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In English, we use the phrases "young man" and "young woman" to refer to a person (usually an adolescent) who is older than a "boy" or "girl" but younger than an "adult." It generally indicates respect towards that person, deciding to treat them as mature rather than childish. It can also be used (somewhat jokingly) out of respect for older people, treating them as young rather than old.

Is there any equivalent in Spanish that conveys either of those two senses?

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In my opinion single-word-request is a very poor choice of tag as it either gets wrongly used to request phrases etc or it spawns sibling tags that add nothing such as the phrase-request tag used on English L&U. Remember the SE people go on about good tags characterising the question and whether you're requesting a word or a phrase are not really different at that level. – hippietrail Dec 8 '11 at 16:19
@hippietrail: Yeah it seems like every question on a Q&A site is a request (so no need to duplicate that), and for a "word" or "single-word" tag, see the meta question. – jrdioko Dec 8 '11 at 17:29
@hippietrail: Made another meta question. – jrdioko Dec 8 '11 at 18:17
up vote 10 down vote accepted

"Joven" (English: "young man/woman") is an okay term for both male and female young adults (around 20-25 years old), as long as you remember to use the correct determinant: "el/un joven" for a young man, and "la/una joven" for a young woman.

El joven desea algo para beber.
The young man wants something to drink.

La joven desea algo para beber.
The young woman wants something to drink.

Care should be taken when "joven" is used without a determinant or another word that makes its grammatical gender explicit (such as an adjective that is declined for gender, like "estimado/a", but unlike "inteligente"), since it could by default be interpreted as being masculine. In order to avoid confusion, "señorita" (English: "miss") could be used for young women.

Joven, ¿desea algo para beber? (Often used for males only.)
Young man/woman, do you want something to drink?

Señorita, ¿desea algo para beber? (Feminine only.)
Young woman, do you want something to drink?

When dealing for the first time with anyone past 30 years old, I would call them "señor" (English: "mister") or "señora" (English: "mistress", without the connotation of being a married man's lover), never "joven" or "señorita", which could be interpreted as if I were questioning their maturity or otherwise belittling them.

Señor [<apellido>], ¿desea algo de beber?
[Mr. <last name>,] Do you want something to drink?

Señora [<apellido>], ¿desea algo de beber?
[Mrs. <last name>,] Do you want something to drink?

However, sometimes unmarried women, regardless of their age, take offense at being called "señora", and would rather be called "señorita". There are two reasons behind this:

  1. The term "señora" is sometimes interpreted as an insinuation that the woman in question is old.

  2. Especially among the elderly, the term "señora" is used to refer to someone's woman/wife. Since traditional Catholic values are deeply-rooted in most Spanish-speaking societies, insinuating an unmarried woman has already been "taken" by someone could be taken as an insult.

The reply usually given by women who take offense at being called "señora" is:

¿Señora? ¡Señorita!
[Are you calling me a] Mistress? [I am a] Miss!

Rarely do males take issue with being called "señor", as the term by itself does not carry an "old man" connotation. Using "señor" is correct, even when referring to males who keep a youthful spirit in spite of their advanced physical age:

El señor sabe cómo mantenerse joven.
The man knows how to remain youthful.

But not:

La señora sabe cómo mantenerse joven.
The woman knows how to remain youthful.

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Nice and thorough. However, there's something I don't agree with: men also dislike being called "señor" when they're below 40. – Diego Mijelshon Dec 10 '11 at 3:46
@DiegoMijelshon: Depends on the context really. Men below 40 should be called señor when going to the doctor, or in a very formal environment such as a work interview. – Joze Dec 10 '11 at 19:28
I would be happy to upvote if you change where you say women are "neurotic" to, for example, that certain ways of address may not be as acceptable or may get a negative reaction. To me, the way it is written seems to blame addressees for problems that are really sociolinguistic: words for men and women are not the same; women are expected to live up to higher/different standards of youth and beauty than men... (You have mentioned some of these issues such as religious values, different expectations for unmarried women, but I just think that the use of "neurotic" takes away from your answer.) – aedia λ Dec 10 '11 at 20:19
I have also observed women being insulted at being called 'señorita' when they were married. Sometimes it's hard to know what to say! – Flimzy Dec 10 '11 at 21:26
@Joze yes, that's true. In a formal context you might even call a 10 year old señor. – Diego Mijelshon Dec 10 '11 at 22:31

I would say that joven (for a young man or woman) is neutral enough and convey both senses you are looking for.

Another option could be jovencito/jovencita but joven implies more maturity than jovencito/jovencita.

A third option for a young woman could be señorita, but this term can be considered sexist in some regions and old fashioned in others.

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Although it's important to note that joven covers a much wider range than youth or young man (in the sense of the question). – Peter Taylor Dec 8 '11 at 11:41
@Gonzalo Medina: joven applies equally to males and females; in fact, using it for males only and distingsuishing females as señoritas would be seen as extremely sexist by many, at least in Spain. – CesarGon Dec 9 '11 at 14:40
@CesarGon: you are correct about the first part; I updated my answer accordingly. Thanks. – Gonzalo Medina Dec 9 '11 at 21:46
@GonzaloMedina: Cool, thanks! – CesarGon Dec 11 '11 at 20:56

I've seen hombrecito around but I haven't found any reference to back it up; perhaps some native speaker can confirm or not this term.

But in any case, it's used for some young kids by older people and not to talk to older people.

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I'm sure I also heard hombrecito used in Mexico. – hippietrail Dec 8 '11 at 16:21

The word I was taught for "young man" was "joven." I would guess (but don't know) that there would probably be some equivalent for "young woman."

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I thought joven could be used in principle for both males and females but in practice may be much more common for males. – hippietrail Dec 8 '11 at 16:21
<removed obsolete comments> – Flimzy Dec 9 '11 at 9:05
@Tom Au: joven is common for both males and females here in Spain. – CesarGon Dec 9 '11 at 14:41

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