Welcome to Spaniard Talk 101. This word is very characteristic of the Spanish dialect. When, e.g., Mexicans want to make fun of Spaniards, they pepper their talk with tío.
You may know tío and tía as “uncle” and “aunt”, but in colloquial speech they stand for guy, gal, man, woman, dude, dudette, boy, girl, and everything in between. There are of course hundreds of other words too (chaval/a, pavo/a, chorbo/a…) which I will probably cover some day; but this, this is basic.
Its uses are not that complicated or different from English, so I’ll do what I do best and just show you a bunch of examples:
Hoy por la calle vi una tía con un sombrero en forma de pato.
Today on the street I saw a woman with a duck-shaped hat.
Fui a comprar un microondas pero el tío de la tienda dijo que se habían agotado.
I went out for a microwave oven but the guy in the shop told me they were out of them.
Tío, hace mucho que no te veo, ¿qué tal te va?
Dude, I haven’t seen you in a long time, how are you doing?
Tía, esa película es un asco, no sé cómo te puede gustar.
Girl, that film sucks, I can’t believe you like it.
¿KISS? Cuatro tíos con maquillaje que tocan metal de los 80.
KISS? Four guys in make-up playing 80s metal.
Ayer conocí a una tía mazo interesante, espero verla este finde.
Yesterday I met a very interesting chick, I hope to see her again this weekend.
Special case that merits special highlighting: tíos/tías as generalization for men/women:
Los tíos sois todos unos cerdos.
You all men are pigs.
Las tías no sabéis lo que queréis.
You women don’t know what you want.
Finally, a question I see asked around very often. How do you know when tío/a means “uncle/aunt” and when it means “guy/gal”? It’s simple if you think about it. An uncle/aunt is always expressed in relation to someone. Bob’s uncle, Susie’s aunt, your aunt, her uncle. But tío/a is never referred to as such. Unlike in English –and be careful with this– you can’t say:
His gal is a cool girl.
*Su tía mola.
That means, of course, “her aunt rocks”.
So, if you see sentences like:
El tío de Lucas es pescador.
Lucas’s uncle is a fisherman.
Mi tía es cirujana.
My aunt is a surgeon.
it’s clear we’re talking family, while:
Ese tío es pescador.
That guy is a fisherman,
Algunas tías son cirujanas.
Some women are surgeons.
it could be anybody 🙂
Originally published in Talk like a Spaniard.