It’s pretty easy to learn the most common greetings in Spanish; just throw a ‘buenos días‘ or ‘hola‘ into the mix and you’re sure to be understood.
However, if you want to up your game and have something up your sleeve in all situations, learning how to say the more colloquial ‘what’s up’ definitely won´t go amiss!
There’s a huge variety of expressions used to ask somebody ‘what’s up’ in Spanish and Mexico, in particular, has an abundance of fantastic phrases, not to mention all their whimsical variations.
If you happen upon some of these expressions unprepared, you may well be left pondering what exactly the city of Pachuca has to do with the city of Toluca … or why your ‘chilango‘ friend greeted you with the word ‘fart’!
Anyway, buckle up those seatbelts and lets get into it!
The literal – but not entirely helpful – translation of ‘qué onda’ would be ‘what wave’; which, to be fair, paints a picture, but maybe one of sunny beaches rather than greeting someone informally or asking about their life.
The origin of this phrase is a bit obscure, but the use of the word ‘onda’ in colloquial speech can be traced back to the sixties.
Some of the groovy writers from that decade often talked about being on a certain frequency or vibe … so it’s not too farfetched to translate ‘qué onda’ to ‘what’s vibing’. (Ya dig?)
Nowadays it’s just used as a general greeting –
Diana – ¿Qué onda? ¿Cómo te fue en el partido de ayer?
Andrea – Perdimos. Nos metieron cinco goles.
Diana – What’s up? How did the match go yesterday?
Andrea – We lost. They scored five goals against us.
Ramón – ¿Qué onda contigo? ¿Por qué le hablaste tan feo a Rodrigo?
Alexa – Estoy enojada con él. ¡Me dejó plantada en el cine!
Ramón – What’s up with you? Why were you so rude to Rodrigo?
Alexa – I’m mad at him. He stood me up at the movies!
¿Qué hongo? / ¿Qué ondita? / ¿Qué honduras?
Well, that’s because these expressions are all just variations of ‘qué onda’!
As ‘qué onda’ gained popularity, people began to replace ‘onda’ with similar sounding words, blessing us with the following: ‘qué hongo’ (what mushroom’), ‘qué ondita’ (what little wave’), and ‘qué Honduras’ (‘what Honduras’ … yes, the country!).
Paulo – ¿Qué hongo, wey?
Jimena – Aquí descansado. ¿Qué hongo contigo?
Paulo – What’s up, dude?
Jimena – Just relaxing. What’s up with you?
¿Qué pedo (wey)? – What’s up, (bro)?
Asking about bodily gases may seem like an offensive way of greeting someone, but it has become extremely commonplace in certain parts of Mexico.
If you hear it, take it as a sign that your interlocutor is being friendly. Just be mindful of where and when you use it because it’s not appropriate in more formal situations.
My advice: don’t greet anybody like this until you’ve reached a certain level of trust …
Ricardo – ¿Qué pedo, wey? ¡Años sin verte!
Alberto – ¡Wey, qué gusto verte por aquí!
Ricardo – What’s up, bro? Long time no see!
Alberto – Bro! So nice to see you here!
Sometimes we need to tone an expression down without stripping it of its impact, and that’s exactly what ‘qué pex’ is.
It’s basically a less vulgar variation of ‘qué pedo’; ‘pex’ isn’t actually a word, but it sounds pretty similar to ‘pedo’. You might even hear kids using ‘qué pex’ or the even gentler ‘qué pez’ (‘what fish’).
Just keep in mind that it’s still an informal phrase, so tread carefully!
Un pre-adolescente en el parque para perros
¡Jaja! ¡Qué pex con ese perro! ¡Está bien loquito!
A preteen at the dog park
Haha! What’s up with that dog? It’s really crazy!
¿Quiubo? / ¿Quiúbole? / ¿Quiúboles?
This strange word and it’s many variations are used in both Mexico AND Colombia, so don’t be surprised if you overhear it in either country!
‘Quiubo’ is a contraction of the phrase ‘qué hubo’, which is yet another way to say ‘what’s up’! Whack a ‘le’ on the end and you get ‘quiúbole’, a very Mexican expression kind of similar to other (yes, again, Mexican) interjections such as ‘órale’, ‘chale’ and ‘ándale’.
To make things even more complicated, you’ll likely hear this last one both with or without an ‘s’: ‘quiúbole’ and ‘quiúboles’.
Saludando a un vecino en Colombia
¿Quiubo, parce? ¿Para dónde va?
Greeting a neighbor in Colombia
What’s up, bro? Where are you going?
Un taquero en la Ciudad de México
¿Quiúboles, carnal? ¿Tu orden va a ser con o sin cebolla?
A ‘taquero’ (the person in charge of a taco stand) in Mexico City
What’s up, bro? Will your order be with or without onions?
Erika’s note – if you want to learn more about the subtleties of this unusual word, I highly recommend you take a peek at our article on the different meanings and uses of ‘quiúbole’.
This one literally translate to ‘what is there’, and it’s a very colloquial way of asking ‘what’s up’ that you can use in pretty much every Spanish-speaking country.
As with all the other phrases on this list, it’s quite informal … though you might sometimes hear it in formal situations, during more laid-back business meetings, for example.
Fun fact: in the Latin American dubbing of Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny greets everybody with ‘¿Qué hay de nuevo, viejo?’ instead of his signature ‘What’s up, Doc?’.
¿Qué hay? ¿Cómo está la familia?
What’s up? How’s the family doing?
¿Qué pasa? / ¿Qué pasó?
The only difference between these two popular ways of saying ‘what´s up’ is that they use different conjugations of the verb ‘pasar’ (‘to happen’).
