“What” in Spanish: 3 Simple Ways to Say What in Spanish

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Do you want to learn conversational Spanish to communicate with native speakers? Well, one of the first things that they will teach you and you need to know is knowing the basic question words. In Spanish, as in English, “what” manifests in various forms and contexts, each with its nuances and applications.

Firstly, you encounter “qué,” the primary translation for “what” in Spanish as both an interrogative pronoun and an exclamatory adjective, “qué” finds its place in many conversational scenarios. Whether querying “¿Qué dijiste?” (What did you say?) or expressing admiration with “¡Qué deliciosa comida!” (What delicious food!) “qué” proves indispensable in everyday discourse.

Next, you get to be familiar with “lo que,” a phrase representing the essence of “what” in the sense of “that which” or “whatever.” Often employed in indirect questions or speeches or to introduce a clause, “lo que” lends depth to expressions like “Me gusta es comer pasta” (What I like is eating pasta), unveiling subtleties in communication.

Furthermore, the word “cuál,” a versatile counterpart to “what” that explores specificity and choice. While not a direct translation, “cuál” serves to ask about particular information or preferences among options. From asking “¿Cuál es tu fruta favorita?” (What is your favourite fruit?) To explore preferences and choices, “cuál” adds depth to conversational exchanges.

In this article, get to know the common translation of the word Qué as you are learning Spanish.

Common Term: Qué

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When it comes to asking “what,” in Spanish, the most common term you’ll encounter is “¿Qué?” (pronounced “keh?”). This versatile word serves as the go-to interrogative pronoun “qué” for asking about various aspects, from seeking information to expressing curiosity or surprise.

However, to say “what” in Spanish often depends on context. Context refers to the situation and surrounding words that influence which word to use. For instance, if you’re asking direct questions such as “What did you say?” you would use “¿Qué dijiste?” If you’re expressing admiration for such delicious food, you might exclaim, “¡Qué deliciosa comida!” Here, “qué” serves as both an interrogative pronoun and an exclamatory adjective, showcasing its versatility in different contexts.

Furthermore, phrases like “lo que” offer another dimension to the concept of “what” in Spanish. Translating to “what” in the sense of “that which” or “whatever,” “lo que” is often employed in indirect speech or to introduce a clause. For example, “Me gusta es comer pasta” (What I like is eating pasta) showcases the usage of “lo que” to express preferences or truths.

While “¿Qué?” is the common term for “what” in Spanish, understanding the influence of context and exploring related phrases like “lo que” enriches your understanding of the language. By immersing yourself in conversational Spanish and observing how native speakers use these terms, you’ll elevate your language-learning journey and communicate with greater fluency and precision.

Qué vs. Que – A Subtle Difference

Little interesting facts in Spanish is that the difference between “qué” with an accent mark and “que” without one may seem subtle, but it’s crucial for conveying meaning accurately.

“Qué” with an accent mark is primarily used for questions and exclamations. Example sentences with English translation:

  • “¿Qué dijiste?” (What did you say?)
  • “¡Qué deliciosa comida!” (What delicious food!)

 

On the other hand, “que” without an accent is used in relative clauses, connecting phrases within a sentence. Here are more examples:

  • “Ella dijo que le gusta comer pasta.” (She said that she likes eating pasta.)
  • “Es posible que sea verdad.” (It’s possible that it’s true.)

 

Understanding these differences allows for clear and effective communication in Spanish learning, ensuring that you use the correct form of “what” in different contexts.

Cuál

In Spanish, “¿Cuál?” (pronounced “kwal?”) serves a specific purpose when asking about a choice between two or more things. This interrogative word is employed to inquire about a particular option or preference among alternatives.

For example, consider the question: “¿Cuál camisa prefieres, la azul o la verde?” (Which shirt do you prefer, the blue or the green one?). Here, “cuál” causes the listener to select one option from a defined set, highlighting its role in seeking a few specific items or choices.

Similarly, in scenarios where options are presented, “cuál” helps to clarify preferences or decisions. For example:

  • “¿Cuál es tu película favorita, ‘Titanic’ o ‘El padrino’?” (Which is your favorite movie, ‘Titanic’ or ‘The Godfather’?).

 

By using “cuál” in such contexts, speakers can effectively navigate choices and preferences in conversation, enhancing communication clarity and facilitating decision-making processes.

Cómo

In Spanish, “¿Cómo?” (pronounced “koh-moh?”) is used to inquire about the manner or way something is done. This interrogative word seeks information regarding the method or process involved in a particular action or situation.

For example, consider the question: “¿Cómo se llama?” (What is your name?). Here, “cómo” prompts the listener to provide the manner in which they are addressed, focusing on the act of naming.

