How to Say “What” in Spanish: A Comprehensive Guide

¡Bienvenidos! If you’re here, it’s likely you’re looking to expand your Spanish vocabulary and specifically discover the various ways to say “what.” In this guide, we’ll cover both the formal and informal ways to express this common word, keeping regional variations in mind when necessary. Prepare yourself for a language journey packed with useful tips, vibrant examples, and insightful information.

Formal Ways to Say “What” in Spanish

When engaging in a conversation, particularly in a formal setting, using the correct form of “what” is crucial to convey respect. Here are some formal expressions used to say “what” in Spanish:

1. ¿Qué?

The most general and versatile way to say “what” in Spanish is “¿Qué?” It can be used in formal situations without risking any misunderstandings. For example:

Example 1:

Speaker A: Buenos días, ¿cómo está usted? (Good morning, how are you?)

Speaker B: Muy bien, ¿qué puedo hacer por usted? (Very well, what can I do for you?)

In this case, “¿Qué puedo hacer por usted?” demonstrates politeness and shows willingness to assist.

2. ¿Cómo?

Another formal option to express “what” is using “¿Cómo?” This form is often employed when seeking clarification or asking for repetition. Observe the following example:

Example 2:

Speaker A: El informe está lista para su revisión (The report is ready for your review)

Speaker B: ¿Cómo? No entendí bien. (What? I didn’t understand clearly.)

As you can see, “¿Cómo?” helps Speaker B to seek clarification in a respectful manner.

Informal Ways to Say “What” in Spanish

When conversing with close friends, family members, or in casual situations, you can use more informal expressions to say “what.” Here are some commonly used options:

1. ¿Qué cosa?

A common way to say “what” informally is by saying “¿Qué cosa?” Literally meaning “what thing?” it’s a relaxed way to ask for clarification or express surprise. Take a look at the following example:

Example 3:

Speaker A: ¡Mira qué cosa tan interesante! (Look at this interesting thing!)

Speaker B: ¿Qué cosa? No veo nada especial. (What thing? I don’t see anything special.)

By responding with “¿Qué cosa?” Speaker B acknowledges Speaker A’s statement while seeking further explanation.

2. ¿Qué pasó?

If you want to ask “what happened?” in an informal way, the expression “¿Qué pasó?” is your go-to choice. It’s commonly used to ask for updates or find out why someone seems upset. Observe this example:

Example 4:

Speaker A: No puedo creerlo, reprobé el examen. (I can’t believe it, I failed the exam.)

Speaker B: ¿Qué pasó? Estudiaste mucho. (What happened? You studied a lot.)

In this case, “¿Qué pasó?” conveys curiosity and empathy towards Speaker A’s disappointing situation.

Tips and Regional Variations

While “¿Qué?” is generally understood across Spanish-speaking regions, it’s important to note that regional variations exist. Here are a few helpful tips and examples regarding regional variations of saying “what” in Spanish:

1. ¿Qué dices? (Spain)

In Spain, it is common to use “¿Qué dices?” instead of just “¿Qué?” when asking “what.” This phrase literally translates to “What do you say?” and it’s often used when asking someone to repeat or clarify what they just said. For instance:

Example 5:

Speaker A: Me gustaría ir al cine esta noche (I’d like to go to the movies tonight.)

Speaker B (from Spain): ¿Qué dices? No te escuché bien. (What do you say? I didn’t hear you clearly.)

2. ¿Qué onda? (Latin America)

In various Latin American countries, the informal expression “¿Qué onda?” or simply “¿Onda?” means “What’s up?” or “What’s going on?” This phrase is commonly used among friends to initiate a casual conversation. Here’s an example:

Example 6:

Speaker A: ¡Hola amigo! ¿Qué onda? (Hey friend! What’s up?)

Speaker B (from Mexico): Todo bien, ¿y tú? (All good, and you?)

Keep in mind that regional variations go beyond these examples, so it’s always beneficial to familiarize yourself with the local expressions when spending time in specific Spanish-speaking regions.

A Wrap-Up

¡Felicidades! Congratulations on completing this comprehensive guide on how to say “what” in Spanish. You’ve learned formal and informal expressions, regional variations, and encountered helpful tips and examples along the way. Remember, the key to mastering any language lies in practice, so immerse yourself in conversations, watch Spanish movies, or read Spanish literature to further enrich your language skills. ¡Buena suerte! (Good luck!)

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