14 Colloquial Spanish Greetings They’ll Never Teach You in the Classroom
Colloquial Spanish greetings are rarely part of any formal Spanish learning curriculum. Ironically though, greetings are almost always the first thing they teach you in any language class including Spanish. For some reason, language purists have always treated colloquialisms as some kind of plague. And in keeping with their prejudice, they do everything in their capacity to keep them out of the classroom. But every language learner worth their salt knows how integral colloquialisms are to any organic tongue. Take English for instance. How likely are you to say a textbook-endorsed “good morning” to a friend? And how likely are you to greet them with a more street-friendly “hey, wassup”? That’s the difference. Between what the classrooms teach and what the street practices. Because when it comes to language, life’s never textbook-perfect. It’s the imperfections of the real-world that make an organic language, well, organic.
Coming back to greetings, Spanish has as many ways to greet as the regions it’s spoken in. Well, more, actually. We are already familiar with the usual suspects. They’re plastered all over the Internet. And textbooks. And classrooms. I mean the following:
I mean, if you’ve spent even a week learning Spanish, I’m certain you already know these formal greetings like the back of your hands. But they don’t quite cut it in the real world. Not that you can’t use them. Not that you don’t hear them. But they don’t make you sound like one of them. That takes a detour off the books. Which is where colloquial Spanish greetings come in. Like I said, don’t give up on the above though. There’s a reason they’re still around. They’ll still come in handy when you can’t or don’t want to sound too shirty with someone. Think of colloquial Spanish greetings as the extra spice to notch up your conversations in familiar settings. Nothing more and nothing less.
Colloquial Spanish Greetings for Hello
Of all greetings, hello ought to be the most basic and the most ubiquitous. I mean yes, you do greet people with questions and by the time of day, but hello still remains the handiest. Hola in Spanish. Easy, right? That should do. But then, there’s more street-savvy alternatives out there and that’s what we’re gonna learn here. When to use these would largely depend on the context. And the place too, of course. The friendlier you are with the person, the more legroom you have for colloquialism. Obviously.
1. Epa or Épale
This one stumped you, I bet. When was the last time anyone brought this word up in a language lesson? Most likely, never. Épale is way more ubiquitous that it seems. In Latin America anyway. This word enjoys currency from Venezuela to Puerto Rico. And from Chile to Mexico. Some claim to have heard it even in Spain! And that should tell you something about its clout. Épale also has an even more colloquial alternative, epa. Use this wherever you’d use hola. No reservation. Unless you’re in a very formal setting.
Now here’s a little fun trivia on épale. The word is technically not just one, but rather a portmanteau of epa and le. The le here is an indirect object that always comes attached to the verb if the latter is in the imperative. And what’s epa, you ask? Just an interjection expressing surprise. Or dislike. Or annoyance. You could also use epa for a simple hey. Thus, épale can also stand for oops, wow, or whoa. And, of course, hey. Basically, a word of warning against something inappropriate or dangerous. It all depends on the context. And the speaker’s tone.
¡Épale, épale! Si me dices las cosas con calma te entenderé (Whoa, whoa! If you explain it to me calmly, I’ll understand you).
Yes, the above example expresses annoyance. But trust me, épale doesn’t always have to express something. Native speakers can, and often do, use the word as a substitute for hola. So next time you wish to flaunt your knowledge of colloquial Spanish greetings, try adding a bit of épale to your conversations. And give your Spanish-speaking amigos a pleasant jolt. But don’t forget, it’s strictly informal. And I mean strictly!
This one sounds confusingly like épale but notice the je instead of pa. Épale and éjele remind me of something. I have written an entire post on Mexico’s obsession with words ending in -le, such as these two. They have a whole list of them — órale, híjole, etc. But I digress. Coming back to the word in question, it’s more than just a colloquial Spanish greeting. Just like épale, it can mean a range of startled emotions. Actually, it works as a near synonym for épale. In most cases.
Where éjele differs is in its additional use as an interjection upon catching someone unexpectedly. In other words, when you’re caught in the act. With your pants down, if you will. Épale expresses shock, éjele causes it too. In some contexts, if not all. In order to illustrate this, let’s see an example off the real world:
¡Éjele, ya te vi! (Whoa, I just say you!)
