In short – ‘Qué tal’ and ‘cómo estás’ are extremely common Spanish expressions. Most of the time they’re synonyms of ‘how are you’ or simple casual greetings similar to ‘what’s up’, but both can also be used to enquire as to the status of something (“Qué tal / Cómo está + noun”).
So, is there any real difference between them?
Well, stick around and you’ll find out!
‘Qué tal’ and ‘cómo estás’ can BOTH be used in the following ways –
1. As a greeting akin to “What’s up!”
¡Cómo estás, wey! = What’s up, bro!
2. Used to mean “How are you?” or “How’s it going?”
¡Hola! ¿Qué tal? = Hey! How’s it going?
If we add a noun after ‘qué tal’, we can enquire as to the status of something, such as a person’s well being or the development of a particular situation –
¡Hola! ¿Qué tal la escuela? = Hi! How was school?
‘Qué tal‘ vs ‘cómo estás‘
The main difference between these two phrases is the frequency with which a meaning is associated to one or the another …
‘Cómo estás’ literally translates to ‘how are you’, so it’s (obviously!) frequently used to ask after a person’s wellbeing.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t also hear it as a greeting.
There are actually some pretty funny memes that remorselessly mock the ambiguity of ‘cómo estás’; they normally depict how awkward a conversation can get when someone gives a full response to ‘¿Cómo estás?’ when used as a mere greeting.
Dos colaboradores se saludan en el trabajo
Diego – Hola, ¿cómo estás?
Ana – Pues mi pez se murió en la madrugada y no he dormido nada. Además, ya no sé cómo pagar la tarjeta de crédito y mi abuela está en el hospital…¿Y tú?
Diego – …Bien, gracias.
Two co-workers greet each other at work
Diego – Hey, how are you?
Ana – Well, my goldfish died in the middle of the night and I haven’t slept at all. Also, I don’t know how to pay my credit card and my grandmother is in the hospital … What about you?
Diego – … I’m fine, thank you.
‘Qué tal’ is actually short for ‘qué tal te va’ or ‘how’s it going’ in English.
As it’s more of a colloquialism, ‘qué tal’ is *normally* used as a casual greeting. This is by no means a rule though, as it can be a more “formal” enquiry too!
Denichi – ¡Qué tal, vecino!
Leandro – ¡Todo bien*! Tú, ¿qué tal?
Denichi – How are you doing, neighbor!
Leandro – Yeah, all good! What about you?
*Erika’s top tip – there are many fun ways to reply to ‘qué tal’! ‘Todo bien’ literally means ‘all good’, but it’s also akin to ‘all right’.
Which is more formal ‘¿Qué tal?’ or ‘¿Cómo estás?’
Now, you may be wondering if one is more formal than the other …
Well, in everyday speech they’re actually not that different!
‘Qué tal’ DOES have a more casual ring to it, but don’t be surprised if you also hear it thrown around at business meetings or formal events.
If you still feel a bit unsure about exactly how formal ‘qué tal’ is, I recommend you dive in a little deeper and check out our full article on the formality of ‘qué tal’.
En una reunión de negocios
¿Qué tal, Licenciada Ochoa?
Bienvenido, Ingeniero. Déjeme le presento a mi equipo.
At a business meeting
How are you, Ms. Ochoa?
Welcome, Sir. Let me introduce you to my team.
That said, ‘cómo estás’ is a more traditional (and perhaps safer) approach because it isn’t a colloquialism.
And if you wanna treat your interlocutor with the utmost respect, you can remove the ‘s’ from ‘estás’ anduse ‘cómo está’, which is in the formal ‘usted’ form (or the formal ‘you’).
Yerno – ¿Cómo está, Sra. Constanza?
Suegra – Muy bien, ¿y tú, hijo?
Son-in-law – How are you, Mrs. Constanza?
Mother-in-law – I’m okay, how about you, son?
Erika’s note – if you’d like to find out more, I suggest heading over to our breakdown of ‘cómo estás’ vs ‘cómo está’.
Expressions with ‘qué tal’ / ‘cómo estás’
Qué tal + noun
You can use ‘qué tal’ at the beginning of a sentence to ask about the status of something.
It’s a bit like saying ‘How is … / How are …’ or ‘How was / How were …’.
Just trust me when I say that this one’s super, super useful!!
¿Qué tal las vacaciones?
How was your vacation?
¿Qué tal tu fin de semana?
How was your weekend?
Cómo está + noun
‘Está’ without an ‘s’ is the third person singular conjugation of the verb ‘estar’ (or ‘to be’ in English).
And you can use the phrase “cómo está + noun” to enquire as to the status of someone/something.
Just note that unlike “qué tal + noun”, this phrase can only be used to enquire as to how something is right now (i.e., in the present moment).
¿Cómo está tu perrito?
How’s your dog?
¿Cómo está la situación económica del país?
How’s the country’s economic situation?
¿Qué tal, cómo estás?
Finally, you may sometimes hear both phrases used in the same sentence.
It may sound a bit redundant but it’s actually a really common phrase!
¡Qué tal! ¿Cómo estás? ¿Cómo va la remodelación de la casa?
What’s up! How are you? How’s the remodeling going?
And there you have it! Hopefully I’ve ironed out all those ‘qué tal’ vs ‘cómo estás’ creases once and for all!
Be sure to give them both a go next time you see your Spanish-speaking pals!
Oh, and if you found this article useful, be sure to check out our piece on the meaning of another interesting Mexican greeting: ‘qué onda’.