‘Buena onda’ – Meaning / In English

In short – buena onda’ is an extremely common expression in Latin America that best translates to ‘good vibe’. It’s mostly used to describe a ‘nice’, ‘cool’ or ‘gentle’ person (i.e., someone who has a good vibe!).  

The Mexican Academy of Language hasn’t been able to pinpoint exactly where colloquial expressions with the word ‘onda’ come from, BUT we do know that the first time ‘onda’ appeared in written text was way back in the sixties!

During this groovy period in Western history, Mexican writers of the so-called ‘Literatura de la Onda’ (or ‘La Onda Literature’) began to use an assortment of different phrases with ‘onda’ which were already popular with artists, activists, and students at the time.

Nowadays, expressions with ‘onda’ are still used A LOT (regardless of the age / “social status” of the speaker), and it’s even spread across Latin America!

Let’s take a closer look …

Uses / Meanings of ‘buena onda

Buena onda’ can be used in the following ways –

  • To compliment a person for doing something ‘nice’

  • To describe a ‘nice’ person

  • As a synonym of ‘cool’ (when describing a person)

  • As an interjection (for when things go well)

To compliment a person for doing something ‘nice

If someone calls you ‘buena onda’, well, it’s quite the compliment.

It’s basically a way of thanking someone for doing a favour, being generous or simply for being a good pal.

Quique – ¿Cómo te fue en tus vacaciones en Chiapas?

Karla – Estuvo muy chido. Te traje un kilo de café.

Quique – ¿En serio? ¡Qué buena onda, Karlita, gracias!

Quique – How was your vacation in Chiapas?

Karla – It was really cool. I brought you a pound of coffee.

Quique – Seriously? That’s so nice of you, Karlita, thank you!

Eres de las personas más buena onda que conozco. Siempre ayudas a los demás y tienes la mejor actitud.

You’re one of the nicest people I know. You always help others and have the best attitude.

Erika’s note – buena onda’ can be used to describe both men and women and you don’t have to change a thing!

To describe a ‘nice’ person

Following the same logic, ‘buena onda’ is also used to describe someone who’s very ‘polite’, ‘generous’, or just an all-round decent human being –

Qué buena onda es tu novio; es muy educado y acomedido contigo.

Your boyfriend’s very kind; he treats you well and helps you a lot.

Naila – ¿Tienes una pluma que me prestes?

José – No, pero pídele a Rolando; es bien buena onda.

Naila – Do you have a spare pen that you could lend me?

José – No, but ask Rolando; he’s a nice guy.

Similarly, if a person has bad manners OR is disrespectful / rude, then they’re ‘mala onda’ (literally ‘bad vibe’ in English) –

Tu hermana es muy mala onda contigo; no sé cómo la aguantas.

Your sister is so mean to you; I don’t know how you put up with her.

As a synonym of ‘cool’ (when describing a person)

‘Buena onda’ sometimes goes beyond good behaviour.

It can also be used to describe someone friendly, cool, popular, etc.

Hugo – Ojalá le caiga bien a tus amigos…

Martha – ¡Seguro que sí! Todos son súper buena onda.

Hugo – I hope your friends like me …

Martha – Of course they will! They’re all super cool.

Laila es mi directora, pero es la jefa más buena onda que he tenido.

Laila is my manager, but she’s the coolest boss I’ve ever had.

As an interjection (when things go well)

So far, we’ve seen ‘buena onda’ used as an adjective to describe people, but it can also be an interjection.

And, well, an enthusiastic ‘¡buena onda!’ or ‘¡qué buena onda!’ always indicates that something good has just happened!

Ernesto – Mi vuelo se canceló, pero me dieron un asiento en primera clase en el siguiente avión.

Mariana – ¡Qué buena onda! Al menos lo compensaron.

Ernesto – My flight was cancelled, but they gave me a first-class seat on the next plane.

Mariana – That’s cool! At least they made up for it.

Eugenia – ¡Me dieron la beca para mi maestría!

Mario –¡Qué buena onda*! Muchas felicidades.

Eugenia – I got a scholarship for my master’s degree!

Mario – That’s awesome! Congratulations.

*Erika’s top tip – if you wanna learn more ways to say awesome’ in Spanish, then mosey on down to our article on, well, exactly that!

By the way, if you wanna top up on your Mexican slang, you NEED to check out our “Master Guide” … it’s everything you need to know all in one place 👇🌵🇲🇽

Erika pointing to the word "Mexican Slang Master Guide"

Buena onda‘ pronunciation

The phrase ‘buena onda’ is composed of two words, each with two syllables –

  • ‘Bue’ is said like ‘bweh’, and ‘na’ sounds like ‘nah’.

  • ‘On’ sounds like ‘ohn’, and ‘da’ is said like ‘dah’.

/ bweh-nah ohn-dah /

Similar words / expressions to ‘buena onda

Qué onda

This is an extremely common greeting in Mexico!

It can be translated as ‘what’s vibing’, and it’s used in a similar way to the English ‘what’s up’

En una llamada telefónica

¿Qué onda, Pa? ¿Cómo están mamá y tú?

In a phone call

What’s up, Dad? How are you and mom?

Erika’s note – we’ve actually dedicated a whole article to the meaning and uses of ‘qué onda’!

Agarrar la onda

Agarrar la onda’ is kinda similar to the English expressions ‘to get’ (in the sense of understanding) or ‘to get the hang (of something)’.

Picture a cellphone finally getting signal after you’ve had to move it all around the room and you’ll get the idea / agarrar la onda (quite literally!).

Ya le mandé varias indirectas, pero nomás no agarra la onda.

I’ve already sent her several hints, but she just doesn’t get it.

Surfear fue muy difícil al principio, pero ya le agarré la onda.

Surfing was really difficult at first, but I’ve got the hang of it now.

Sacar (a alguien) de onda

If, on the contrary, you ‘get out of the vibe’ (or ‘sacarte de onda’), then it means you’re ‘confused’, ‘bewildered’ or ‘scared’ –

Ese wey me saca de onda. No sé si le caigo bien o no.

That dude throws me off. I don’t know if he likes me or not.

Mi novia me cortó de repente. Estoy muy sacado de onda.

My girlfriend broke up with me out of the blue. I’m baffled and kinda sad.

Me dejó sola al lado de la carretera, y estaba muy sacada de onda.

He left me at the side of the road, and I was super scared.

Final thoughts

I hope this article has shed some light onto this popular expression and that you’ll use it the next time you hang out with your Mexican pals!

Wanna learn more amazing expressions in Spanish? Then check out our piece on the Mexican slang term choncho’!

¡Hasta la próxima!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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