Imagine your dad yelling this when he walks in on you watching you-know-what on your computer. See what I mean? Sounds more like whoa, doesn’t it? Just like épale, éjele might be a portmanteau too, but don’t quote me on this one. And just like épale, you may use éjele as a very casual hey as well. This particular hey, of course, works only when the person being called is busy with something and you want to draw their attention. This word enjoys particularly strong currency in Mexico, like most other le-words. But it’s also heard as far as Puerto Rico.
In Peru, habla is more like a very casual and familiar hello. Doesn’t matter if you’re meeting them after an hour or after a generation. Habla works for all situations.
Yeah, what about it? I know I’m a man. Actually, hombre doesn’t exactly mean man in this context. Here, it’s one of the colloquial Spanish greetings, much like a resoundingly upbeat hey in English. And it’s gender-neutral. You could say it’s like the excited hey man you hear when meeting an old acquaintance after ages. Typically, this hombre comes with a signature drawl of its own. The more excited you are, the longer the drawl:
¡Hombreee! ¡Cuanto tiempo sin verte! (Hey man! Been so long since we last met!)
See how it works? And like I said, the greeting is gender-neutral. Which means you don’t switch to mujer when the person you’re meeting is a girl. It’s hombre for everyone. Also, you don’t use this greeting with your neighbour who you see almost everyday. Nor with your co-worker. If you did, you’d sound mighty awkward. How awkward? well, that depends on how long you stretch that drawl. Basically, save this only for certain situations. Where you see someone after a significantly long time. Also, don’t use it unless you’re pleasantly surprised to see the person. Because pleasure is a big part of what hombre as a greeting conveys. As for where, well, Spain seems to be where you hear this the most. On this side of the Pond, older men and women in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica also use it often. By older I mean in their 60s.
Now literally, this means speak, as in the imperative of to speak. And that should make this an extremely rude way to greet people. I mean imagine we meeting up and instead of hello, me going, alright, speak. Super crass! But then, this is colloquial Spanish greetings we’re talking about. Sanity goes out the window when you go colloquial. This time, it’s further down south. In Peru, habla is more like a very casual and familiar hello. Doesn’t matter if you’re meeting them after an hour or after a generation. Habla works for all situations. As long as they involve someone familiar. Because remember, it’s still the imperative of hablar (to speak). You don’t want to use this form of colloquialism with someone who’s older, unfamiliar, or senior.
¡Habla José! ¿Qué me cuentas? (Hey José! What’s going on?)
In Peru, habla is everywhere. Even a little familiarity is generally enough for people to go habla on each other. I don’t know if the greeting enjoys this ubiquity in other countries. But I won’t be surprised if the word, along with other colloquial Spanish greetings, were at least understood elsewhere. Slang words make a language less boring and Peruvian Spanish has tons of them. Habla is just one example.
Colloquial Spanish Greetings for Wassup
You don’t just stop at hello, now, do you? In fact, oftentimes, you don’t even start with hello. You just skip it and go straight to the next level: Wassup. I mean what’s up. Depending on your mood, place, and situation, you could go with a range of alternatives:
What’s goin’ on?
How are you?
And that’s not even scratching the surface! The number of ways you could ask a friend how he’s doing in English is mind-boggling. And it’s equally mind-boggling, if not more, in Spanish as well. Ideally, you’d stick to the two tried-and-tested options you learned in the classroom on day one:
But the world is anything but ideal. Ideal is boring. Especially in informal settings. Not only boring, it’s also super touristy. Nobody greets friends like that in the real world. Not native-speakers anyway. From qué lo que of the Dominican Republic to qué bola of Cuba, colloquial Spanish greetings are anything but uniform. Now of course, not all of them are used everywhere, nor are all equally slangy. So pick only what you think you might need or be interested in. No point learning a bunch of Uruguayan colloquialisms if you’re travelling to Nicaragua. So go ahead, be as picky as you have to be.
