Have you ever asked your Mexican friend something and received a ‘mande’ for an answer?
Or maybe you were on the receiving end of a question … and, well, you answered with ‘qué’ (or ‘what’ in English) and got an outraged look in return?
Well, stick around and let’s explore the difference between these two words.
Feeling impatient? Here’s a sneak peak:
In short – ‘mande’ is a common Mexican expression and considered a respectful way to respond if you didn’t quite catch what someone said. ‘Qué’ can be used as well but, depending on context and circumstance, it may be considered rude.
Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty!
‘Mande’ can be used in the following ways –
1. As a respectful way to respond when being called by someone.
Mande; escuché que me hablabas. = Yes? I heard you calling me.
2. As a respectful way to ask someone to repeat themselves.
¿Mande? No escuché lo que dijiste. = Sorry? I didn’t hear what you said.
‘Qué’ can be used in the exact same way as ‘mande’, but in Mexico it’s often considered disrespectful, especially by older generations –
¿Qué? ¿Me llamaste? = What? You called me?
‘Mande‘ vs ‘qué‘
‘Mande’ means ‘you order’ or ‘order me’ in Spanish, a revelation that often takes non-Spanish speakers aback (it’s even been known to confound Spanish speakers from countries other than Mexico!).
But fear not, answering with ‘mande’ doesn’t mean you have to take orders from the person you´re conversing with!
It’s just a respectful expression – particularly popular in the twentieth century – which has its origins in the Catalan language (‘mani’m’), spoken in parts of Spain.
Un padre mexicano llama a su hija desde el comedor
Padre – ¡Alma!
Hija – ¿Mande?
Padre – ¡Baja a comer!
Hija – ¡Voy!
A Mexican father calls his daughter from the dining room
Father – Alma!
Daughter – Yeah?
Father – Come down to eat!
Daughter – Coming!
No se dice “qué”, se dice “mande”
This phrase (which translates as ‘You don’t say “what”, you say “mande”’ in English) was extremely popular with Mexican parents a few decades ago. Any kid who’d dare respond to their parents or teachers with a simple ‘qué’ was immediately scolded.
Nowadays, new generations have questioned this manner of response (i.e., using ‘mande’), mostly based on an old belief that ‘mande’ was used by the indigenous population when answering to their Spanish conquerors.
HOWEVER, linguists and academics have debunked this notion and have proven its true Catalan origins AND its use among equals way before the Spanish invasion of Mexican territories.
Why is this relevant?
Well, at some point on your Spanish journey, you’ll probably come across more traditional people who still consider ‘qué’ a VERY rude answer.
It’s also super useful to know that many youngsters prefer NOT to respond with ‘mande’.
So what’s the right way to respond?
The truth of the matter is: BOTH. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either response.
But, when in doubt, there are some other common alternatives that may come in handy:
This one means ‘how?’, but in the context of asking for repetition, it’s a bit like saying ‘excuse me?’, ‘sorry?’ or ‘what?’.
En la biblioteca escolar
Jime – Oye, ¿me pasas ese libro?
Rubén – ¿Cómo? Traía audífonos, no te escuché.
In the school library
Jime – Hey, pass me that book?
Ruben – Sorry? I was wearing headphones; I didn’t hear you.
‘Dime’ literally translates to ‘tell me’, but in the context of responding to someone who’s calling for you, it’s a synonym of ‘what?’, ‘yeah’ or ‘yes?’.
Víctor – Fer…
Fernando – Dime.
Víctor – ¿Tienes planes para el fin de semana?
Victor – Fer …
Fernando – Yeah?
Victor – Do you have plans for the weekend?
Expressions with ‘mandé‘ / ‘qué‘ / ‘cómo‘
This one actually means ‘at your orders’ and was popularized in 20th century Spain by a ventriloquist.
Nowadays you’ll still hear some people use it in a playful manner.
Una pareja de novios
Andrea – Oye, mi amor, quería preguntarte…
Toño – ¡Mande usted, señorita guapa!
Andrea – Hey, honey, I wanted to ask you …
Toño – Oh do tell, pretty lady!
¿Cómo dices? / ¿Cómo dijiste?
Another common way to use ‘¿cómo?’ when asking someone to repeat themselves is ‘¿cómo dices?’ or ‘¿cómo dijiste?’ – or ‘what did you say?’ in English.
Caro – ¿Cómo dijiste?
Fabián – Te decía que ya se estrenó la última película de Marvel en el cine…¿Porqué tan distraída?
Caro – What did you say?
Fabián – I was saying the last Marvel movie was released in the cinema … Why are you so distracted?
If you respond to someone with ‘¿qué quieres?’ (or ‘what do you want?’ in English), chances are you’re gonna come across as pretty defensive.
Iván – ¿Qué quieres?
Martha – Uy, ¿quién te hizo enojar?
Ivan – What do you want?
Martha – Oops, why are you so angry?
Hopefully you now feel more confident about choosing the right words when someone addresses you in Spanish.
You certainly know quite a lot about the origin of ‘mande’, so you’ll definitely impress your Mexican friends next time you get the chance to speak with them!
Oh, and if you wanna keep improving your Spanish vocabulary, why not head on over to our article on the differences between ‘pensar’ and ‘creer’.