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What Does Que Mean?

The word que pops up frequently in Spanish and has many different English translations. Here are some of the things that que could mean.

Interrogative Qué

Qué (with an accent) can be an interrogative pronoun used to ask questions. It translates to "what...?":

¿Qué vamos a hacer?
What are we going to do?

¿Qué comes?
What are you eating?

¿Qué pasa?
What's happening?

You can also use qué in an indirect way, expressing what someone else asked:

Te pregunta qué vas a comer.
He's asking you what you are going to eat.

Exclamatory Qué

Qué (with an accent) can be paired with an adjective and used as an exclamation. The English equivalent is "how...!":

¡Qué bonita!
How beautiful!

¡Qué inteligente eres!
How smart you are!

¡Qué interesante!
How interesting!

¡Qué verdes son!
How green they are!

You are not limited to adjectives. You can also pair qué with nouns. In this case the English equivalent is "what a...!":

¡Qué lástima!
What a pity!

¡Qué clase tan interesante!
What an interesting class!

¡Qué lío es!
What a mess it is!

¡Qué sorpresa fue!
What a surprise it was!

Que as Conjunction

Que (without the accent) often appears as a conjunction introducing a subordinate clause. In this case it is translated as "that":

Yo creo que ella dice la verdad.
I believe that she is telling the truth.

Es importante que escuchen bien.
It's important that you listen well.

There are many other conjunctions the involve the word que. Here is a sampling:

Spanish:

English:

ya que

since

antes de que

before

en caso que

in case

a menos que

unless

sin que

without

después de que

after

hasta que

until

mientras que

while

siempre que

as long as

Que as Relative Pronoun

Que can be a relative pronoun used to describe a noun. As a relative pronoun que can be translated as "that," "which," or "who" depending on the circumstances:

Carlos solo lee libros que tienen fotos.
Carlos only reads books that have photos.

¿Dónde está el bolígrafo con que escribiste la carta?
Where is the pen with which you wrote the letter?

Yo vi a la chica que peleaba con Andrea.
I saw the girl who used to fight with Andrea.

Que in Comparisons

Que is used in many comparisons. It translates to "than" in English:

Mi casa es más grande que tu casa.
My house is bigger than your house.

Alejandro aprende más rápidamente que Estéban.
Alejandro learns more rapidly than Estéban.

Ella gana más dinero que él.
She earns more money than he.

Mi hermana corre más que mi hermano.
My sister runs more than my brother.

Other Uses of Que

Surprise, Disbelief, Desire, & Commands

Que may be used at the start of sentences to express surprise, doubt, or desire. You may also see que at the start of commands. In these situations it has no translation:

¿Que viaja a Londres!
He's traveling to London?!

¿Que sales con Javiera?
You're going out with Javiera?!

¡Que te mejores pronto!
Get well soon!

¡Que entres!
Enter!

Why do these sentences start with que? Here the que is functioning like a conjunction between two clauses, one of which has been omitted:

¡(Se dice) que viaja a Londres!
¿(Es verdad) que sales con Javiera?
¡(Espero) que te mejores pronto!
¡(Exijo) que entres!

Lo Que

While qué is an interrogative pronoun used in questions, lo que is a relative pronoun used in statements. Lo que means "what" but it may be beneficial to think of it as meaning "that which":

No entiendo lo que la profesora enseña.
I don't understand what the professor is teaching.

Lo que pasó esta tarde me molesta mucho.
What happened this afternoon really bothers me.

Used with the subjunctive lo que signifies the idea of "whatever":

sea lo que sea
whatever it is / whatever it may be

venga lo que venga
come what may

El Que

El que can be used in proverbs and sayings to mean "he who" or "the one who":

El que tiene tejado de vidrio no tira piedras al de su vecino.
He who has a glass roof should not throw rocks at his neighbor's.
(Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.)