In many ways, this is the Costa Rican equivalent of wassup. Although, diay is more versatile than that. Way more versatile than that. You could use it as a filler, much like umm and well in English. You could use it as a terse and informal hey. It could mean duh. And it could mean I dunno! And or course, it could also mean what’s up or what happened. Told you it’s the Swiss army knife of colloquial Spanish greetings. And that’s what puts diay among my top favorites.
I wish the term enjoyed a wider usage. By wider I mean outside of Puerto Rico. And here’s the funny thing about diay. You could answer a diay with another diay! Weird, right? But since the word means both hello and wassup, you can see how it makes sense. You could also slap a mae to it for a more native effect:
¿Diay, mae? (How’s you doing dude?)
Pura vida, amigo (Great buddy).
Mae is Puerto Rican slang for dude or bro. Pura vida (pure life) looks interesting, though, doesn’t it? Well, pura vida is to Puerto Rico what howdy is to Texas. And just like diay, pura vida can also serve multiple purposes. It can mean hello, great, thanks, you’re welcome, and nice to meet you. It’s all about the context. So the following expression is perfectly normal in the country:
¿Qué mae pura vida? (Howdy bro?)
Liked it? I totally did! Already sounds several magnitudes more native than the dead beat cómo estás!
6. ¿Qué Onda, Wey?
This is as Mexican as it gets, although qué onda is also heard in Guatemala and Bolivia. Onda is Spanish for wave which makes qué onda sound quite nonsensical. I mean what wave? What does that even mean? But then, that’s how idiomatic expressions works. They’re often nonsensical when broken down into components or translated literally. In this expression and a few other related ones, onda doesn’t exactly mean anything. It’s more like an abstract placeholder. Placeholder for what? I don’t know. But you can’t do away with it. It just is. The expression simply means what’s up.
You could also use an adjective between the two words in the above expression and turn it into an exclamation:
¡Qué buena onda! (How cool!)
Is it not cool? Just replace buena with mala. Notice the wey in the example above? That’s Mexico in three letters. Wey is a corruption of güey which, in turn, is a corruption of buey (bull). But in the slang form, the word doesn’t exactly refer to an animal. It’s Mexican for dude or bro.
Like I said, qué onda isn’t strictly Mexican although that’s where it’s heard the most. The expression, or slightly differing versions thereof, can also be heard in countries like Bolivia and Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, for instance, you can hear:
¿Qué honda, chele?
Chele is Nicaraguan slang for a blond Latino. Replace chele or wey with vos and you have the Guatemalan version:
¿Qué honda, vos?
Given its proximity, Nicaragua is also home to the above expression using vos. And that’s still not all. You can also hear the expression in the neighboring El Salvador:
Yes, there’s a slight modification right there but you can still see the similarity. Macizo, as you guessed, is Salvadoran equivalent of wey and fulano.
7. ¿Qué Hacés, Che?
That che should immediately tell you where this expression is from. ¡Viva Argentina! If Argentina and Che Guevara don’t remind you of each other, you’ve got to brush up on your history. But che is way older than Che. It’s the Argentinian equivalent of Mexico’s wey. And that’s why Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was fondly called Che by his comrades. Hacer means to do. And haces is hacer in the singular second person conjugation. So qué haces is what are you doing. That’s obviously literally. Non-literally, it’s wassup.
But wait a minute, is that a typo? Look at the accent mark! Why is it hacés instead of haces? Relax. That’s no typo, che. That’s just how the Argentinians pronounce their verbs. They don’t use tú. They use vos. And since they don’t use tú, they don’t use its conjugations either. Instead, they use conjugations for vos, which is easier than it sounds. This form always takes the stress on the last syllable, hence hacés instead of haces. Thus, you see, qué
hacés is not exactly one of colloquial Spanish greetings. It’s more like the Argentinian version of the plain old qué hacés. So if you ever hear the stress on the last syllable of the verb, chances are you’re talking to someone from Argentina. Or Guatemala. Or Uruguay. This practice is called voseo.
