Quick answer – even though ‘qué tal’ is an informal greeting, it’s still a polite way of addressing someone, albeit in a friendly manner! You may even catch businessmen and women who are just becoming acquainted using this expression!
So, what exactly does ‘qué tal´ mean?
Well, it’s an extremely common casual greeting in the Spanish-speaking world and is actually short for ‘qué tal te va’, meaning ‘how is it going?’.
It can be used to mean ‘how are you’, ‘hey’ or even to enquire as to the status of something (similar to ‘how is’ / ‘how was’ + noun in English)!
Let’s look at some examples –
As a synonym of ‘how are you’
Nacho – Hola, Juan. ¿Qué tal?
Juan – ¡Hola! Muy bien, gracias. ¿Y tú?
Nacho – Hey, Juan. How are you?
Juan – Hey! Really well, thanks. And you?
As a greeting
Daniela – ¡Qué tal, amigo!
Marcelo – ¡Qué tal!
Daniela – Hey, man!
Marcelo – Hey!
Enquiring as to the status of something
¿Qué tal estuvo la fiesta del viernes?
How was the party on Friday?
María José – ¿Qué tal está el agua de la alberca?
Estefanía – Está calientita, ¡anda métete!
María José – How’s the pool water?
Estefanía – It’s warm, get in!
Erika’s note – if you want to know how to respond to ‘qué tal’, then I strongly recommend giving our article on the subject a quick once over!
Is ‘qué tal’ formal or informal?
‘Qué tal’ is a great example of a fairly neutral phrase because it has a casual ring to it (after all, it is an abbreviation of a longer phrase), but is commonly used in more formal settings too!
It can be used when talking to a friend or acquaintance –
Dos amigos se encuentran en la calle
¿Qué tal, Jorge?
¡Hola, Ramón! Bien, ¿y tú?
Two friends meet on the street
How are you, Jorge?
Hey, Ramon! I´m good, how about you?
However, you can also use it when addressing elderly people or someone in a position of authority (your boss, the President, etc.).
For example –
Al pedir ayudar de un oficial de tránsito
¿Qué tal, oficial? ¿Podría decirme si hay parquímetros en la zona?
When asking a transit officer for help
How are you, officer? Could you tell me if there are any parking meters in the area?
Oftentimes ‘qué tal’ is used merely as a greeting, in which case a simple ‘qué tal’ in return will suffice.
Again, despite being a casual greeting, this phrase can be used in both formal and informal situations.
Claudia – ¡Qué tal, Ramiro!
Ramiro – ¡Qué tal!
Alguien presenta a dos colegas en el trabajo
Darío – Manolo, te presento a Camila, nuestra inversionista.
Manolo – ¡Qué tal!
Camila – ¡Qué tal!
Someone introduces two colleagues at work
Darío – Manolo, meet Camila, our investor.
Manolo – Hey!
Camila – Hi!
More formal alternative to ‘qué tal’
Cómo estás / Cómo está
If you find yourself in a formal situation and starting the conversation with a ‘qué tal’ feels like too much of a gamble, you can say ‘cómo estás’ (‘how are you’) instead.
If you’re addressing someone very important or you just want to be super polite, you can also say ‘cómo está’, which is in the more formal ‘usted’ form.
Al saludar a tu amigo
¿Cómo estás? ¡Qué gusto verte!
Greeting a friend
How are you? Good to see you!
Al saludar al rector de la universidad
¿Cómo está, Maestro?
Greeting the university president
How are you, Professor?
Cómo has estado / Cómo ha estado
This one translates to ‘how have you been’ and is another formal greeting.
‘Cómo ha estado’ is the even more formal ‘usted’ form.
Less formal alternatives to ‘qué tal’
If, on the contrary, you want to try an informal alternative to ‘qué tal’, you can say ‘qué hay’. This one literally translates to ‘what’s there’, but it’s also used as a synonym of ‘what’s up’.
‘Qué onda’ literally (and oddly) translates to ‘what wave’, but it’s actually just another way to say, ‘what’s up’.
Try it out with your close friends; they’ll certainly understand what you mean, especially if you’re in Mexico.
‘Qué onda’ has a curious origin, so if you want to find out more AND learn a few other awesome informal greetings in the process, you should check out our article on all the different ways to say ‘what’s up’ in Spanish.
That’s all, folks!
Hopefully you now understand exactly how formal ‘qué tal’ is and in what situations to use it.
Do try it out for size with your Spanish-speaking friends, they’re sure to reply with a friendly ‘qué tal’!