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How to Respond in Spanish Like a Native: Comebacks and Colloquial Responses

spanish questions and answersEvery language has a short list (a few dozen or so) of standard “answers” or “responses” to indicate commonly expressed sentiments (e.g yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, good luck, etc.) and knowing these and being able to whip the correct one out immediately and automatically in response to someone goes a long way towards sounding like a native and making people feel comfortable speaking to you, and Spanish is no different.

I’ve compiled a list of the most common such responses and comebacks in Spanish with an explanation for each below, this is one of the few circumstances where I’d actually recommend you just memorize the whole list as you’re guaranteed to use these with great frequency whenever you’re talking with native speakers.

A quick note before we get to the list: if you’re a beginning/intermediate Spanish-learner interested in learning contemporary spoken Spanish, you must read this!

I’ve got an entire book about how to put together your own personal, custom Spanish-learning system that’s based on using online resources (mostly free) and Spanish-language popular media such as TV shows, movies, books, etc.  It’s designed especially for beginners and intermediate learners, it shows you how to get started right by learning modern, normal, everyday spoken Spanish (what native speakers actually use to talk to each other in most common situations) so that you’re learning the most useful type of Spanish and not something outdated or overly formal like what you might find in a textbook.  The biggest emphasis, however, is having fun because if you don’t do that then odds are extremely good you will fail because the most common reason people fail to learn a language is that they get bored and frustrated and then they quit!  If you get to choose whatever TV show, movie, or book in Spanish that seems like it would be interesting and/or entertaining to you, and then use it to teach yourself Spanish, how could that not be fun?!  In this guide I even include 4 lists, each in its own appendix at the rear, of all the free online resources you will ever need as well as a review of many of them and information on how to use them.  If this sounds like something that might interest you, please check out my book here on Amazon.

Ok, pardon my sales pitch (doing that sort of thing is how I’m able to provide you with this kind of free content and not run any sort of ads on this site, by the way), here’s the list!

Es Un Decir

This is a handy expression you may find yourself frequently using when you’re misunderstood, particularly if you feel like you might have said something potentially offensive or weird.  It means something like “it’s just a saying” or “it’s a way of speaking”.  Example:

“Quiero hacer amor con tu madre, ¿está bien?” = “I want to make love to your mother, ok?”

“¡¿Qué?!” = “What?!”

“Ehhh….Sólo es un decier que tenemos en gringolandia, quiere decir que tu madre es muy agradable.” = “Ehhh…It’s just a saying we have in America, it means your mother is very nice.”

¿No Qué No?

This is kind of a snappy comeback you’d use when someone told you something that you disagreed with and later you found out that you were right, it’s sort of like saying “I told you so” and literally means something like “Really? ‘No’, huh?”.  Example:

“Eso no es possible.” = “That’s not possible.”

You show that it’s possible.

“¿No qué no, eh? :D ” = “Really, is that so? :D

Conste

Constar” means “to be clear, certain, or evident” and that’s a pretty good explanation of how this particular expression works, though it’s not used in quite the same way we would use one of those words.  “Conste” means that something is obvious or evident, and is usually used with the same meaning as our expressions “for the record” (“que conste” means “let the record show”) and when used as a response to something it means “you promised and I’ll hold you to it” in the sense of “it’s on the record, I won’t forget about it”, e.g.

“Te llamo mañana.” = “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Conste.” = “You promised, I’ll hold you to it.”

¿Y Qué?

This literally means “and what?” so you can probably guess how it’s typically used: it’s how they would say “so what?” in Spanish.  Mind you, as in English with our expression “so what?” it can potentially have a rude connotation to it and is considered a bit brusque.  Example:

“¡Tu grande vaca morada se cagó en mi césped!” = “Your giant purple cow shat on my lawn!”

“¿Y qué? Es fertilizante, así…de nada” = “So what? It’s fertilizer, so…you’re welcome.”

¿Y?

Used the same way that we would use “And??” in English, meaning something like “so what?”, as in “and…what??”.  Example:

“¡Pero la mierda sólo es en una grande pila! ¡Mira!” = “But the shit is just in one big pile! Look!”

“¿Y? Sólo untala por.” = “And? Just spread it around.”