Che can also be replaced by boludo. Boludo is another typically Argentinian slang for a lot of things including buddy. Just try not to use the word in unfamiliar settings since boludo can have vulgar connotations. The word is, after all, representative of uneducated speech in the country. You could use the same expression in Uruguay as well. Just replace boludo or che with gaucho or gil.
Quihúbole is one of the several le-words Mexico swears by. The word can also sometimes be simplified to quihubo in extremely familiar settings. That’s not to say quihúbole is any bit acceptable in formal settings. Just less unacceptable than quihubo (which enjoys quite some usage in Colombia), is all. Loosely translated, the word means wassup. Quihubo is essentially a portmanteau of two words. Look at the following expression:
¿Qué hubo? (What happened?)
Hubo is the third-person singular preterit of haber. Haber means to do or to happen. Thus, hubo is happened. Since impersonal verbs are typically reflexive by nature in Spanish, we add a -le to it and get quihúbole. Literally translated, it gives us:
What happened to it?
Which makes little sense as a greeting. Unless you see the reflexive as impersonal:
Told you literal translations are tricky business. Never attempt them. Not with Idiomatic expressions anyway. Quihúbole, by the way, is also used in Honduras. Understandable given its proximity to Mexico.
9. ¿Cómo Estái, Poh?
This one is Chile. The –ái in estái is a dead giveaway. You see, Chile conjugates its verbs differently. For starters, voseo is in fashion here. So that’s the conjugation they prefer over that of tú. That means placing the stress on the last syllable of the verb and a slightly simplified conjugation pattern. Thus, tú estás becomes vos estáis. But that’s regular voseo. Chile does more. It knocks out the final -s from the conjugated forms. Thus, vosotros estáis becomes vos estái. Phew! So basically, this is no colloquialism. It’s just cómo estás in the Chilean accent. I still included it in the list of colloquial Spanish greetings purely for its quirky pronunciation.
So that explains cómo estái. What about poh? Tough question, to be frank. The word is more like a filler than anything of consequence. Doesn’t mean much by itself. Poh, I’ve heard, is a regional derivative of pues. And pues itself is more often a filler than anything else. The closest I can think of as the English equivalent of pues is well.
Panama has more than its fair share of contributions to the list of colloquial Spanish greetings. Qué xopá is one of them. Don’t let that cryptic-looking xopá throw you off-kilter. Although it looks indigenous, it’s not. It’s just a more amusing version of sopá.
10. ¿Qué Es lo Que Hay?
Qué hay is probably one of those greetings you’ve been taught in the classroom. Not exactly a greeting, not a formal one at least, it’s most commonly heard in Spain. Nothing colloquial about it. Hay means there is or there are and qué means what. So qué hay essentially translates into what’s there or, more idiomatically, what’s up. So far so good? But this is an article on colloquial Spanish greetings. And there’s nothing colloquial about qué hay. So why are we discussing it? Because that’s where what we’re gonna discuss next comes from. Well, kind of.
Qué es lo que hay is the Puerto Ricans’ take on qué hay. The es is sometimes omitted to make it even more colloquial. The bad grammar is intentional. And the expression is mostly common among the reggaeton fraternity, i.e. los reggaetoneros. Meaning? Same, wassup. Oh, and Panama does something similar too. Here, the hay is dropped in favour of es. And since the Panamanians, like the Caribbeans, don’t like syllable-final -s, they end up with something like this:
¿Qué e’ lo que e’?
Shrink it further down to qué lo que and you have the Dominican Republic version. Coming back to Spain, qué pasa is also common, although it hardly counts among the more colloquial Spanish greetings. To give it more street-cred, though, you could just add a tío to it and you’re done! Tío is Spain’s answer to wey or che. One doesn’t have to be your uncle for you to call him a tío in Spain. Just like one doesn’t have to be your mother for you to call her mamacita in Latin America. Context, my friend, context.
11. ¿Qué Xopa?
Panama has more than its fair share of contributions to the list of colloquial Spanish greetings. Qué xopá is one of them. Don’t let that cryptic-looking xopá throw you off-kilter. Although it looks indigenous, it’s not. It’s just a more amusing version of sopá. And that begs the question, what in seven hells is a sopá? Familiar with the verb pasar (to pass)? Yeah, that one’s often used in the following expression throughout the Spanish-speaking world:
¿Qué pasó? (What happened?)
