How to Use the Impersonal 'You' in Spanish

Students studying together on campus
Si quieres éxito y fama, estudia mucho. (If you want success and fame, study hard). Moxie Productions/Getty Images

In English it is very common to use the word "you" as an impersonal pronoun, meaning that it refers not to any particular person (such as the person being spoken to) but to people in general. You (there's an example!) can do much the same thing in Spanish with usted or , although that usage is probably a bit less common in Spanish than in English. 

'Usted' and 'Tú' as the Impersonal 'You'

The use of usted or  as an impersonal pronoun is frequent in proverbs or sayings, although it is common in everyday speech as well.

 

  • El seguro de crédito puede cubrir algunos o todos los pagos si usted no puede hacerlo. Credit insurance can cover some or all of the payments if you cannot pay it.
  • Si usted quiere, usted puede. If you want to, you can.
  • Si quieres, puedes. If you want to, you can. (In this sentence, the is implied by the verb form.)
  • Usted no puede salir del país hasta que tenga permiso para viajar. You can't leave the country until you have permission to travel.
  • Si quieres éxito y fama, estudia mucho. If you want success and fame, study hard. (Again, is implied by the verb form.)

'Uno' and 'Una' as the Impersonal 'You'

Also common in Spanish is the use of uno in a similar way. This is the rough equivalent of using "one" as a pronoun in English, although it's not as stuffy-sounding as the English equivalent:

  • Si uno va por el mundo con mirada amistosa, uno hace buenos amigos. If you go throughout the world with a friendly look, you will make good friends. (Literally, if one goes throughout the world with a friendly look, one will make good friends.)
  • Uno no puede decir que Zimbabwe sea un país democrático. You can't say Zimbabwe is a democratic state. (Literally, one can't say that Zimbabwe is a democratic state.)
  • Es en el momento de la muerte cuando uno comprende la nada de todas las cosas. It is at the time of death that you understand the nothingness of everything.
  • En la vida uno tiene que caminar antes de correr. In life, you have to walk before running.

If a female is indirectly referring to herself, she may use una instead of uno: En la vida una tiene que caminar antes de correr.

Passive Voice as the Impersonal 'You'

The impersonal "you" can also be expressed using the passive voice.

  • Se tiene que beber mucha agua en el desierto. You have to drink a lot of water in the desert.
  • Se aprende cuando lo que se descubre fue deseado y buscado. You learn when what you discover was what you wanted and looked for.
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Erichsen, Gerald. "How to Use the Impersonal 'You' in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Mar. 1, 2017, thoughtco.com/expressing-the-impersonal-you-spanish-3079386. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, March 1). How to Use the Impersonal 'You' in Spanish. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/expressing-the-impersonal-you-spanish-3079386 Erichsen, Gerald. "How to Use the Impersonal 'You' in Spanish." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/expressing-the-impersonal-you-spanish-3079386 (accessed January 18, 2018).