In short – ‘Qué onda’ is an extremely common greeting in Mexico and has been for decades. It’s normally used like the English ‘what’s up’ but can also express amazement or shock.
The literal translation or ‘qué onda’ is ‘what vibe’, but don’t furrow that brow just yet because the origin of this phrase is actually pretty interesting …
… back in the sixties, Mexican artists, writers, – and young people in general – started using the word ‘onda’ (or ‘vibe’) in everyday speech. Keep in mind that the groovy feel (and social movements) of the decade spread to much of the western world and that includes Mexico.
‘Qué onda’ became a way of asking ‘what’s vibing’, and, well, it stuck!
And so did many other phrases with ‘onda’, which is why even to this day a person who’s gentle and light-hearted is called ‘buena onda’ (meaning they have a ‘good vibe’) and someone with a bad attitude is ‘mala onda’ (or has a ‘bad vibe’ … you get the gist!).
Nowadays, ‘qué onda’ may not be the “coolest” slang out there anymore, but it’s so commonplace that it’s used in both formal and casual conversations regardless of gender, age, or social status.
Uses / Meanings of ‘qué onda’
‘¿Qué onda?’ can be used in the following ways –
- As a greeting akin to ‘What’s up?’
- To mean ‘How´s it going?’
- As an interjection to express shock or surprise
- When someone is upset (or acting strange), like the English ‘What’s the matter?’
As a greeting akin to ‘What’s up’
If you’re in Mexico, chances are you’ll hear people greeting each other with a nonchalant ‘qué onda’, oftentimes with no real expectation of a follow up.
Al llegar a casa
¡Qué onda, ma!
Upon arriving home
What’s up, mom!
Dos amigos se encuentran en el campus de una universidad
Luis – ¡Qué onda, wey!
Sergio – ¡Qué onda, bro! Nos vemos después del examen, ¿va?
Luis – Dale. Echamos unas chelas*.
Two friends meet on a university campus
Luis – What’s up, man!
Sergio – What’s up, bro! I’ll see you after the exam, okay?
Luis – All right. Let´s have a couple of beers.
*Erika’s note – ‘chela’ is a very common way to call a ‘beer’ in Mexico.
Wanna know more?
We actually wrote a piece on all the different ways to say ‘beer’ in Spanish, so be sure to check it out!
To mean ‘How´s it going?’
But don’t just go ahead and assume that it’s always a casual greeting, because it may sometimes be a genuine question …
Alexandra – ¿Qué onda? ¿Todo bien con la dentista?
Elisa – Sí, solo me hizo limpieza. ¿Tú cómo estás?
Alexandra – How´s it going? Everything okay with the dentist?
Elisa – Yeah, she just cleaned my teeth up a bit. How are you?
Jaime – Oye, ¿qué onda con la fiesta del jueves?
Pamela – ¡Estuvo chida! Pero terminó temprano.
Jaime – Hey, how was the party on Thursday?
Pamela – It was cool! But it ended early.
As an interjection to express shock or surprise
‘Qué onda’ can also be used to show astonishment, awe, bewilderment, or admiration.
Alguien salta a una piscina desde el techo de una casa
Rosalía – ¡Qué onda con ese vato! Está muy chiflado.
Someone jumps into a pool from the roof of a house
Rosalía – Look at that dude! He’s totally nuts.
¡Qué onda! ¿Ya viste el video del ovni que grabó Joaco? ¡No lo puedo creer!
Holy cr**! Have you seen the UFO video Joaco recorded? I can’t believe it!
When someone is upset (or acting strange), like the English ‘What’s the matter?’
Does your friend look a bit down in the dumps?
Well, you can show that human side by asking him/her a simple ‘qué onda?’.
It´s a bit like asking ‘What´s the matter?’.
Lucio – ¿Qué onda, por qué lloras?
Aimar – Me corrieron de mi chamba.
Lucio – What’s the matter, why are you crying?
Aimar – I got fired from my job.
It can also be used when someone´s acting a bit “off” –
¿Qué onda contigo, wey? ¿Por qué le gritaste a tu papá?
What’s the matter with you, dude? Why did you yell at your dad?
´Qué onda´ pronunciation
‘Qué onda’ can be broken down into three syllables:
- ‘Qué’ sounds like ‘keh’.
- ‘On’ is pronounced like ‘ohn’.
- And ‘da’ sounds like ‘dah’.
/ keh ohn-dah /
Similar expressions to ‘qué onda’
Diminutives are extremely common in Mexico! So don’t be surprised if someone greets you with this cute version of ‘qué onda’.
¡Qué ondita! ¡Qué gusto verte!
Howdy-do! So nice to see you!
This one translates to ‘what mushroom’, but it’s actually just a wordplay based on the fact that hongo’ and ‘onda’ sound pretty similar …
¿Qué hongo? ¿Cómo has estado, morro?
What’s up? How have you been, bro?
Sacarse de onda
This expression literally translates as ‘to get out of vibe’, but it´s actually used as a synonym of ‘to freak out’.
Estoy muy sacado de onda con mi novia. Se está portando súper extraña.
My girlfriend is freaking me out. She’s being super weird.
And that’s what’s vibing with ‘qué onda’!
I hope I’ve cleared up any doubt you might’ve had about this popular expression, and that you feel tempted enough to give it a go the next time you hang out with your Mexican friends.
Oh, and if you’d like to learn even more similar phrases, be sure to head over to our list on all the different ways to say ‘what´s up’ in Spanish.