¿Cómo estás? vs ¿Cómo está?

Quick answer – both ‘¿Cómo estás?’ and ‘¿Cómo está?’ mean ‘How are you?’ in Spanish. ‘¿Comó estás?’ is the informal (but more common) ‘’ form and ‘¿Comó está?’ the more formal ‘usted’ form (the use of which varies according to the country that you’re in).

¿Cómo está?’ can also refer to ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’ (like ‘How is he / she?’ in English).

So, which one to choose?

Well, it’s gonna depend on the situation and the country you’re in.

In all Spanish speaking countries ‘¿Cómo estás?’ translates to ‘How are you?’ and ´¿Cómo está?´ to ‘How is he / she?’.

The more confusing part is the ‘usted’ form as it’s used (way!) more in some countries (looking at you Colombia) than others (eyes firmly fixed on Spain)!

Wanna know more?

Let’s get into the nitty gritty!

¿Cómo estás?‘ vs ‘¿Cómo está?

As you may have noticed, the first word (i.e., ‘cómo’) in these phrases remains the same. This is true if you’re addressing a group of people, your mother, or the President of Mexico!

The word that does vary according to the situation and who you are conversing with is the ‘estás’ (or ‘está’).

“But what exactly is this pesky ‘estás’?”, I hear you cry … “and why on earth doesn´t it just stay the same?”!

Well, let’s think about the English equivalent for a sec …

The literal translation of ‘Cómo estás’ is ‘How are you?’ which obviously changes in English too, depending on the context. For example, if you want to ask how a group of people who are NOT present are in English, you’d obviously say, ‘How are they?’.

What’s the common denominator?

Well, the verb ‘to be’, of course!

Yes, we can blame the humble verb ‘to be’ for all our woes (well, all our ¿comó estás / está? related woes at least!)

Let´s conjugate ‘to be’ in the present tense to shed some light on the matter!

 PresentEnglish translation
yoestoyI am
estásyou are
él / ella / ustedestáhe /she / it is (usted = you are)
nosotrosestamoswe are
vosotrosestáisyou (pl.) are
ellos / ellas / ustedesestánthey are

So, as you can see above, the verb ‘estar’ changes depending on who exactly you are referring to.

The expression ‘¿Cómo estás?’ follows the same rules as ‘estar’ in the sense that if you just want to launch a friendly ‘How are you?’ at the person you´re talking to, ‘estás’ should be your conjugation of choice (hence ‘¿Cómo estás?’).

If, however, you are asking after a single person (or dog, cat, ferret, etc.) not present at the time, ‘está’ would be your go-to instead!

‘Cómo estás‘ (informal) vs ‘Cómo está’ usted (formal)

As mentioned previously, both these phrases CAN mean the exact same thing (i.e., ‘How are you?’), but ‘¿Cómo está usted?’ edges things in the formal stakes because it’s in the ‘usted‘ form.

To truly understand these two expressions, we need to delve deeper into ‘’ vs. ‘usted’, and the contexts in which each of them are used.

First, let’s look at the general “guidelines” (put in inverted commas as they vary greatly from place to place) as to when to use ‘usted’.

What exactly is ‘usted‘?

Well, it’s basically a more formal way of saying ‘you’, formed by using the third person singular form of a verb (for example, ‘está’, ‘canta’ or ‘come’).

Let’s look at a few examples –

¡Usted canta muy bien!

You sing really well!

¿Quiere algo más?

Would you like like anything else?

¿De dónde es* usted?

Where are you from?

*Erika´s note –es‘ is used in this example as we’re referring to a more “permanent” quality.

I recommend you head on over to our article on es‘ vs ‘está if you still get the two confused on occasion!

And when is ‘usted‘ used?

Well, this really depends on the country!

In most Latin American countries, ‘usted’ is used when speaking to elderly people AND in formal situations, such as a work environment or when you’re talking to teachers, doctors, etc.