Da Igual / Da Lo Mismo

These two phrases mean the same thing and essentially amount to “it doesn’t matter” or “what’s the difference?”.  “Da igual” means literally “it’s equal” and “da lo mismo” means literally “it’s the same thing” but they’re both used whenever one wants to say that something doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t make a difference. Example:

“¿Quieres el carro rojo o el blanco?” = “Do you want the red car or the white one?”

“Da igual.” = “Doesn’t matter.”

O Sea

This means something like “you know” or “in other words”.  You’ll notice the use of the subjunctive here (if you don’t understand that completely already, be sure to see my article called The Subjunctive Explained) so “sea” means something like “could be” or “would be” and “o”, or course, means “or”, so with “o sea” you get something literally like “or that could/would be” which we would say a bit easier with the expression “in other words”.  Got it? Example:

“Pues, la respuesta pueda ser “sí”, pueda ser “no”, o sea…no sé.” = “Well, the answer could be yes, it could be no, that is to say…I don’t really know.”

Claro/Claro que Sí

It literally means “clear” but is 100 times more commonly used to mean “sure” or “of course” or “naturally”.  “Claro que sí” essentially means the same thing and translates to something like “Of course yes” as in “of course the answer is yes”. People will frequently use this particular expression in one-sided conversations, especially on the phone, to show that they’re still listening with the occasional “claro”. Examples:

“¿Vienes?” “Claro.” = “Are you coming?” “Of course.”

[On the phone]

Them: “Blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblah…blah blah!”

You: “Claro.”

Them: “Así, blah blah!! blahblahblahblahblah.”

You: “Claro.”

Them: “¿Sabes?” (“You know?”)

You: “Claro.”

Them: “Blah blah es blah! ¿No pienses?” (“Don’t you think?”)

You: “Claro.”

Get it? :D

Para Nada

It literally means “For nothing” but is the way that you would say “No way”, so it’s just another way of saying “no”, really.  Example:

“¿Vas a comer tu vaca grande morada?” = “Are you going to eat your giant purple cow?”

“¡Para nada!” = “No way!”

En Absoluto

This one can sometimes be cause for confusion for some beginners because it’s actually a negative but doesn’t look like it because it doesn’t have the word “no” in it.  It does not mean “absolutely” which is what it looks like, it actually means “absolutely not” (no, I don’t know why they did this, but they did). Example:

“Así, ¿no vas a comprar ese carro?” = “So, you’re not going to buy that car.”

“En absoluto, es demasiado caro.” = “Absolutely not, it’s too expensive.”

¡Imagínese!

The best equivalent of this would be “imagine that!” and would be used in similar circumstances, it’s a bit formal and would be used in situations where saying something like “holy shit!” would be inappropriate.

Something interesting about this one is that it’s reflexive (notice the “se” on the end) with the verb itself (“imaginar“) being in the formal singular 3rd person imperative form (“imagíne”).  If you were speaking to someone that you would use the tú form with, then you’d say “imagínate” instead.

Example:

Grandma: “¡Tienen teléfonos ahora que pueden tomar fotos!”

You: “¡Imagínese!” = “Imagine that!”

En Tus Sueños

Literally and actually means “In your dreams”, yet one more way of saying “no”. Example:

“¿Quieres quitarte la ropa y bailar como Shakira para mí?” = “Do you want to take your clothes off and dance like Shakira for me?”

“En tus sueños.” = “In your dreams.”

Estás Loco

Means what it looks like: “you’re crazy”, used in precisely the same way that we would.  Also used where we would say “you must be kidding!”.  Example:

“Debes usar un carro en lugar de tu vaca morada.” = “You should use a car instead of your purple cow.”

“¡Estás loco!” = “You’re crazy!”

¿Verdad?

Verdad” literally means “truth” but is frequently used to mean something like “Really?” or “Is that so?”.  Examples:

“Manejo una vaca grande morada.” = “I am driving a large purple cow.”

“¿Verdad?” = “Really?”

“Sí, verdad.” = “Yes, really.”

Ni Loco

“Ni” literally means “nor” (unless uttered by The Knights Who Say ‘Ni’, in which case that’s an entirely different context) so you can see how in this case “ni loco” means “not even if I were crazy”, so one more way of saying “no” emphatically.  Example:

“¿Alguna vez consideraría comer Taco Bell?” = “Would you ever consider eating Taco Bell?”

