Meaning of ‘Qué pasó’ – Mexican Spanish 101

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 like ‘hey’ or ‘what’s up’).

This was one of the phrases that really had me scratching my head when I first got to Mexico (along with its brother-in-arms, ‘QUÉ PASA’!), so it’s well worth getting to grips with!

Read on if you wanna learn how to use it like a pro!

Uses / Meanings of ‘qué pasó’ in Mexican 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?’

‘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’.

So, 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 – Spill the beans! What happened in last night’s episode?

Miguel – It was great! We finally know who the killer is …

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!

A dog in the kitchen covered in flour and a woman saying, "¿Qué pasó aquí?"

As a greeting

If you’re in Mexico, you’re sure to hear people saying ‘¡Qué pasó, insert name here’ at some point or another as it’s an extremely common informal greeting.

More often than not the answer will be a simple greeting, as if the question itself were meaningless.

Man saying, "¡Qué pasó, Pedro!"

Dos amigos se encuentran en la calle

¡Qué pasó, Pedro!

¡Antonio! ¡Qué pasó!

Two friends run into each other in the street

Hey, Pedro!

Antonio! What’s up!

Wondering when exactly it’s acceptable to greet people with a hearty ‘qué pasó‘?

Well, this infographic should clear up any lingering doubts –

Infographic showing when it's acceptable to use "qué pasó" as a greeting

To show that you’ve taken offense to something

If a Mexican feels offended, they may well cry out ‘¡qué pasó!’.

It’s 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.

Expert tip – a true Mexican would stress and elongate the final ‘o‘ in ‘qué pasó’ when using it in this context (i.e., being offended): ‘qué-pa-soooo‘. I’ve found this to be especially true for CHILANGOS!

By the way, if you wanna top up on your Mexican slang, you NEED to check out our “Master Guide” … it’s everything you need to know all in one place 👇🌵🇲🇽

Erika pointing to the word "Mexican Slang Master Guide"

Qué pasa’ vs ‘qué pasó

When I first got to Mexico I remember being super confused by these two …

I mean, on the surface the difference between them is pretty clear: ‘¿qué pasa?’ is a question in the present tense (it means something along the lines of ‘what’s happening?’), and ‘¿qué pasó?’ is a question in the preterite tense and therefore translates as ‘what happened?’.

So, I was left pretty bewildered when I heard them being used interchangeably, AND in some pretty odd contexts to boot!

And that’s because in Mexico they’re BOTH common greetings, kinda like the English phrase ‘what’s up‘!

Two men greeting each other with "qué pasa" and "qué pasó"

Juan – ¡Qué pasa, WEY!

Antonio – Hola, Juan.

Juan – What’s up, man!

Antonio – Hey, Juan.

Rupert’s pro tip – ‘¿qué pasa?’ is also used when addressing someone who seems agitated, sad, euphoric, or is just acting strangely; 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?

Qué pasó’ pronunciation

Thankfully, this useful little phrase isn’t too tricky to pronounce: ‘qué’ is said like ‘keh’, ‘pa’ like ‘pah’, and ‘’ like ‘soh’.

Don’t forget that the stress is on that final syllable!

/ keh pah-soh /

Before you go …

Qué pasó‘ is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to informal greetings in Mexican Spanish!

Survey showing the most popular informal greetings in mexico

Make sure to head on over to our piece on all the different ways to say ‘WHAT’S UP’ if you wanna know more!

¡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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