Similarly, in the second meaning, in the context of seeking clarification or repetition, “cómo” is used to inquire about the way something was expressed. For instance:

  • “¿Cómo dijiste?” (What did you say?). Here, “cómo” seeks to understand the manner in which a statement or utterance was conveyed.

 

By utilising “cómo” in such situations, speakers can effectively gather information about the manner or method underlying various actions or expressions, enriching communication and having clarity in conversation.

Exploring “¿Qué?” in Expressions

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Exploring the usage of “¿Qué?” or say what in Spanish, here are some examples of direct and indirect questions using “que” or “qué” so you can create your own questions in the future:

  1. ¿Qué tal? – Translating to “How are you?” or “How’s it going?”, this expression is commonly used as a greeting or to inquire about someone’s well-being. For instance, “¿Qué tal estás?” (How are you?) is a friendly way to check in with someone.
  2. ¿Qué pasa? – Meaning “What’s happening?” or “What’s going on?”, this phrase is employed to inquire about current events or situations. It’s similar to asking “What’s up?” in English, used informally in casual conversations.
  3. ¿Qué hay de nuevo? – Literally translating to “What’s new?”, this expression is used to inquire about any recent developments or updates. It’s a friendly way to catch up with someone and stay informed about their life or activities.
  4. ¿Y qué? – This translates to “So what?” and is used to express indifference or dismissiveness towards a matter. It’s often employed to downplay the significance of something or to emphasize that it doesn’t matter. For example, “¿Y qué si llegamos tarde?” (So what if we arrive late?).
  5. ¿Qué hay de ti? – Meaning “What about you?” this phrase is used to shift the focus of the conversation to the other person, inviting them to say their thoughts, opinions or experiences. It’s a friendly way to engage in reciprocal dialogue and show interest in the other person’s perspective.
  6. ¿Qué diablos? – Literally translating to “What the devil?” or “What the heck?”, this expression is used to convey surprise, frustration, or disbelief. It’s typically employed when encountering unexpected or perplexing situations. For example, “¿Qué diablos está pasando aquí?” (What the heck is going on here?).
  7. ¡Qué…! – This incomplete expression is used to convey strong emotions such as admiration, surprise, or disappointment. It’s followed by an adjective or noun to express the intensity of the feeling. For instance, “¡Qué delicia!” (What a delicious food!) or “¡Qué lástima!” (What a pity!).
  8. ¿Y si…? – Translating to “What if…?”, this phrase is used to pose hypothetical scenarios or explore alternative possibilities. It’s commonly used in decision-making processes or when considering potential outcomes. For example, “¿Y si viajamos a la playa este fin de semana?” (What if we travel to the beach this weekend?).

 

Each of these expressions containing “¿Qué?” offers a unique way to engage in conversation and connect with others. Whether checking in on someone’s well-being, inquiring about current events, or staying updated on recent developments, incorporating these phrases into your vocabulary enhances your ability to communicate effectively in Spanish.

Practice Makes Perfect: Mastering “¿Qué?”

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To master the uses of “¿Qué?” in Spanish, practice is key. Here are some effective tips and resources to help you improve:

Find a Language Exchange Partner: Engage in conversations with native Spanish speakers to practice using “¿Qué?” in different contexts. Language exchange platforms or local meet-up groups can help you connect with language partners who are eager to practice English while helping you with Spanish.

Watch Spanish Movies or Shows with Subtitles: Immersing yourself in Spanish media allows you to observe the natural usage of “¿Qué?” in conversations. Begin with subtitles in your native language and gradually switch to Spanish subtitles as you become more comfortable.

Use Online Learning Platforms with Interactive Exercises: Websites and apps like Duolingo and Babbel offer interactive exercises specifically designed to practice grammar and vocabulary, including the various uses of “¿Qué?”.

Take a Beginner Spanish Course: Enrolling in a structured Spanish course, like the one offered by Spanish Explorer, provides a comprehensive foundation in the language. You’ll receive guidance from experienced instructors and have opportunities to practice speaking, listening, and writing in Spanish.

Be patient with yourself as you learn. Over time, your confidence and proficiency in using “¿Qué?” will improve, enriching your ability to communicate effectively in Spanish.

Conclusion

Learning the various ways to say “what” in Spanish is essential for effective communication. Whether it’s “qué” for questions and exclamations, “lo que” for indirect speech, or “cuál” for specific choices, understanding context is key.

Explore the rich world of Spanish vocabulary and communication, embracing the nuances of the language to enhance their fluency and connect more deeply with Spanish speakers, by exploring the diverse expressions and applications of “what” in Spanish, learners can have new opportunities for meaningful interactions and cultural exchange.

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