‘Pasa’ is the present tense (third personal singular), and ‘pasó’ the simple past, but both ‘qué pasa‘ and ‘qué pasó‘ are used as informal greetings with no difference in meaning.
Just remember that context is everything, so if you hear either one of these phrases as part of a sentence (i.e., not used as a greeting), you´ll have to translate them accordingly.
¿Qué pasa, morro? ¿Por qué esa carita triste?
What’s up, kid? Why the sad face?
¿Qué pasó, Carolina? ¡Me da gusto saludarte!
What’s up, Carolina? It’s good to see you!
Erika’s note – we´ve actually written a whole article on the intricacies of ‘qué pasó‘, so be sure to check it out!
‘What passion?’ is what you’d be asking by greeting someone with, ‘¿Qué pasión?’.
Are you asking about their greatest passion in life?
‘Pasión’ is pronounced similarly to ‘pasa’, so ‘qué pasión’ is just a fun variation of ‘qué pasa’ or ‘qué pasó’.
¡Qué pasión, Lupita! ¿Cómo has estado?
What’s up, Lupita? How have you been?
¿Qué Pachuca por Toluca?
Speaking of phonetics, sometimes a mere syllable is enough to get Mexican’s creative juices flowing. That’s the case with (‘qué’) Pachuca, the capital city of the Hidalgo state, which shares its first syllable with ‘pasa’.
And what does Toluca, a town in the State of Mexico have to do with it?
Well, it rhymes with Pachuca …
So now you know that if someone asks you, ‘qué Pachuca por Toluca’, it’s NOT an invitation to visit these two Mexican cities … it’s just another way of saying, ‘what’s up!’.
Ruperto se encuentra con un amigo en la calle
¡Qué Pachuca por Toluca, mi hermano! ¿Qué haces por acá?
Ruperto bumps into his friend on the street
What’s up, brother! What are you doing here?
‘What do you tell?’ would be the literal translation of ‘qué cuentas’, and it’s a very common way of greeting someone in both informal and (slightly) more formal settings.
‘Qué cuentas’ is basically just an invitation to chat about everything that’s been going on in your life.
Dos amigas al teléfono
¡Hola, Brenda! ¿Qué cuentas?
No mucho…aquí terminando de hacer la tarea, ¿y tú?
Two friends chatting over the phone
Hi, Brenda! What’s up?
Not much … just finishing my homework, and you?
¿Qué transa? / ¿Qué tranza?
One of Mexico City’s trademark greetings is ‘qué transa’, a phrase which is confusing even to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world.
Well, the Spanish Academy of Language defines the word ‘transa’ as ‘a cheat’ or ‘a swindler’ …
… but fear not, if someone greets you with ‘qué transa‘ in Mexico, it’s just meant as an innocent ‘what’s up’.
There’s a bit of debate regarding this phrase’s origin. Some say ‘transa’ is short for ‘transacción’ (‘transaction’ in English), so it could mean something like ‘what’s the deal’. Others claim that ‘qué transa’ is derived from the expression ‘qué transita por tus venas’ (or ‘what is going through your veins’).
Either way, you’ll also come across the word ‘transa’ spelled with a ‘z’, which makes even less sense. ‘Tranzar’ means ‘to chop’ or ‘to weave branches’.
Yeah, this one seems to have weaved itself beyond disentanglement …
At least you now know that it’s a fairly common greeting!
En un puesto de comida en el centro de la Ciudad de México
¿Qué tranza, mi valedor? ¿Qué te voy a dar?
At a food stand in downtown Mexico City
What’s up, bro? What can I get you?
‘Hey guys, what’s up’ in Spanish
The closest equivalent in Spanish to ‘hey guys’ would be ‘hola, chicos’.
Other translations include the colloquial ‘hola, banda’ (as in a music band; a term popularized by the song ‘Chilanga Banda’ by Café Tacuba), or even ‘hey, chicos’, ‘hey, banda’ (in countries like Mexico where “Spanglish” is extremely common).
Whack any of the above listed phrases on the end to complete the phrase ‘Hey, guys. What´s up?´ –
¡Hola, chicos! ¿Qué onda?
¡Hola, banda! ¿Qué pedo?
Hey, banda, ¿qué cuentan?
‘What’s going on’ in Spanish
To ask ‘What’s going on?’ in Spanish, you could say ‘¿Qué está pasando?’.
Remember the verb ‘pasar’ in the phrase ‘qué pasa’? Well, ‘está pasando’ is its present continuous form. This is the “standard” translation of ‘what’s going on’.
¿Qué está pasando en tu vida? ¡Cuéntamelo todo!
What’s going on in your life? Tell me everything!
It’s also worth mentioning that all of the above listed phrases could be used in this sense, even if only in more casual situations.
Dos hermanos están peleando a gritos
Hermano 1 – ¡No fue así wey!
Hermano 2 – ¡Es que no te entra en la cabeza!
Hermano 3 – ¿Qué onda? ¿Por qué están peleando?
Two brothers are shouting at one another
Brother 1 – That’s not what happened!
Brother 2 – You just can’t get it through your thick skull!
Brother 3 – What’s going on? Why are you arguing?
Phew! That’s all for today!
Greeting a person can be a great opportunity to bond and throwing one of the above expressions into the mix is likely to serve as an excellent icebreaker in almost any informal situation (yes, that’s right, ‘qué Pachuca por Toluca’ isn’t suitable in an office environment!).
Some of the above expressions are really colloquial, so you’re definitely going to surprise your Spanish-speaking friends. I hope you enjoy using them!