For this sentence:

  • Siento decirles que quedan sin trabajo.

Why can quedan sometimes mean “you are” but never “we are”?

Is it because quedan is a third-person plural for quedar?

  • "quedan" is only and always third person plural. It is not quedamos, first person plural.
    – Lambie
    Nov 21, 2021 at 19:04
  • 1
    Because usted(es)=you, yet is 3rd person. The simple way to remember it is that Spanish people treat each others as kings. Usted comes from "vuestra merced", which could be translated as "your majesty/highness", which would be followed by the usage of the 3rd person in English as well.
    – Shautieh
    Nov 22, 2021 at 3:39

2 Answers 2


Maybe you're getting confused with the conjugation of the verbs, e.g.

  • Yo quedo.
  • Tú quedas.
  • Él/ella/Ud. queda.
  • Nosotros quedamos(e.g. we're unemployed)
  • Vosotros quedáis (e.g. "Os habéis quedado sin trabajo") https://www.rae.es/dpd/vosotras

  1. intr. Dicho de una persona o de una cosa: Permanecer en su estado, o pasar a otro más o menos estable. e.g.
  • a) (Ellos) (Se) Quedan sin trabajo(THEY remained unemployed)(=Ellos)
  • b) Siento decirles que (se) quedan sin trabajo"(I'm sorry to inform you that YOU are fired)(=Ustedes)
  • 1
    Perhaps the asker’s confusion is related to how for learners, these fórmulas de tratamiento y del leísmo de cortesía may cause a cognitive mismatch between the logical or semantic person/number in the second person and the grammatical person/number in the third person. Similar disconnects occur with the plural mayestático and related nosisms.
    – tchrist
    Nov 21, 2021 at 14:58
  • @tchrist My point about this should be on some Meta thing but I don't have the saco to write it up properly. Somehow when a site decides to suspend a person, that also stops them from chatting on any site. SE fixed this one for me this time, sort of. But it's some kind of unfixed "thing" on the system, I think.
    – Lambie
    Nov 21, 2021 at 16:40

It's because the formal second person plural (pronoun "ustedes") and any third person plural (pronoun "ellos") are conjugated in the same way, even if they are different persons, i.e. second vs third. In the example shown, since the pronoun is ommited, and there is no context, it's really not possible to know the person.

For reference: "quedan" is third person plural if we say "ellos quedan", but formal second person plural if we say "ustedes quedan".

It all boils down to the formal vs informal versions of plural "you", which are "ustedes" and "vosotros", respectively.

  • 2
    ustedes is formal in Spain but not in Latin America.
    – Lambie
    Nov 21, 2021 at 19:04
  • @Lambie it is also formal in some countries in Latin America. Even in the same country, specifically Columbia, the use of usted/ustedes changes between regions (also see alejandramastrangelo.com/de-vos-o-de-usted).
    – terdon
    Nov 22, 2021 at 12:20
  • @terdon ustedes is formal in Spain and in Latin America where vosotros is not used, ustedes is the only plural there is for you. It is not informal. It is just the plural.
    – Lambie
    Nov 22, 2021 at 15:08
  • @Lambie my point is that Latin America is not monolithic, and there are many regional differences so a blanket statement like "ustedes is not formal in Latin America" is incorrect. The example of Colombia I linked you to above is particularly interesting since there are regional variations in the use of usted even within the same country. In any case, even when ustedes isn't exclusively formal, it is still both the formal mode of address and the informal plural, which (the plural being both the simple plural and the formal mode of address) is a very common pattern (e.g. French, Greek).
    – terdon
    Nov 22, 2021 at 15:22
  • @terdon I understand this very, very well. As I said, in SPAIN, Uds is only formal. Since informal is vosotros. Obviously, then in Latin American Uds is the only plural. Ergo, it's used in all situations where you are referring directly to plural you. Call it formal/informal if you like. What I do find interesting is hearing Ud. used by a mother to a child in Columbian movies/series. And not just one. Several of them.
    – Lambie
    Nov 22, 2021 at 15:37

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