What is the etymology of the pronoun "usted"? What formal pronouns existed before, and when did the current "usted" come into existence?

5 Answers 5


Vuestra merced evolved to usted. Vuestra merced is a really antique way to say something like your highness (not literally though).

  • 3
    Suggested reading: spanish.about.com/od/historyofspanish/a/usted_vd.htm
    – dusan
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 0:57
  • 6
    This answer also explains the origin of the second person pronoun su merced or sumercé that is used in Colombia, especially in the vicinity of Bogotá. A more informal equivalent used in rural areas is vusted. See Wikipedia.
    – Jaime Soto
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 1:36
  • old fashioned way, not antique. Antique is for old things, not people...
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 19:41

Usted is derived from "vusted", an archaic shortening of "Vuestra Merced", an old Spanish way of saying [lit.] "your mercy" (similar to the honorific "your grace").

From the Diccionario de la lengua española:

Aféreris de vusted.

The V at the beginning disappears into the syllable when said aloud, and so eventually disappeared, it seems.


Evolution and etymology of of usted

Usted comes ultimately from the phrase vuestra merced ("your grace"). Between the XIII and XIV centuries, the 'formal' second person singular pronoun vos had become overloaded - being used to denote many (often conflicting) social relationships, from familiar rapport, to equal formal status, to a downwards vertical status between speakers. This ambiguity necessitated the development of novel forms for 'formal' address.

In the XIV century the pronomial phrase vuestra merced (and various similar ones) emerged to fill this gap. Only vuestra merced survived, evolving over the XIV - XVI centuries into many concurrent and competing forms, before eventually settling on the modern usted:

enter image description here

The evolution of the form is examined in further detail in the following study:

Formal pronouns before usted

Below is a diagram showing the evolution in T-V (singular, plural) pronouns in Castilian/Northern Spanish. The evolution of pronouns was slightly different in Andalusia (even today vos is still used in some very rural areas by older speakers), and very different in Latin America, as you can interpret from the changing situation below at the time the Americas were being colonised:

enter image description here

Detailed information on the evolution of all second person forms (from Latin through to modern Spanish) can be found in Chapter 3 of the following paper:

Note: usted is etymologically unrelated to Arabic أستاذ (ʾustāḏ).

  • The chart is missing él ;-) Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 6:08

Ustadh means "master" in Arabic. I was not around when the word originated, nor has this been confirmed by any authority.

From Spanish Words of Arabic Origin:

Usted is interesting because the word itself is derived from the Spanish expression vuestro merced, but in fact is phonetically similar to the Arabic word for doctor/professor: “ustadh”. In Spanish, usted is a pronoun that denotes formality and is typically used when we are addressing someone in formal situations.

¿Ustedes desean algo para tomar antes de pedir la comida? Would you like anything to drink before ordering lunch?

  • To me it seems obvious that the Arabic Ustādh is the origin of the Spanish Usted. Sounds a good deal more plausible than vuestra merced, ¿no es verdad?
    – traducteur
    Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 2:15

Is it possibly related "Ustad", a Persian honorific?:


Edit: Here is a paper that explores this possibility. In my opinion doesn't draw any clear conclusions. It cites Moorish rule in Spain, bilingualism and "multiple causation", and example usages of ustaad used equivalently to dueño as possible etymological links

  • That disagrees with the previous answers so I think you need to provide more supporting evidence.
    – mdewey
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 15:17

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