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The Ultimate Guide to using “Que” and “Qué” in Spanish

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Spanish Grammar

According to the Royal Academy of Spanish, que is the third most frequently used word in Spanish. That doesn’t even include the words porque and the question word qué. It is only behind de, which has many uses, and la, which is both an article meaning “the” and a direct object pronoun meaning “it”.

Since que is such a frequently used word, it’s very important to understand how to use it. The difficulty is that there are so many different uses for it and phrases containing it that it’s basically impossible to memorize all the different uses. While this post is going to serve as an exhaustive guide for uses of the word que, including the interrogative form qué, it’s important to remember that you don’t need to memorize this whole list.

What does Que mean in Spanish?

Very broadly, que can be translated as that. Without an accent on the e, que can be used as a conjunction, meaning that it connects two ideas or sentences, or a relative pronoun, which means that it connects a person or thing to a sentence. Let’s break that down.

Que as a Conjunction

A conjunction is used to connect two sentences or ideas together. As a conjunction, que translates to the English word that. If you consider the sentence:

  • Someone told me that there is pizza in the office today

“Someone told me” and “there is pizza in the office today” could be sentences on their own, but “there is pizza in the office today” is what someone told me. We need to use that to describe the relationship between these two sentences. Que in Spanish is used the same way. In Spanish, this sentence would be:

  • Alguien me djio que hay pizza en la oficina hoy.

You can see that que is used exactly like that is in English.

Que as a Relative Pronoun

Relative pronouns are used to connect nouns, things, or events to a sentence to form a single noun. While that sounds confusing, think about the following examples:

  • The pizza that is in the office is delicious.
  • The person who told me about the pizza is my boss.

In those sentences, “the pizza that is in the office” and “the person who told me about the pizza” are not complete sentences, but rather, they are nouns that need verbs to follow them. Relative pronouns in English are who, that, which, and whom. Although, the last two are much more formal. In Spanish, you can use que (or quien, more formally) as a relative pronoun, such as:

  • La pizza que está en la oficina es deliciosa.
  • La persona que (o quien) me dijo sobre la pizza es mi jefe.

El Que and La Que

Similar to relative pronouns, you may hear el que or la que as a sort of pronoun meaning “the one who” or “the one that.” Consider the following sentences:

  • I’m the one who likes to eat pizza.
  • That’s the one that is better.

In the previous sentences, don’t translate the one as el uno; instead, use el que or la que to translate them to:

  • Yo soy el que le gusta comer pizza.
  • Eso es el que es mejor.

An important note here is that you must use the gender-appropriate article (either el or la) depending on what comes before el que or la que. In the first example, since I use masculine pronouns, I used el que, but if I preferred feminine pronouns, I would have used la que. Also, verbs for which el que or la que is the subject must use the third person singular.

Lastly, los que and las que are also valid if the objects are plural.

Que in Comparison Phrases

If you want to compare something, such as more than or less than, you need to use que. For example:

  • La pizza es más deliciosa que la ensalada (the pizza is more delicious than the salad)
  • La pizza es menos saludable que la ensalada (the pizza is less healthy than the salad)

An important note here is that if you want to say that something that equal to something else, you do not use the word que, but instead use the word como.

  • La pizza es tan cara como la ensalada (the pizza is as expensive as the salad)

In comparison phrases, some words such as mejor, peor, mayor, menor, which are used instead of más + adjective, still use the word que.

Que + Subjunctive to Express Wishes

One of the more interesting phrases that uses que is to express wishes. Generally, this is used instead of the imperative tense, or command form, to soften speech. While traveling through Spain and Latin America, I’ve most commonly heard it in the phrase below:

  • Que tengas un buen día. (I hope you have a good day.)

It’s possible that this is a shortening of Ojalá que or Espero que.

When to use the accented form: Qué

When you add an accent onto the e in que to make the word qué, you’re actually making a completely different word. The accented version qué is an interrogative, or question word, meaning “what?” For example, you could use it in the sentence below:

  • ¿Qué me dijiste? (What did you tell me?)

The accented version is pronounced the same as the unaccented version. The accent serves to distinguish between the two when writing.

Por Qué to ask Why

Qué is also used as part of por qué, which means why. For example, the sentence below:

  • ¿Por qué estás aquí? (Why are you here?)

Conveniently, the answer to a question that uses por qué usually also uses porque, which means because.

  • ¿Por qué estás aquí? Porque quiero verte. (Why are you here? Because I want to see you.)

When to Translate What as Lo Que

Consider the sentence:

  • I forgot what she told me.

In this sentence, what acts as a pronoun that takes the place of a non-specific item. A pronoun is a word that is used in place of a noun. The most common pronouns are he, she, and they. For objects, we use what or it as pronouns.

Even though the sentence above uses the word what, you can’t use qué to say what as a pronoun. In Spanish, you can use lo que as a generic pronoun. The sentence above becomes:

  • Se me olvidó lo que ella me dijo.

Qué to make exclamations

Another use of qué is make exclamations, like the following examples:

  • What a beautiful day!
  • How fun!
  • This line is so long!

You’ll hear these translated, respectively, as:

  • ¡Qué día tan bonito!
  • ¡Qué divertido!
  • ¡Qué fila tan larga!

You can put an adjective or a noun after qué to make exclamations. Some nouns have special meaning:

  • Qué pena (What a shame! Literally: What pain)
  • Qué lastima (What a pity!)

Conjunctions that Use Que

A few important conjunctions (or linking phrases) use que. Some always use the subjunctive, while others use the indicative.

Conjunctions that use que + subjunctive

  • Para que: In order to

Limpio la casa para que la pueda disfrutar. (I clean my house so that I can enjoy it.)

  • A fin de que: In order to

Limpio la casa a fin de que mi marida esté feliz. (I clean my house so that my wife will be happy.)

  • A medida que: Whenever

Estaré aquí a medida que estés listo. (I will be here whenever you’re ready.)

  • A menos que: Unless

Tengo que trabajar mañana a menos que no me sienta bien. (I have to work tomorrow unless I don’t feel well.)

  • A no ser que: Unless

A no ser que llueva, vamos a la playa mañana. (Unless it rains, we will go to the beach tomorrow.)

  • Antes de que: Before

Antes de que olvides traerme mi dinero, ven a mi casa. (Before you forget to bring me my money, come to my house.)

One major note here is that there is actually a difference between para que and para qué. The first one means in order to while the second one means for what, as in the question “para qué sirve esto?” (What is this used for?)

Conjunctions that use que + indicative

  • A pesar de que: Although or even though

Voy a mi trabajo a pesar de que no quiero ir. (I go to my job even though I don’t want to go.)

  • A que: I bet

A que no puedes correr más rápido que yo. (I bet you can’t run faster than me.)

  • Además de que: Besides the fact

Además que no puedo hablar Francés, no hablé a nadie en Francia. (Besides the fact that I don’t speak French, I didn’t speak to anyone in France.)

  • Ahora que: Now that

Ahora que he terminado mi tarea, voy a la tienda. (Now that I’ve finished my homework, I’m going to the store.)

If you go to any Spanish speaking country, you’ll undoubtedly hear at least one of these phrases and you’ll be hearing the word que a lot. It’s a very important word to remember!