There are some words we say all the time. “What” certainly falls into that category. And there’s a good reason for that. “What” can be used as an adverb, a pronoun, an interjection, and a conjunction.
In Spanish, it works exactly the same way! The correct way to say what in Spanish is qué, but there are some other ways to say it depending on what you’re trying to say. In this article, we show every way to say “what” in Spanish!
All the Ways to Say What in Spanish
So… how to do you say “what” in Spanish? We mentioned briefly that the most common way to translate “what” in Spanish is qué . Similar to English, qué is in questions and exclamatory statements. Let’s look at some examples.
- ¡Qué lindo vestido te compraste!
- ¿Qué estás haciendo?
- ¿Qué hora es?
- What a nice dress you bought!
- What are you doing?
- What time is it?
Qué can also be used in indirect questions, such as:
- No entiendo qué es lo que quieres.
- No me preguntes qué día es hoy.
- María sabe muy bien qué quiere.
- I don’t understand what you want.
- Don’t ask me what day it is today.
- María knows very well what she wants.
Qué vs que
Now, Spanish can get tricky at times. And this is one of those times. You’ll want to understand the difference between qué vs que so you don’t mix them up. Looking and hearing the two, it’s easy to see how you might get them confused.
Que, without an accent mark, is used to mean “that” or “which”, as opposed to qué, which means “what”. Let’s see a sentence where both que and qué are used:
¿Qué vas a hacer con la casa que esta vacía?
What are you going to do with the house that is empty?
The nice thing is that they both sound the same so if you’re just having a conversation with someone, you won’t really need to make a distinction. But it’s something you’ll come across when you’re writing or reading something.
Another word for what in Spanish is cuál . The actual translation for cuál is “which”, but it is also used in certain cases in place of “what”. Here are some situations where cuál is used.
- ¿Cuál es tu problema?
- ¿Cuál es el mejor restaurante de Buienos Aires?
- ¿Cuál es tu punto?
- What’s your problem?
- What’s the best restaurant in Buenos Aires?
- What’s your point?
So how do you know when to use cuál vs qué? Unfortunately, there isn’t a hard and fast rule. As you keep listening to and learning Spanish, you will find that one will sound more natural. The safest bet is to use qué as that’s the most common word for “what” in Spanish.
In some circumstances, “what” can be also translated as cómo in Spanish. This happens only when we want to express disbelief at something that we have been told or something that has happened. Actually, it’s a quite colloquial way of saying ¿qué? as a question, so we don’t recommend you to use it informal contexts. Let’s look at some examples:
- ¿Cómo se llama?
- ¿Cómo dijiste?
- What is your name?
- What did you say?
We see “what” integrated in so many different daily situations. Here are some popular Spanish expressions containing “what” that you’ll want to include in your vocabulary lists.
So what? – ¿y qué?
The interjection “so what?” is used when we want to tell someone that we don’t care too much about something. Actually, with a certain intonation, it can sound a little… defiant, don’t you think? In Spanish, the perfect translation of “so what?” is ¿y qué? . But it’s not the only way to say it: you can also say: ¿y eso qué? or just ¿y? which is like saying “AND??”
Let’s see some dialogues as an example:
Isabella: Creo que Ana está enojada contigo.
Santiago: ¿Y qué?
Isabella: Está lloviendo demasiado.
Santiago: ¿Y eso qué?
Isabella: I think Ana is mad at you
Santiago: So what?
Isabella: It’s raining too much
Santiago: So what?
What about you? – ¿Qué hay de ti?
After telling someone something, we often ask “what about you?”. In Spanish, this translates as ¿qué hay de ti? although you can also simply translate it as ¿y tú? Notice that both ti and tú are second-person personal pronouns, and both mean “you”, but ti is used when preceded by a preposition (in this case, de, which means “of”). Let’s see examples:
- Me fui de vacaciones al Caribe, ¿y tú?
- Yo no iré al cumpleaños de Sandra. ¿Qué hay de ti?
- I went on vacation to the Caribbean, what about you?
- I will not go to Sandra’s birthday. What about you?
What the …? – ¿Qué diablos?
Sometimes… we get angry or really confused and can’t help but drop some F-bombs or the suggestion of them. Every language has them, and Spanish isn’t the exception. If you want to translate the phrase “What the…?” to Spanish, you have several options: ¿qué diablos? , ¿qué demonios? and ¿qué rayos? are those that get the points across without being too crass.
- ¿Qué rayos es eso?
- ¿Qué diablos estás haciendo?
- ¿Qué demonios te pasa?
- What the hell is that?
- What the hell are you doing?
- What the hell is wrong with you?
What a … – ¡Qué … !
When we want to emphasize the quality of something, we usually start the sentences with the expression “What a …!”, and then we add an adjective. For example, if we wanted to express that it is a beautiful day, we would say “What a beautiful day!” In Spanish, the structure is almost the same way. We say “almost” because there is a small difference – it is not necessary to include the articles un or una, which mean a.
See two examples below where you’ll see the articles are omitted.
- ¡Qué hermosa casa!
- ¡Qué hombre tan cordial!
- What a beautiful house!
- What a friendly man
What if…? – ¿y si…?
- ¿Qué tal si vamos al cine?
- ¿Y si mañana vamos a almorzar?
- How about going to the cinema?
- What if we go to lunch tomorrow?
We have seen the different ways of translating “what” into Spanish. As you have probably realized, it is a word that is used in a lot of contexts, and it will surely appear in countless conversations. In addition, you learned the difference between qué and que, two words that, although they are exactly the same, are used in different circumstances.