Many new Spanish learners frequently argue about which is better to use: “Qué tal” or “cómo estás?” It’s no surprise because the two phrases are often used interchangeably.
While both of them are generally said to ask about the well-being of something or someone, the truth is that one is better used than the other in some situations and vice versa.
For this reason, you might have wondered, “Is there really any difference between qué tal and cómo estás, or do they only exist to play with the minds of new Spanish learners like yourself?”
After reading this article, you will have a clearer picture of these two common phrases: where and when to use which of the two to ask how someone is, and when to use one over the other.
Que Tal Vs Como Estas: The major difference
The main distinction between Que Tal and Qué Tal is that Spanish speakers use Qué Tal. when they are or feel more connected to the thing or person being asked about. Hence, it is best used in an informal setting.
On the other hand, Como Estas is best suited when you do not feel close to or related to the person you’re asking about. As a result, it is best used in a formal setting.
In other words, Que Tal is a notch more relaxed and informal than ¿Cómo está/s
Regardless, the difference between the two phrases is subtle since they are commonly used interchangeably.
Que Tal Vs Como Estas: What similarities do they share?
To begin with, both expressions are extremely common among Spanish speakers and they both convey the message of “how are you” that suggests a simple casual greeting similar to “what’s up”
Hence, both phrases achieve the same result of asking about the status of something or someone.
In addition, both “Qué tal?” and “Cómo estás? work effectively as common Spanish greetings and conversation starters.
When a native of Spain hears either of the phrases, they can easily interpret it as a greeting question, such as “what’s up?”, “How are you doing?”, or simply “how are you?”
But the similarities go a little beyond these. Here are other ways both phrases are similar:
- Both phrases, on the surface, can be easily categorized as informal, making them suitable for everyday conversation.
- You can use both ¿Qué tal? and ¿Cómo estás. including among friends, family members, and colleagues, even though one best suits some settings than the other
- The ¿Qué tal? and ¿Cómo estás? Are widely understood and commonly used in Spanish-speaking countries
- Another similarity between ¿Qué tal? and ¿Cómo estás? Is that they are often used as a preliminary greeting before starting a conversation or asking more specific questions
In other words, there is no big deal using either “Que tal” or “Como estas” as a greeting, asking someone how they are doing.
When do you use Que tal?
The best situation to use Que tal is when you are speaking to someone you are close to and in a more informal setting – when talking to your brother, classmate, friend, or a younger person.
You can also use “Que tal” to ask someone how they are doing or how things are going. Generally, it is best used in an informal setting as opposed to Cómo estás
You can also use the Que tal when you intend to start a conversation in a Spanish-speaking environment. It is a polite but really friendly way to communicate your interest in someone’s well-being.
Most times, when I use Que tal instead of Como estas, I get responses like “Bien, gracias” (Fine, thanks) or “Todo bien” (All good).
Here’s an example of when you can use Que tal:
- If your best friend just arrived from a journey, you can start a conversation with “¿qué tal el viaje?” meaning “how was your trip?”
- If your younger brother just completed his exam, you can express your interest in his well-being by saying “¿qué tal el examen?” which means “how was your exam”
- You can also use the Que Tal when you intend to initiate an activity. For instance “¿qué tal si céntimos juntos?” which means “how about we have dinner together?”
When do you use Como Estas?
On the other hand, Como Estas is best used when you are speaking in a formal setting. For instance, when speaking to a boss, or an older person in a formal setting, or when you intend to show respect with your question.
It is still a common Spanish phrase for asking about someone’s well-being but it is not the best choice to achieve the best casual tone. Instead, “Como Estas” is best used in a formal setting and to reflect politeness while showing interest in someone’s life or well-being.
You also use Como Estas when the person you are talking to is meeting you for the first time. It is best used to initiate a simple, direct, and less jovial conversation while still building rapport with someone. For example, when talking with a client or customer.
The response you get when you use Como Estas may not be different from the ones you get when you see Que Tal since many Spanish speakers interpret the two interchangeably.
Which is more formal? ‘¿Qué tal?’ or ‘¿Cómo estás?’
More often than not, both “¿Qué tal?” and “¿Cómo estás?” are informal greetings. However, “¿Cómo estás?” is slightly more formal than the former because it has the second-person pronoun “tú.” So when you find yourself in formal situations, “¿Cómo está?” is the appropriate version of greeting.
On the other hand, “Que tal!” Is like “what’s up!” so it’s informal and doubles as a short version of asking about someone’s well-being, even if you don’t want to start a conversation
Nevertheless, you wouldn’t be able to place a benchmark on the significant difference in formality between the two since they are commonly used in casual, everyday conversation.
It is, in fact, hardly regarded as inappropriate when you use any of them with friends, family members, and colleagues.
For example, when you intend to address someone with formal respect, you can just blatantly use any of the phrases interchangeably. It would be best to be international about using Como Estas.
Expressions with ‘qué tal’ Vs ‘cómo estás’
It is one thing to know the differences between Que Tal and Como Estas, it is another to know how to apply them in your expressions.
We will look at examples of expressions using both phrases in different settings and scenarios
Using “¿Qué tal?”
- When you’re in a casual setting with a friend, you can say “¿Qué tal estuvo tu fin de semana?” which means “How was your weekend?”
- If you’re in a work environment with your close business colleague, you can say “¿Qué tal te va con el nuevo proyecto?” which means “How’s the new project going for you?”
- If you find yourself in a social gathering and sandwiched between acquaintances, you can start the conversation on a friendly note by saying “¿Qué tal todo por aquí?” which means “How’s everything going here?”
- While walking around the airport in Spain, you can say “¿Qué tal andas?” to a passerby which means “How are you doing?”
- “Que Tal estas” which means “how are you” also sits well in a conversation with a family member.
Using “¿Cómo estás?”
- Suppose you’re in a business meeting with a client, you can open the discussion with “¿Cómo estás hoy?” which means “How are you today?”
- A Spanish doctor intending to be professional while asking about the well-being of his/her patient can say “¿Cómo estás pasando?” which means “How are you doing?”
- In the same light, a therapist in a counseling session with his client can say “¿Cómo estás de ánimo?” to start the session and it means “How’s your mood?”
So which is better to use?
At the bottom line, which of the two phrases Que tal and Como Estas is the better expression to use? Well, it ultimately depends on the context of the situation, your relationship with the person you are asking about, and then what you’re looking to achieve with the expression.
Both “¿Qué tal?” and “¿Cómo estás?” are acceptable expressions for greeting someone in Spanish.
But, if we have to choose one between these two expressions, I recommend you use “¿Cómo estás?” because it is slightly more formal but flexible enough for a variety of settings. It is the best option, especially when you’re unsure which expression to use.