the US that I can recall.

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Haha yeah that’s super normal to be addressed as Senhor + first name. And it doesn’t sound as silly as it would in English.

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Yes, they mix up the two pronouns, but usually without adjusting the verb conjugation, so it’s mismatched. Even then, both tu and você will generally sound informal, except that one will be technically correct and the other won’t. A Brazilian friend of mine told me they don’t even notice those details, though. At this point, it’s fully integrated into their informal language.

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Isso ainda é estranho para mim, o Sr. Joel. :rofl:

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In my opinion and experience as a native, it is uncommon to see or hear a sentence like “Você fala inglês?”.

The reason why is because, when we conjugate the verb as if it followed “você” (3rd person of singular, the same conjugation form as ele/ela), usually we omit the word “você”.

We say:
“O Sr. fala inglês?” (very formal) or
“Fala inglês?” (less formal) - here we simply omit everything and just use the verb conjugated in a formal way, (3rd person singular) - or
“O João fala inglês?” (even less formal) - we use the name of the person instead of “você”

The formal treatment is the default for everyone you don’t know, or for people you have a professional relationship with. But if you already know the person, you would be creating unnecessary distance between them.

If you are friends with them or plan to be, then you should eventually end up using “tu”.

Interestingly, in the previous generations, children would talk to their parents as “você”, or rather, “A mãe quer água?” instead of “Tu queres água?”.

But nowadays it’s normal to use “tu”, except for perhaps some types of families who want their kids to be extra polite or understand the boundaries through that difference of treatment.

Even when I talk to my grandmother, I use “tu”. And this isn’t to show disrespect, it’s just a generational thing. My mother though still talks to her as “a mãe this and that” (formal, implying “você”).

When it comes to older people, it’s always a matter of your own judgment to decide if you should keep the formal treatment even after you two got really close. I have colleges in my job that I keep addressing in a formal way because they are either older. And also when they tell me: “Treat me with “tu”, we have the same position, it doesn’t make sense, etc…”, to me it still sounds awkward if they are much older than me.

Now with kids, you usually use “tu”, even if you don’t know them, but again, some families treat their kids with “você” (the verbs are conjugated that form, but the “você” word is omitted don’t forget). And in those cases they expect strangers to talk to their kids the same way. Some of those families even treat their pets with formal treatment! (I know…)

But notice that it still sounds weird for the majority of the population and most people interpret it as just an attempt to establish some kind of status.

We use “tu” a lot in the Learning Studio because chances are you may spend a lot of time with friends and possibly family. And since all the Brazilian materials out there have you practicing “você”, we decided to place slightly less emphasis on it.

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We do get a lot of members asking us if it is considered rude to use “você”. And some of them mention that in the area where they live at in Portugal, they hear it sometimes between natives, so they get confused.

I wouldn’t say it is rude, or an insult, but at least in Lisbon we try to avoid it because it sounds a little bit harsh. And I believe it sounds that way because many of us grew up hearing our parents saying that only people with less education use the word “você”. Now, I don’t really know when and why some people got this aversion to the word “você”, while other people didn’t, but this is a fact.
There is even a saying that goes like “Você é estrebaria!” or "Você, na minha terra é estrebaria", which basically means “Where I come from, the word você is used by people that deal with horses” (estrebaria is the place where horses sleep in).

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What about the plural of “tu” and “você” @Joseph?
To me this is a topic as controversial as the use of “você”.

From what I understand, in the old days “vocês” was the plural of “você”, and so it was used in formal situations. While the plural of “tu”, which is “vós”, was used in informal contexts.

However, two things happened over time.

First, what I described above about dropping the use of the pronoun “você”.
On the other hand, “vós” also stopped being used, except for some regions in the north of Portugal.

So “vocês”, which could sound super formal if “você” was, in fact, being used, became the plural for both formal and informal treatment without sounding weird to any native.

So how do you make it clear when you need to stress the formality of a situation? You just use “Os senhores…” and “As senhoras…”.

This being said, I know many people from the north of Portugal would jump right in saying this is absurd and “vós” is still the pronoun for the plural of “tu”. Well, the truth is “vós” is not even taught anymore in verb conjugations and it’s pretty accepted overall that “vocês” works for both.

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I heard the expression você is coming from vossa mercê :slight_smile:

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É verdade! Você tem como origem: vossa mercê > vossemecê > você.
No entanto acho que você não pode ser considerado atualização semântica pois não substituiu o uso de vossemecê. Você existe como forma de tratamento e é considerado indelicado por algumas pessoas, ao passo que vossemecê é usado, especialmente pelas gerações mais antigas, mas como título de deferência, amizade e respeito.

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Obrigado pela tua explicação. Ou tenho de dizer sua explicação :slight_smile: é complicado :slight_smile:

Abraços Matthias

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Ok, there goes my false sense of security in thinking that I could always use “você” and everyone, except children, would feel flattered! :slightly_smiling_face: Doesn’t one’s inflection also help determine the effect of using “você”? If others see that we are saying it in a gentle and clearly non-sarcastic or aggressive way, one would hope that is how it would be interpreted. However, even with this, I can understand that some people just are very sensitive about being addressed this way. I have lots to learn!

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Yes, I agree with this, but I’m not one to be overly formal with anyone. Still, I can count maybe one person in my entire life that ever expressed any kind of mild discomfort after hearing me say ‘você’ and he was my teacher and a very old and traditional one at that. Teachers are generally addressed as “o professor/a professora”, which I use as well. I just slipped up once! I’ve had many more people act playfully offended for being treated so formally, actually (apart from situations that require it, of course).

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Thanks very much, Joseph!
May I ask a related question? This has to do with the age of the speaker. For example, my spouse said to me this morning, in relation to this issue, “David, at your age [70], it’s OK for you to use “você” and not worry about it, because you would most likely be older than most of the people you are speaking to!” Is there any truth behind this? I’m interested in your thoughts as one who lives in the Portuguese culture. Thanks again!

Joseph
Content Support

    May 17

David2019:
If others see that we are saying it in a gentle and clearly non-sarcastic or aggressive way, one would hope that is how it would be interpreted. However, even with this, I can understand that some people just are very sensitive about being addressed this way. I have lots to learn!

Yes, I agree with this, but I’m not one to be overly formal with anyone. Still, I can count maybe one person in my entire life that ever expressed any kind of mild discomfort after hearing me say ‘você’ and he was my teacher and a very old and traditional one at that. Teachers are generally addressed as “o professor/a professora”, which I use as well. I just slipped up once! I’ve had many more people act playfully offended for being treated so formally, actually (apart from situations that require it, of course).

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my accountant calls me Mrs Alex, which I find funny and charming. I will take a look at those notes that you were pointing out to Molly and will share it with my conversation group as this could be useful for us all to master.

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