If you were to ask me which phrase I’d recommend you learn before visiting a foreign country, the ever useful ´how much does it cost´ would have to be one of the leading contenders.
This humble little phrase opens the gateway to a world of artisan goods and exotic cuisine.
Combined with a few numbers, it may even stop you getting ripped off!
“But I know this already!”, I hear you cry, “How much in Spanish is cuanto cuesta!”.
Well, you’d be right, the literal translation of ‘how much does it cost’ is indeed ‘cuanto cuesta’, but that doesn’t mean that it should be your go-to phrase in all situations!
In fact, you’d be amazed by the number of different ways to say this simple phrase in Spanish and the nuanced contexts in which each one of them is used.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it!
1 ¿Cuánto cuesta?
This is the phrase you probably learnt at school or picked up from that faithful Spanish textbook.
You’re sure to hear the occasional ‘¿Cuánto cuesta?’ on your next foray into the Spanish speaking world, but it’s not always the phrase at the tip of the local’s tongues and it can have a bit of a textbook feel to it (depending on context).
So, when is it appropriate to use a simple ‘cuánto cuesta’?
Well, it’s mostly used in shops, markets, cafés, etc. when asking the price of an individual product. Think holding an item up and asking how much it costs.
Vendedor – ¡Hola! ¿En qué te puedo ayudar?
Cliente – ¿Cuánto cuesta esta pluma?
Shop assistant – Hey! How can I help?
Client – How much does this pen cost?
It’s also important to remember that ‘¿Cuánto cuesta?’ refers to one single item and ‘¿Cuánto cuestan?’ refers to various items (normally of the same type).
Let’s get into the examples –
¿Cuánto cuesta esto?
How much is this?
¿Cuánto cuestan estas playeras?
How much do these t-shirts cost?
¿Y cuánto cuesta la casa?
And how much does the house cost?
Erika’s top tip – ‘¿cuánto cuesta?’ shouldn’t be used when referring to the total sum of items purchased, so DON´T use it to ask how much your daily dose of tacos came to!
2 ¿Cuánto vale?
This is a great little alternative to ‘¿Cuánto cuesta?’ as they mean pretty much the same thing and are used in the exact same way! Just note that ‘¿Cuánto vale?’ is a tad more informal!
Like its better-known cousin, ‘¿Cuánto vale?’ can be used to ask the price of individual objects and you’ll be sure to overhear it while chowing down on some grub at a food stall, perusing a local market and everywhere in between!
¿Cuánto vale el juguete?
How much does the toy cost?
¿Cuánto vale esta bolsa de café?
How much does this bag of coffee cost?
Just remember that if you’re referring to various items, you need to use ‘¿Cuánto valen?’ instead of ‘¿Cuánto vale?’ –
¿Cuánto valen los tacos?
How much do the tacos cost?
3 ¿Cuánto es?
This is another one for shops, cafés, markets and the like; it’s normally used when you’ve already chosen all the items that you’re going to purchase and want to know what the overall cost will be.
Again, it’s a little on the informal side, so it’s best avoided in fancy restaurants or department stores.
Entonces, ¿cuánto es?
So, how much is it (in total)?
¿Cuánto es por todo?
How much for everything?
If you’ve already paid but you want to ask the price of an individual item (maybe the total was a bit more than expected!), you can use the phrase ‘¿cuánto es de …’.
cuánto es + de + noun
¿Y cuánto es del peluche?
And how much is the soft toy?
Cuánto es’ can also be used to compare units of measurement (for example, kilos to pounds) –
¿Cuánto es una libra en kilos?
How many pounds are in a kilo?
¿Cuánto es un centavo de dólar en pesos mexicanos?
How many cents are there to a Mexican peso?
4 ¿Cuál es el precio?
This little beauty of a phrase is also used when you want to know the price of an individual product or item.
You’ll hear this one a lot in most Spanish speaking countries and if you whip it out yourself, it’s sure to make you sound more native!
Man pointing to a chair in an antique store.
¿Cuál es el precio?
How much is this?
If you want to refer to a specific object, it needs to be followed by ‘de + noun’ –
¿Cuál es el precio de este perrito?
How much is this little dog?
5 ¿Qué precio tiene?
Think of this as a more formal alternative to ‘¿Cuál es el precio?’.
It’s also used when asking the price of a specific product –
¿Qué precio tiene este libro?
How much is this book?
If you want to refer to a number of products (normally of the same type, such as books, t-shirts, etc.), make sure to use ‘¿Qué precio tienen?’ –
¿Qué precio tienen las rosas?
How much are the roses?
¿Qué precio tienen estas sandalias?
How much are these sandals?
6 ¿A cómo está (el kilo de)?
This is a phrase that you’ll likely hear in markets all over Mexico!
It doesn’t mean ‘how much does it cost’ in the traditional sense of the phrase as it’s only used to ask the price of a kilo, half kilo (or any other unit of weight) of a particular product.
If you’re buying fruit and vegetables in a Mexican market, don’t be surprised if you suddenly hear someone shouting “¿A cómo está el jitomate?” over your shoulder!
This phrase can be used in two different ways, the first by plonking a noun (and, of course, our friend the article) at the end –
¿A cómo está la calabaza?
How much is a kilo of zucchinis?
You second way of using this phrase is by simply omitting the ‘está’ –
¿A cómo la naranja?
How much is a kilo of oranges?
Erika’s top tip – I just thought I´d write a quick note on responses to ‘¿A cómo está?’, as these can be kind of confusing!