“¡Ni loco!” = “Not even if I were crazy!”

Ya Basta

As you probably already know, “ya” means “already”.  And since “Basta” means “enough”, you can easily see how the expression “ya basta” would mean “enough already”.  Example:

“¡Papa!  ¿Ya llegamos? ¿Ya llegamos? ¿Ya llegamos? ¿Ya llegamos? ¿Ya llegamos? ¿Ya llegamos?” = “Dad! Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

“¡Ya basta!!!!” = “Enough already!!!!”

¿En Serio?

“Serio” means “serious” –> “en serio” means “seriously?”.  Simple.  Use it where we would use “seriously?” or “really?”.  Example:

“Vine al trabajo por vaca morada.” = “I came to work on a purple cow.”

“¿En serio?” = “Seriously?”

“No.” = “No.” :D

¡Qué Barbaridad!

“Barbaridad” means “barbarity”, that is “something barbaric”, a cruelty, some terrible event.  So “qué barbaridad” means something like “what a barbarity!” and would be used when we would say “how terrible!” or “oh my god” in response to a bad event that has just taken place, such as a natural disaster. Example:

“¡Japón acaba de sufrir un terremoto terrible!” = “Japan has just suffered a terrible earthquake!”

“¡Qué barbaridad!”

¿Cómo no?

This just means “Why not?” and is used in exactly the same way we would use that expression, it’s just another way of saying “yes”. It can also be used to mean “Why not?” in the literal sense of a question asking someone why they’re not doing something. Examples:

“¿Quieres venir?” = “Do you want to come?”

“¿Cómo no?” = “Sure, why not.”

“No quiero venir.” = “I don’t want to come.”

“¿Cómo no?” = “Why not?”

Es El Colmo

“Colmo” means “height” as in “the height of stupidity”, meaning to the very greatest degree.  The expression “es el colmo” or “eso es el colmo” means “that’s the last straw” or “that’s it [in the sense of it being the last thing you're going to take, the final insult, etc.]“. Example:

“Tu vaca morada ha comido todos mis azaleas…eso es el colmo, ahora voy a comer tu vaca.” = “Your purple cow has eaten all my azaleas…that’s the last straw, now I’m going to eat your cow.”

“¡Mooooo!” = “Nooooo!”

No Puede Ser

Very simple, “poder” means “can or to be able to” and “ser” means “to be”, so with “no puede ser” we end up with “it cannot be” or “that can’t be”. Example:

“He comido tu vaca morada. Jajaja.” = “I’ve eaten your purple cow. Hahaha.”

“¡No puede ser!” = “It cannot be!”

No Me Diga

It literally means “don’t tell me” and is frequently used in that sense to mean something like “don’t tell me that” but it’s usually not meant that you literally don’t want them to tell you something, but as an expression of exasperation in the same way that we would use the expression “don’t tell me that”.  The tú form for use with people you’re familiar with would be “no me digas”.  Example:

“Necesito una vaca morada nueva.” = “I need a new purple cow.”

“Lo siento, pero estamos agotados.” = “I’m sorry, but we’re all out of stock.”

“No me diga…” = “Don’t tell me that…”

Está Bien

This is how you say “ok” without saying “ok”, which is, by the way, a very common expression in the Spanish language and is probably the English expression that has the widest cross-language penetration in the world (meaning that it’s commonly used in more languages than any other English expression).  It’s also what you would use to say “that’s good” (that’s the literal translation of the expression, by the way: “está” = “is” and “bien” = “good”) or “alright” or “fine with me” etc.  You get the idea. Examples:

“Ya me voy.” = “I’m leaving now.”

“Está bien, hasta luego.”= “Alright, see you later.”

“Ya me voy, ¿está bien?” = “I’m leaving now, ok?”

“Está bien.” = “Ok.”

De Acuerdo

Just another way to say “ok”, essentially.  “Acuerdo” means “agreement” and “de acuerdo” literally translates to something like “in agreement”, as in “I’m in agreement” or “I concur”, though it doesn’t quite have the same formality as those expressions and usually just means “ok”.  It’s typically used in situations where some sort of accord or compromise is come to, as in agreeing to meet at a certain place at a certain time or how much to pay for something, etc.  Examples:

“¿Te ve a las once, entonces?” = “I’ll see you at eleven, then?”

