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¿Qué Onda Vos? A Series on Speaking Guatemalan Spanish

“¿Qué onda vos?” is XelaWho’s a monthly guide to speaking Spanish Guatemalan style. The April 2010 topic: “Ordering People Around With Vos“…i.e. the negated vos command form, by James Gray.

Does the vos thing – that somewhat uniquely Guatemalan form of the personal pronoun “you” – freak you out, too? For me it’s the scariest part of the ‘Guatemalan’ language. Last month we covered ordering people around with vos. This month, let’s discuss the negated command form (imperative/imperativo) since it’s used a lot and is a mind twister.

But before getting to the meat of the article, here is the continuation (from the Stuff column) of a letter to the editor we received recently, commenting on the use of vos in Guatemala…And just a note for James Gray, who probably knows a lot more about this than I do and is just being unduly humble but…”Vos” is definitely not uniquely Guatemalan (not sure anything can be “somewhat uniquely”, but now I’m being really pedantic!), indeed it’s much more generally known as the Argentinian grammatical form, given that Argentine culture is rather more widely know than Guatemalan this is unsurprising if a little unfair! [4000 years of Mayan civilization vs. Maradona & Evita Perón? So where’s the duel? –Eds.] You’ll also certainly encounter it in Uruguay and some parts of Chile, I’m not well enough travelled (yet) to know of anywhere else. I believe it’s just an old form of Spanish, certainly I’ve seen some journals and letters from the times of the Conquistadors in museums that use [it]. Those of us still struggling with our hubiera-s and pudiese-s should be duly grateful that such things as the future subjunctive got lost along the way! What you need here is a cunning linguist, but then, ’twas ever so. Take care, have fun and, seriously, keep up the good work, Jon Crosby.

And now, back to the vos show. So the basic pattern for the negated imperative (command form) of vos is that (with some exceptions) you take the usted form of the imperative, add an -s at the end, and put the stress on the final syllable. (Recall that in the non-negated imperative form, the pattern followed the tu form but not in its irregular forms.) Note where the accent is, because the stress is crucial to getting it right! Here are some key examples:

tocar – to touch

The 2nd person usted/tu/vos forms are as follows: no toque/no toques/no toqués

Example using vos as a command: No me toqués ahí o te mato.

Translation: Don’t touch me there or I will kill you.

volver – to repeat

2nd person usted/tu/vos forms are as follows: no vuelva/no vuelvas/no volvás (irregular)

Example using vos as a command: No volvás hacer eso o te mato.

Translation: Don’t do that again or I’ll kill you.

hacer – to make, to do

2nd person usted/tu/vos forms are as follows: no haga/no hagas/no hagás

Example using vos as a command: Vos, no hagás berrinche. Te compro otro helado.

Translation: Dude, don’t have a tantrum. I’ll buy you another ice cream!

decir (irregular verb) – to say, to tell

2nd person usted/tu/vos forms are as follows: no diga/ni digas/no digás

Example using vos as a command: No le digás a Jorge que hay una mosca en su nalgita.

Translation: Don’t tell Jorge that there’s a fly on his booty.

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