The most common response is ‘a + number’, as the seller is telling you the price per kilo.
A typical conversation might go as follows –
¿A cómo está la manzana?
How much is a kilo of apples?
Fifteen pesos a kilo.
You might also be told ‘(a) 30 el medio’ or ‘(a) 20 el cuarto’, which refer to a half kilo or a quarter kilo respectively.
7 ¿A cuánto está?
This one’s basically another variation of ‘¿A cómo está?’ and it’s also commonplace in markets and wholesale stalls when asking the price per kilo.
As with ‘¿A cómo está?’, you can say either ‘¿A cuánto está la fresa?’ or ‘¿A cuánto la fresa?’.
Cliente – ¿A cuánto está el aguacate?
Vendedor – A veinticinco.
Customer – How much is the avocado?
Seller – Twenty-five pesos a kilo.
8 ¿A cómo son?
‘¿A cómo son?’ is yet another common phrase used to ask the price of something.
It’s the Spanish equivalent of ´how much are they’, so you need to be referring to a group of items, NOT a single product.
This phrase is very versatile, and I hear it used by Mexicans wanting to know the price of their next quesadilla fix AND the price of t-shirts at the local market in equal measure.
As with the other phrases on this list that start with ‘a’, you should expect the seller to respond with something like ‘a quince’ or ‘a cincuenta’.
¿A cómo son las quesadillas?
How much are the quesadillas?
Fifteen pesos each!
¿Las muñecas, a cómo son?
How much are the dolls?
Erika’s note – although extremely versatile, ‘¿A cómo son?’ is best used in tianguis (the Mexican word for street markets) and food stalls, as it’s not the most formal of phrases!
9 ¿Cuánto va a ser?
This is probably the phrase on this list that I personally use the most. Again, it’s not a direct synonym of ‘how much does it cost’, but it’s sure to become your go-to in certain contexts!
It can literally be translated as ‘how much is it going to be’ and basically means ‘how much is it’ (in total) or ‘how much do I owe you’.
It’s used to ask how much your total bill is going to be, be it at a restaurant, a taco stand or a convenience store.
‘¿Cuánto va a ser?’ Is particularly useful when in a restaurant or café and you want to politely hint to the waiter / person attending you to go get that check!*
Let’s jump into some examples –
En un puesto de tacos en la Ciudad de México
Cliente – ¿Cuánto va a ser?
Taquero – Serían 50 pesos por favor.
Overheard at a taco stand in Mexico City
Customer – How much do I owe you?
Man selling tacos – 50 pesos please.
Comensal – Disculpa, ¿cuánto va a ser?
Mesero – ¡Ahorita te traigo tu cuenta!
Diner – Excuse me, how much is it going to be?
Waiter – I´ll bring your check right away!
Erika’s note – don´t forget to check out our article on how to ask for the bill in Spanish if you´re going to be eating out a lot in a Spanish-speaking country!
10 ¿Cuánto (me) cobras?
The final phrase on today’s list is used to ask how much someone is going to charge you for a service. So, if you’re grabbing a taxi or getting your hair cut in Mexico, this is the one to plump for (hopefully BEFORE the service has actually been provided).
This one literally translates to ‘how much do you charge’ and can also be used with the preposition ‘por’ if you want your request to be more specific.
Here are some examples –
¿Y cuánto cobras?
And how much do you charge?
¿Cuánto me cobras por ir al Zócalo?
How much will you charge me to the Zócolo (Mexico City’s central square)?
¿Cuánto me cobras por derrumbar esta pared?
How much to knock down this wall?
‘How much are they’ in Spanish
In Spanish verbs ALWAYS need to agree with their subject (the noun or pronoun doing the action).
So, when you’re using a verb such as ‘costar’ or ‘valer’ to refer to an item or a product, the verbs change according to the NUMBER of products being referred to.
Basically, ‘costar’ and ‘valer’ take the third person plural (‘they’) form when referring to more than one product, and the third person singular (‘it’) form when referring to a single product.
Let’s look at some examples –
¿Cuánto cuesta? = How much is it?
¿Cuánto cuestan? = How much are they?
¿Cuánto vale? = How much is it?
¿Cuánto valen? = How much are they?
¿Qué precio tiene? = How much is it?
¿Qué precio tienen? = How much are they?
‘How much do I owe you’ in Spanish
The equivalent to the English ‘How much do I owe you?’ is ‘¿Cuánto te debo?’. Thankfully, this little gem of a phrase can be used in pretty much the same way as the English.
Just remember that if you’re in Latin America and you´re conversing with elderly people or you’re in a formal situation, it’s best to use the “usted” form instead of the ‘tú’ form.
The phrase becomes ‘¿Cuánto le debo?’ in the “usted” form.
Mesero – ¿Te gustó el café?
Cliente – Sí, muchísimo. ¿Cuánto te debo?
Waiter – Did you like the coffee?
Customer – Yeah, I loved it! How much do I owe you?
¿Cuánto le debo señor?
How much do I owe you? (talking to an elderly person)
With any luck, you’ll now be able to ask ‘how much does it cost’ in Spanish in any given situation AND you won’t be using ‘cuánto cuesta’ twenty times a day (unlike yours truly when I first started out on my Spanish learning journey)!
Just remember that the best phrase to use depends on the context and, if in doubt, listen to what the locals are saying! That’s actually how I picked up on all the above phrases!
Don’t forget to check out our article on all the different ways to say ‘money‘ in Spanish if you want to give you conversation skills another nudge in the right direction!