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In the following excerpt of the book El Quijote: para estudiantes de español, the protagonist, Don Quijote, is addressing a man, but speaks to him using 2nd person plural:

Entonces vio a un niño atado a un árbol. El niño gritaba mientras un hombre le golpeaba con un palo.

...

Don Quijote sacó la lanza y apuntando al hombre dijo:

"¡Cobarde¡ ¿Pegáis a un niño? ¿Pegáis a quien no puede defenderse? Pelead conmigo y sabréis lo que es pelear con un hombre."

This is the first time I've seen 2nd person plural used to directly address a single person.

Can somebody explain this usage?

  • 1
    Is the old vos treatment that congugates like vosotros – user14069 Sep 8 '17 at 5:20
  • Similar (but not the same) to this: ustedeo uses a 3rd person to addres a second person: "¿**Pega** usted a un niño? ¿**Pega** usted a quien no puede defenderse? Pelee usted conmigo y sabrá lo que es pelear con un hombre." You might find plenty of questions about ustedeo in our site if you either use the search functionality or the tags. – Diego Sep 8 '17 at 15:03
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In the Middle Ages it was quite common to use vos as courtesy pronoun for the second person, and it uses the verb in the 2nd person plural. This also happened in English, where the 2nd person plural (you) was also used as courtesy for the singular, instead of thou; this became so common that thou was relegated altogether as is no longer used.

El Quijote was written a bit later, at the beginning of the 17th century; by that time, vos was used only in contempt, as Don Quijote does here (the courtesy form was then vuesa merced, which later became usted). He does the same when addressing Sancho when he is angry at him. Nowadays, this usage remains common in Portugal's Portuguese, where você is only used in contempt or addressing an inferior; in Brazil, however, você is the usual pronoun for addressing anybody.

Of course, vos is still commonly used nowadays in some countries, mainly in the South Cone, but in the form known as voseo; this has a special conjugation for the second person, somewhat middle of the road between the singular () and plural (vosotros) forms.

  • Just in case anyone reads El Quijote and notices Don Quijote addressing someone respectfully as vos: this happens when he believes he is a medieval knight in some castle or a similar situation. In those cases, Don Quijote speaks as such, in an old fashioned way. This is sometimes lost on modern readers because, for us, 17th century Spanish is old fashioned too; but contemporary readers noticed that speech quite easily. – Gorpik Sep 5 '19 at 9:23

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