“De acuerdo.” = “Ok.”

“Cuesta veintiocho pesos.” = “It costs twenty-eight pesos.”

“De acuerdo.” = “Deal.”

Déjese De Cuentos

Means something like “cut the crap” or “shall we dispense with the bull?”.  “Dejar” means “to leave” and is being used in the imperative here as a command, so you’re being told to leave something, and “cuento” means “story” but is also used to mean a lie like we might use “tale” in “a tall tale”, and you see it used like this in the expression “contar cuentos” which means “to tell tales” (“to lie”).  You see it used the same way here with “déjese de cuentos” where you’re being told to dispense with the tall tales.  Example:

“Puedo venderte ese carro por sólo cien mil pesos.”= “I can sell you this car for only a hundred thousand pesos.”

“Déjese el cuento, ¿cuanto puede bajar?” = “Cut the crap, how much can you come down?”

¿Cómo?

This means something like “What? How’s that?” and is used to express mild surprise at something you just heard.  “cómo” literally translates to “how” so this isn’t just a statement of surprise but it’s also a question that should elicit a response, so you’re not only expressing your disbelief but you’re also asking how it is that this thing came to be.  Example:

Dr. Evil: “Me absteno de lanzar los misiles nucleares por…¡un trillón de dólares!!”

El Presidente: “¡¿Cómo?!”

Seguro

“Seguro” literally means “safe” or “secure” but in this context it means “sure” and is used the same way we would use “sure” as a response meaning “yes”.  Example:

El Presidente: “¿Aceptas un cheque?”

Dr. Evil: “Seguro.”

No Me Importa

Literally means “it’s not important to me” and it’s the most common way of simply saying “I don’t care” in Spanish, it’s an expression that you’ll definitely hear a lot regardless of the regional dialect in question. Example:

“¿Quiere hielo en su trago, señor?” = “Do you want ice in your drink, sir?”

“Seguro, no me importa.” = “Sure, I don’t care.”

¡Qué Esperanzas!

This literally means “what hope!” and is another way of saying “no”, “no way!”, or “not a chance!” in an emphatic way. Example:

“Papa, ¿va a comprarme un carro para mi cumpleaños?” = “Dad, are you going to buy me a car?”

“¡Qué esperanzas!” = “Not a chance!”

Ni Modo

This is one more way of saying “oh well” or “oh well, what can you do?”, but keep in mind that it’s not a particularly sympathetic expression, so if the bad thing that happened, happened to someone else, you may not want to use this.  Example:

“¡Tu vaca gorda morada comió mi pobre gato!” = “Your fat purple cow ate my poor cat!”

“Ni modo…” = “Oh well…”

“No me gustas tú.” = “I don’t like you.”

No Es Para Tanto

“Tanto” means “much” or “so much” or “that much”, so the literal meaning we get here is something like “it’s not for that much” and the way it’s really used to express the feeling of “let’s not get carried away here” or “ok, that’s a bit much”.  Example:

“Mi vecino me está molestando mucho ahora.” = “My neighbor is really irritating me lately.”

“Puedo atropellarlo con mi vaca morada.” = “I can run over him with my purple cow.”

“No es para tanto.” = “Maybe that’s a bit much.”

The End and an Important Additional Note

That’s it!  If you’ve got any more expressions  you think ought to be on here, tell me in the comments and I’ll be glad to add them to the list and give you credit.

A Quick Note Before We End: If you’re interested in learning Spanish, read this

I’ve got two posts that I’ve put up that I’m recommending everyone interested in learning Spanish go read if they haven’t already (if you have, ignore this, sorry): How to avoid wasting months learning Spanish the wrong way (basically this is my “how to get started right in learning Spanish” post for complete beginners) and The Telenovela Method where I cover how to use popular media like movies, music, and books to learn Spanish. Additionally you can check out the front page for a more complete list of my best and most popular posts.

Cheers,

Andrew

Sources/Credit:

Many thanks to the folks over at Foro de Español, the Wordreference Forums, Sylvia my Ecuadorian Spanish tutor, Joseph Keenan’s Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish, and Dover Publications’ Easy Spanish Phrase Book for not only giving me tons of ideas for this list but also helping me making sure that the full meaning and context of the expressions above are properly expressed to avoid any potential confusion or misuse by the reader.  Thanks again!

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