It’s basically used as a way of showing respect to the person you’re conversing with.

Tread carefully though! It’s more common (and the rules are more strictly adhered to) in certain countries than it is in others.

In Mexico (where I live), ‘usted’ is often used with elderly people and *sometimes* with people you don’t know, but neither of these rules are hard and fast as I hear people flouting them on a near daily basis.

The strictness to which these rules are adhered also depends on the area of Mexico in which you are in.

In Colombia, ‘usted’ is super common and ‘¿Cómo está?’ is actually the preferred way of saying ‘How are you?’ in most circumstances.

In Spain, however, ‘usted’ is used very little and you’re very unlikely to be asked ‘¿Cómo está?’ (let alone ‘¿Cómo está usted?’)!

As a rule, I’d use ‘¿Cómo está?’ when addressing elderly people in any Latin American country and in any situation that you consider to be remotely formal. You may miss the mark, but it’s better to play it safe!

Erika’s top tip – often the best thing to do is to listen carefully to how others around you are addressing the person in question and then go from there!

When to use ‘¿Cómo están?

¿Cómo están?´ is the Spanish equivalent of ‘How are they?’, or ‘How are you (plural)?´ when used in the formal ‘usted’ form.

Let´s look at a few examples –

Sandra – Mis hijas acaban de regresar de viaje.

Manuel – ¿Y cómo están? ¿Cómo la pasaron?

Sandra – My daughters have just got back from holiday.

Manuel – And how are they? Did they have a good time?

Buenos días, ¿cómo están el día de hoy?

Morning, how are you (plural) today?

Cómo está usted‘ response

You can generally respond to ‘¿Cómo está usted?’ in the exact same way as you would to a simple ‘¿Cómo estás?’.

Normally, the best (and easiest!) response is ‘Muy bien, ¿y tú?’ or ´Muy bien, ¿y usted?’ (depending on whether or not you’re actually feeling “muy bien” or not, of course).

Feeling adventurous you say?

Well, let´s have a look at a few other options –

¡Muy bien, gracias!

This one literally translates to ‘Very well, thank you!’ and it’s the perfect response to a ‘¿Cómo está usted?’ if you’re feeling upbeat and jovial!

¡Todo bien, gracias!

¡Todo bien, gracias!’ is a tad more informal than ‘¡Muy bien, gracias!’, but it’s an easy to remember and native-sounding response!

It’s a bit like the English ‘All good, thanks!

¿Cómo está usted?

¡Todo bien, gracias!

How are you?

All good, thanks!

Erika’s note – just remember that ‘¿Cómo está usted?’ is a more formal way of asking ‘How are you?´, so an equally formal response is required in some (but definitely not all!) situations.

¡Pues, más o menos!

This is the one to plump for if you’re not having the best of days as it’s the Spanish equivalent of ‘I´m ok’.

¿Cómo está usted?

¡Pues, más o menos, no me puedo quejar!

How are you?

I´m ok, can´t complain!

Ahí andamos / Ahí ando

This one’s similar in meaning to ‘más o menos’.

It’s a very Mexican expression and means something along the lines of ‘Well, I suppose things could be better, but I really can’t complain’. You’ll hear this one a lot on the streets of Mexico City!

Man conversing with a tamale* seller early one morning in Mexico City.

¿Cómo está usted?

Ahí andamos. ¡Y usted?

How are you?

I’m ok and you?

*Erika’s note – tamales are a tasty Mexican / Latin American treats made from corn dough.

Final thoughts

There you have it!

I´m sure that once you’ve really got your teeth into the Spanish language, knowing whether to say ‘¿Cómo estás?’ and ‘¿Cómo está?’ will become second nature!

With a bit of luck this article will have also given you a nudge in the right direction.

Oh, and be sure to check out my article on estuve‘ vs ‘estaba if you wanna improve your Spanish grammar!

¡Hasta pronto!

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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