In short – ‘qué pasó’ literally translates to ‘what happened’ in English, and although it’s used mostly in this sense, in Mexico it’s also an informal greeting (kind of similar to ‘hey’ or ‘what´s up’).
‘Qué pasó’ consists of two words:
‘qué’ – ‘qué’ is an interrogative pronoun (a type of pronoun used to ask a question); it translates to ‘what’ in this context.
‘pasó’ – ‘pasó’ is the third person singular conjugation of the verb ‘pasar’ in the PRETERITE tense. ‘Pasó’ has a few different meanings, but normally translates to ‘happened’ when used in the phrase ‘qué pasó’.
Uses / Meanings of ‘qué pasó’ in Spanish
‘Qué pasó’ can be used in the following ways –
- As a synonym of ‘What happened?’
- As a greeting
- To show that you’ve taken offense to something
As a synonym of ‘What happened?’
If you want to ask someone what happened in any given situation, you just need to add question marks to ‘qué pasó’ and you’ll be good to go!
Nuria – ¡Cuéntame! ¿Qué pasó en el episodio de anoche?
Miguel – ¡Estuvo buenísimo! Ya sabemos quién es el asesino…
Nuria – Tell me! What happened in last night’s episode?
Miguel – It was great! We finally know who the killer is …
You can also use it to express concern –
Una niña llega a casa con las rodillas raspadas
Padre – Dios mío, mija, ¿qué pasó?
Niña – Me caí de un árbol, ¡pero estoy bien!
A girl comes home with scratches on her knees
Father – Oh my god, sweetheart, what happened?
Girl – I fell from a tree, but I’m fine!
As a greeting
If you’re in Mexico, you’re probably going to hear someone say ‘¡Qué pasó, insert name here’ at some point or another as it´s an extremely common informal greeting.
Although the person being addressed may respond to the question ‘what happened?’ (depending on context), more often than not the answer will be a simple greeting, as if the question itself were meaningless.
Dos amigos se encuentran en la calle
¡Qué pasó, Pedro!
¡Antonio! ¡Qué pasó!
Two friends run into each other in the street
Antonio! What’s up!
To show that you’ve taken offense to something
If a Mexican feels offended, they may well cry out ‘¡qué pasó!’.
This is mostly used as a response to a personal affront. Although if the person is laughing, it´s probably not too big a deal (phew!).
Viridiana – ¿Te comiste todas las galletas? ¿No podías convidarme un par siquiera?
Alexis – ¡Qué pasó, Viri! ¿Me crees capaz? Solamente las guardé en la alacena.
Viridiana – Did you eat all the cookies? You could’ve at least saved me a couple?
Alexis – Woah, Viri! Do you think I’m capable of that? I just put them in the cupboard.
‘Qué pasa’ vs ‘qué pasó’
‘¿Qué pasa?’ is a question in the present tense which often translates to ‘what’s happening’ or ‘what’s wrong’, whereas ‘¿Qué pasó?’ is a question in the preterite tense and is the equivalent of the English ‘what happened’. They’re both also common greetings in Mexico.
‘¿Qué pasa?’ is commonly asked when someone seems agitated, sad, euphoric or is acting in a somewhat weird way, in this sense it’s more akin to the English phrases ‘what’s the matter?’ or ‘what’s wrong?’.
Frida – ¿Qué pasa con Javier? Anda todo raro…
Gibrán – Creo que cortó con su novio.
Frida – What’s wrong with Javier? He’s being weird …
Gibrán – I think he broke up with his boyfriend.
Un niño comienza a llorar
Madre – ¿Qué pasa, mi amor? ¿Te caíste jugando?
A toddler starts crying
Mother – What’s the matter, my love? Did you fall while playing?
It´s also an extremely common greeting (just like ‘qué pasó´) –
Juan – ¡Qué pasa, wey!
Antonio – Hola, Juan.
Juan – What’s up, man!
Antonio – Hey, Juan.
‘Qué pasó’ pronunciation
Thankfully, this useful little phrase isn´t too tricky to pronounce! ‘Qué’ is said like ‘keh’, ‘pa’ like ‘pah’, and ‘só’ like ‘soh’.
Don´t forget that the stress is on that final syllable!
/ keh pah-soh /
Similar expressions to ‘qué pasó‘
This question also translates to ‘what happened?’. It´s somewhat more formal than ‘qué pasó’.
¿Qué sucedió? ¿Cómo chocaste?
What happened? How did you crash?
This one’s a synonym of ‘¡qué pasó!’ when used as a greeting. It’s a very informal slang expression, not really suitable for addressing your boss or teacher.
¡Qué tranza, wey! ¡Qué milagro verte!
What’s up, bro! Long time no see!
Erika’s note – if you want to learn even more informal greetings in Spanish then be sure to check out our article on all the different ways to say ‘what´s up‘.
Ni al caso
You guessed it, another Mexican expression! ‘Ni al caso’ is typically said when you want to let someone know that they’re entirely wrong about something.
Tú eres fan de DC, ¿no?
Ni al caso; soy Marvelita.
You’re a DC fan, right?
Of course not, I’m a Marvel fan.
Now that you know everything there is to know about the phrase ‘qué pasó’, you’ll hopefully be able to understand EXACTLY what it means the next time it crops up in conversation.
Maybe you’ll even try it out as a greeting when you meet up with your Mexican friends!
They’re sure to throw a friendly ‘¡qué pasó!’ your way in return!
Don’t forget to check out our article on ‘qué rico‘ if you´d like to learn all about another SUPER common Spanish phrase with ‘qué‘.