Quick answer – these two words may look similar, but they’re actually used quite differently (thanks, Spanish!). Basically, ‘te’ is an object pronoun and ‘tu’ a possessive adjective. ‘Te’ replaces the object of the sentence, while ‘tu’ establishes ownership of something.
Although it may not seem like it, these two little words really aren’t as tricky as you think. By the time you finish reading, I’m optimistic that you’ll be using both masterfully!
You’ll also find a short quiz at the end of this article, so you can put your newfound knowledge to the test.
Let’s get into it!
When to use ‘te’
We’ve already established that ‘te’ is an object pronoun.
But what exactly does that mean?
Well, ‘te’ takes the place of a noun either as the direct object or indirect object of the sentence.
And what (the heck!) is the object of a sentence?
Well, the object is the person or thing that the subject of the sentence is acting upon.
The direct object being the person (or thing) acted upon and the indirect object being the recipient of the action (i.e., NOT the primary object).
For example –
I gave it to him.
Se lo di.
I = subject (person doing action)
it / lo = direct object
him / se = indirect object
And what about ‘te’?
Don’t worry, I hadn’t forgotten! ‘Te’ (second person singular) is used as the object of a sentence when you are actually talking to the person in question.
Oh, and just so you know: it’s gender-neutral, so it replaces both masculine and feminine nouns.
‘Te‘ as a direct object pronoun
Here are some examples of ‘te’ as a DIRECT object pronoun –
Te quiero mucho, Ana.
I love you so much, Ana.
The speaker is the subject and ‘te’ the direct object
Do I know you?
Again, the speaker is the subject and ‘te’ the direct object
Erika’s top tip – if you’re translating from English to Spanish, ‘you’ WON’T always translate to ‘te’! If ‘you‘ is the subject of the sentence, you’ll need to use the subject pronoun ‘tú‘ (i.e, ‘tu‘ with an accent on the ‘u‘) instead!
‘Te‘ as an indirect object pronoun
‘Te’ is also used as an INDIRECT object pronoun (i.e., as the recipient of the direct object).
It’s translation in English is often ‘(to) you’ or ‘(for) you’ –
¿Te doy una galleta?
Would you like a biscuit?
‘una galleta’ is the direct object and ‘te’ the indirect object
Te voy a cantar mi canción favorita.
I´m going to sing you my favorite song.
‘mi canción favorita’ is the direct object and ‘te’ the indirect object
¿Quieres que te prepare un té?
Do you want me to make you some tea?
‘té’ is the direct object and ‘te’ the indirect object
‘Te‘ as a reflexive pronoun
Finally, ‘te’ can be used as a reflexive pronoun (second person singular); in Spanish these pronouns are used when the subject is acting upon him/herself.
As a reflexive pronoun, sometimes ‘te’ can be translated to ‘yourself’ in English –
Did you hurt yourself?
BUT some reflexive pronouns don´t correspond to ‘myself’, ‘yourself’, etc. in English –
¿Ya te bañaste?
Have you already had a bath?
¿Siempre te vistes así de rápido?
Do you always get dressed so quickly?
When to use ‘tu’
The possessive adjective ‘tu’ (WITHOUT an accent) is used to denote that something belongs to someone.
Want to hear (ahem, read) the good news? Yep?
Well, this word DOES have a direct translation: ‘tu’ translates to ‘your’ in English.
For example –
Oye, ¿me podrías prestar tu vestido lila para un evento?
Hey, could you lend me your lilac dress for an event?
Se ve que te gusta tu trabajo.
It’s clear that you like your job.
¡Preséntamela! Me haría muy feliz conocer a tu novia.
Introduce us! I’d love to meet your girlfriend.
As you can see, the above examples all refer to just one “possession” (i.e., ‘dress‘, ‘job‘ and ‘girlfriend‘).
Obviously ‘your’ in English can also refer to MANY possessions, but in Spanish we actually have to use a different “possessive adjective” (‘tus‘)
Yes, yes, I know this article is about ‘tu’; I’m only bringing it up because in English ‘your’ is used with both singular and plural nouns, but that´s not the case with ‘tu‘ in Spanish.
If you wanna know more, make sure to check out our article on ‘su‘ vs ‘sus‘!
Me encantan tus flores. ¿Dónde las conseguiste?
I love your flowers. Where did you get them?
Tus quequitos son los mejores de la ciudad.
Your cupcakes are the best in town.
¿Cuándo nacerán tus bebés?
When will your babies be born?
Finally, you can also add ‘tu’ before a proper noun to indicate affection.
For example –
Te preocupas más por tu María que por tu trabajo.
You care more for your Maria than for your job.
¡Ay! Cómo cuidas a tu Alfredo, mi amor.
Oh! How you care for your Alfredo, my love.
I know! The last sentence was super cheesy, but you get the idea.
I hope this article has helped you better understand when to use ‘te’ and ‘tu’. Just remember that ‘te’ is a pronoun, whereas ‘tu’ denotes property and translates to ‘your’ in English.
Practice makes perfect. Don’t hesitate to apply what you’ve learned in your next Spanish conversation.
Oh, and be sure to check out our article on ‘a ver‘ and ‘vamos a ver‘ out if you wanna level-up your Spanish even further!
‘Te’ vs ‘tu’ quiz
Time to whip out those notes!
1. ¿Cuándo ___________ vas a ir?
2. Creo que ___________ vi ayer.
3. ___________ mamá es muy agradable.
4. ¿Por qué ___________ duele la cabeza?
5. Me gusta mucho ___________ perfume nuevo.
6. ¡Qué bonito ___________ perrito! ¿Es amigable?
7. ¡Con razón tienes frío! Se ___________ olvidó el suéter en casa.
8. ¿___________ comparto mi número de WhatsApp?
9. Qué rica estaba la comida que ___________ preparó tu esposo.
10. ___________ papá ___________ va a regañar.
10. Tu, te