January 29, 2023 by Luis F. Dominguez Spanish Vocabulary 0 comments
Qué tal vs cómo estás is one of the first debates new Spanish learners engage in. That’s because these two everyday Spanish phrases are so common.
But, what’s the difference between qué tal and cómo estás? Are they the same? Or do they only exist to torment new learners of the language like yourself?
Today, I’m explaining the subtle differences between these two greeting questions and how native speakers use them and answer them.
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Qué Tal vs Cómo Estás
If you’ve been learning Spanish for at least a little bit, you surely have seen these two questions being used on a daily basis. ¿Qué tal? and ¿Cómo estás? are both common Spanish greetings and conversation starters.
So, what exactly do they mean and what are the differences between them?
Think about greeting questions in English, such as “what’s up?”, “how are you doing?”, or simply “how are you?”, and you’ll get an idea not only of the meaning of these Spanish phrases, but also about the difficulty in differentiating one from another.
First of all, what does que tal mean?
This question in Spanish specifically asks about “how are you?”, “how’s it going?”, or “how are things?”.
It can be understood as a short version of a longer question such as ¿qué tal estás?, ¿qué tal está usted?, or even ¿qué tal cómo estás?.
I know that last question only creates more confusion, mixing both qué tal and cómo estás. But, I think that the similarity with English will help you to understand how these questions work.
Think about a situation where you may have greeted your friend like this: “What’s up! How are you?”, and you’ll understand how you can do the same in Spanish with qué tal and cómo estás.
Is Qué tal Formal or Informal?
If we were going to create a spectrum of formality and informality in Spanish greetings, qué tal would be slightly formal, yet without getting anywhere close to the extreme of formality.
You could say that qué tal is a bit more formal than cómo estás, and if you add the usted at the end of the phrase, then that formality grows considerably.
You also have to consider which part of the Spanish-speaking world you’re using this greeting question in. Because, although it’s not rare to hear in Latin America, it’s definitely more common to hear qué tal in Spain, where it’s the most common way of addressing someone, without any hint of formality at all.
How to Respond to ¿Qué tal?
When someone asks you ¿qué tal? in Spanish, you can respond like you normally would to “what’s up?” or “how are you?” question in English:
- good – bien
- bad – mal
- more or less – más o menos
Let’s see some more common answers to the greeting question of ¿qué tal?:
Muy bien, gracias.
Very good, thank you.
Más o menos, estoy un poco triste.
More or less, I’m a bit sad.
No muy bien, las cosas no van muy bien.
Not too good, things aren’t going so well.
Grammar Specifics of Qué Tal
Let’s now explore the specific grammar rules surrounding the Spanish greeting question, ¿qué tal?
Take a look at the following formulas to use with qué tal:
Qué tal + Noun
To make your greeting more specific, ask about the other person’s day, work, or family after the phrase qué tal.
¿Qué tal tu día?
How’s your day?
¿Qué tal tu trabajo?
How’s your job?
¿Qué tal tu familia?
How’s your family?
¿Qué tal tu fin de semana?
How was your weekend?
Qué tal + Verb
You can also use qué tal before a verb to ask about how something is going or how it went.
¿Qué tal estás?
How are you?
¿Qué tal suena?
How does it sound?
¿Qué tal se ve?
How does it look?
¿Qué tal te va?
How’s it going?
¿Cómo estás? is perhaps the most common greeting question in Spanish, and after hola (hello), the most used Spanish greeting. It literally translates as “how are you?”, but it implies many other things.
Sometimes it isn’t even used as a proper question, but just as another way to say hi.
Formal or Informal?
In our imaginary spectrum of greeting formality, cómo estás is definitely more informal than qué tal. That’s because the conjugation of the verb estar (to be) is in the second-person singular in its informal form: tú.
However, if you compare cómo estás vs cómo está, then you have a different situation.
Because cómo está actually conjugates the verb estar in the second-person singular but in its formal form: usted.
In the case of cómo está, I’d have to say that it’s among the most formal greetings in Spanish.
In conclusion, cómo estás is fairly informal; while cómo está is one of the most formal greetings possible.
How to Respond to Cómo Estás
The most common cómo estás response is usually bien, gracias or “fine, thank you,” as (both in English and Spanish) most people aren’t actually interested in your real situation. It’s simply a common courtesy used to greet the other person.
The most common answers to the cómo estás question are the same as those for qué tal. Bien, mal, and más o menos, with all the different variants that those situations allow.
Muy bien gracias, ¿y tú?
Fine, thank you, and you?
Todo bien, gracias.
All good, thank you.
No muy bien que digamos.
Not too good to be honest.
Grammar Specifics of Cómo Estás
Use cómo estás to talk to people you know, like family and close friends. Remember that there are many other Spanish phrases to express exactly the same sentiment, such as:
How are you doing?
¿Qué me cuentas?
¿Qué hay de nuevo?
Learn How to Use Greeting Questions Today
Greeting questions such as qué tal vs cómo estás are staples of everyday Spanish conversations. Mastering them is a sure sign that your Spanish is progressing in the right direction.
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Luis F. Dominguez
Freelance Writer at Homeschool Spanish Academy
Luis F. Domínguez is a freelance writer and independent journalist interested in travel, languages, art, books, history, philosophy, politics and sports. He has written for Fodor’s, Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated, Telemundo, and Villa Experience, among other brands of print and digital media in Europe and North America.
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