So, sopá is just this pasó flipped over while still retaining the accent on the last syllable. That’s how most Panamanian slang words are made. Take morpi, for instance, which comes from primo. Cockney rhymes, anyone? Wanna take it further? Add a pelao to your greeting. That’s Panamanian slang for dude. Again, super informal. And if it’s a non-adult you’re talking to, make it pelaito. In case you wanna train your ears for this expression, there’s a super-catchy reggaeton number on YouTube called Que Xopa (sic) by Mr. Saik. Do check it out.
12. ¿Qué Fue?
Fue is ir (to go) in the preterit tense. More specifically for the third person singular. What went? Like most idiomatic expressions, that makes zero sense. The expression typically means what was that or something to that effect. It can also be used when you want someone to repeat something because you didn’t hear it the first time. In Mexico, mande serves that purpose at all times. Qué fue can also translate into what’s going on or what happened, as it does in Guatemala and some other countries.
In the context of colloquial Spanish greetings, though, the expression can be used as wassup for all intents and purposes. And I’ve heard that there’s a fad in Ecuador of slapping a fue to anything for no good reason. For a more authentic Ecuadorian effect, you could add a cabrón to your greeting, although the word is mostly associated with Mexico. But beware, cabrón is rude as hell! The expression is also very common in Peru. All you need to do is lose the cabrón and add causa instead. Causa is Peruvian slang for buddy.
13. ¿Cómo Andás?
Cómo estás is understandable but cómo estás? Andar is to walk. But this expression isn’t asking how you walk. That would be silly. This one’s just the Argentinian way of asking how you’re doing. Don’t be so weirded out, you do this routinely in English without even realizing:
How’s it going?
Nothing is actually going anyplace here, is it? That’s how idioms work. So think of cómo andás as how’s it going. Again, do notice in case you haven’t, that andar conjugates as andas in the singular second person present tense, not as andás. So what gives? Remember, we’re in Argentina. This country conjugates verbs differently. It’s called voseo. See that accent mark on the last syllable? That’s a tell-tale sign. The non-voseo version of this expression, cómo andas, is also common in Mexico. Actually in Mexico, qué tal andas is equally common. Same meaning; they’re all colloquial Spanish greetings.
Coming back to cómo estás, the expression uses estar. Duh. Who doesn’t know that, right? But since we’re on the subject of colloquial Spanish greetings, there’s a twist, of course. And that’s Bolivia. Here, they prefer ser over estar when greeting you. So cómo es might be preposterous elsewhere, not so much in Bolivia. To make it even more Bolivian, add to it a chango. The word means, among other things depending on the country, boy or child.
14. ¿Qué Más?
Few things are more Colombian than qué más. Literally translated, the expression means what more. But in the streets, it’s wassup. The expression also enjoys significantly widespread usage in Venezuela, Mexico, and even Peru. And although it doesn’t sound so, one may and does use it as the first greeting rather than as a response to hola. Think of it as what else, more than anything else. Except that you never use what else as the opening greeting. What else would normally come in the middle of an already-ongoing conversation. Qué más follows no such protocol.
Speaking of Colombia, entonces qué is common too. As is qué cuentas. In extremely formal settings, you could also ask cómo me le va. Typically you would use this expression with an elderly I show a higher level of sincerity.
And That’s Not All!
That’s true, we have maybe just scratched the surface. Colloquialism is a vast subject. There’s probably as many colloquial Spanish greetings as there are communities. That means plenty. From qué bola of Cuba to qué pedos of Honduras, I’ve left out a lot. Not because I don’t like them or they’re not good enough. It’s just that there’s only so much you can stuff into a single blog post! Have you ever been to a Spanish-speaking country? Are you a native Spanish speaker? What quirky expressions have you ever been greeted with? Should be fun to know, don’t you think? Please share your experiences; drop a comment below. I’m eager to learn from you. As is everybody else.