When speaking Spanish, you want people to know you spend time learning alternative ways to say things.
Repeating yourself can become boring and lead to a dull conversation.
It can also seem that you’re not trying to communicate well.
In today’s article, we’ll look at different ways to say “What are you doing?” in Spanish, so you can brush up on your Spanish vocabulary and have different tools at hand when you want to ask someone what they’re doing.
How to ask “What are you doing” in Spanish
- Qué haces?
- Qué hace usted?
- En qué estás metido?
- En qué está metido usted?
- Qué estás haciendo?
- Qué está haciendo usted?
- En qué andas?
- En qué anda usted?
- Qué onda?
1. Qué haces?
Here is the most common way to ask someone what they are doing. The literal translation of ‘Qué haces?’ is “What are you doing?”
If you write this you need to put the tilde over the ‘e.’ If you fail to write the accent mark on the ‘e’ it is incorrect.
The verb ‘hacer’ means “to do” in English. You must conjugate the verb in concordance with the subject of the sentence.
Verbs in Spanish do not work the same as in English. Although the verb is in its base form ending in ‘er’ it can work as a gerund.
In English, a gerund is the form of a verb ending in ‘ing.’
In Spanish, it is not necessary to say the subject of the sentence because the verb tells you who the subject is.
The ‘s’ in ‘haces’ indicates ‘tu’, the informal version of you in Spanish.
You can use this when you want to ask someone what they are doing informally. The connotation is neutral and can be used positively and negatively.
When you respond to this you need to use the correct verb for “to be.” In Spanish, you say ‘estar’ for things that can change or are conditional.
You should use ‘ser’ for permanent things.
You can reply with a progressive verb as in the example or choose a verb in the present tense. In the example, Mario uses the present progressive.
Present progressive means that something is happening at the moment. In English, we add ‘ing’ to a verb for the present progressive.
You know it’s present progressive because the verb ‘leer’ “to read” ends in ‘endo’. The verb is irregular so you must replace the second “e” with a “y” when using the present progressive.
You can also reply using a verb in the present simple tense, and it will still translate into English in the present progressive.
Juan: Hola Mario! ¿Que haces?
Hi Mario! What are you doing?
Mario: Yo leo.
Here you can see that using ‘leo’ is in the present tense. The verb is conjugated with the first person so we replace the ‘er’ in ‘leer’ with an ‘o’.
You can always do this in Spanish with any verb you use. People will understand from context that you are telling them something you are doing.
2. ¿Qué hace usted?
If you ask someone what they are doing formally you can say ‘¿Qué hace usted?’
You should use this when talking to someone in a position that deserves respect. You can also use this when you talk to someone you do not know well.
When you ask this question formally, you must include ‘usted’ at the end. If you do not include this, people could confuse the question for the third person he, she, or it.
The translation is the same as the informal question.
The only difference is the level of formality.
3. En qué estás metido?
Here is another example of how to say “what are you doing?” in Spanish.
However, you should note that this has a negative connotation and you cannot use it all the time.
When you ask someone this, you already know something from context. Perhaps you walk into a room and see someone close their computer quickly.
You can say, ‘en qué estás metido?’ to indicate that you think they are doing something they shouldn’t be.
It is asked to gain more information about a current situation when you think they are doing something bad.
The literal translation is ‘what are you into?’ but it translates in English as “what are you doing?” or “what are you up to?”
In the example, we use the context of a mom walking into a room to see her son quickly hide something under his bed. When people say this, your tone needs to indicate trouble.
Mayra: ¿En qué estás metido Luis?
What are you doing Luis?
Luis: Nada, te prometo.
Nothing, I promise.
When you reply to this expression you must answer absolutely. You do not reply with what you are doing.
Instead, it is more correct to say ‘nada’ which means nothing. You can also reply with more information about a problem you are experiencing.
The expression can also ask if you are experiencing a problem if the context allows.
However, in the example above, it means, “what are you doing?”
You must include a tilde over the ‘a’ in ‘estás’ because you are asking someone about themselves.
If you remove the tilde you get the word ‘estas’ which is a Spanish demonstrative pronoun.
A demonstrative pronoun takes the place of a noun in a sentence and tells you its proximity to you in time and space.
‘Estas’ is a feminine demonstrative pronoun only to be used with words that are feminine and plural.
4. En qué está metido usted?
Here, the same expression as above is used formally. We can use the same example from above, but the context must change.
In the example, a woman would not walk into her room to find her son hiding something under his bed quickly.
Instead, the context could be a principal walking into a teacher’s classroom to see her shove something in the closet and lock it.
The saying can be used in a formal setting but it is rare to hear this. Generally, you should refer to ‘¿Qué hace usted?’ as it is more direct without any connotation.
If you are in Latin America this can be used in some countries instead of the formal version.
Some countries will use the formal you (usted) when talking to anyone.
5. Qué estás haciendo?
Here is the present progressive form of ‘Qué haces?’ As mentioned previously you can also indicate something is happening at the moment when using the present simple in Spanish.
‘Qué haces?’ and ‘Qué estás haciendo?’ mean the same thing. The translation for both is “what are you doing?”
In this version, the translation is more direct because you are structuring the sentence the same as in English. ‘Qué (what) estás (are you) haciendo (doing)?
Both sentences can be translated literally to “what are you doing?” but here, it is very explicit that you are specifically asking about a current event.
By adding ‘estás haciendo’ you stress “right now” although it is not translated. You know the stress is on right now by choosing to use ‘hacer’ (to do) with a progressive ending on the verb.
The present progressive ending for ‘er’ verbs is ‘iendo’, and it replaces the ‘er’ on the verb.
6. Qué está haciendo usted?
This expression is the same as ‘Qué estás haciendo?’ but is formal.
The structure is the same as in English and the emphasis is still on the current situation.
7. En qué andas?
If you want to ask someone what they are up to you can say ‘en qué andas?’ The literal translation is “In what are you walking?”
‘Andar’ means to walk and has various translations, some of which are vague and difficult to articulate in English. The most common translations for this are “to function,” “to do,” “to go along,” or “to be.”
Jose: En qué andas?
What are you up to?
Mario: Ando en lo mismo de siempre.
The same as always.
‘En qué andas?’ can mean “what are you up to?” or “what are you doing?” in English.
It is impossible to understand all of the translations of this in English because it is highly contextual.
To better understand what this means you will need to have more exposure to the language and take a note of when people use it.
8. En qué anda usted?
Here is the formal version of ‘En qué andas?’ The meaning is the same and is used the exact same way.
9. Qué onda?
If you want to be more colloquial and prove that you use Spanish with native speakers you could say ‘Qué onda?’.
Colloquial language is very informal and never appropriate when you are speaking with someone who deserves respect.
You should, therefore, reserve this saying for when talking to people you know. Colloquial language will change from country to country and this saying is from Mexico.
Sometimes speakers will add an ‘s’ to the end of ‘onda’ and say “Qué ondas?’ Although this is grammatically incorrect it is still widely used.
‘Qué onda?’ is used when speaking with friends or family members.
Majo: Qué onda Sean?
What are you doing Sean?
Sean: Todo bien, trabajando.
Everything is good, I’m working.
When you ask ‘qué onda?’ it is expected that the response tells about your overall mood and tell someone what you are doing.
When people ask this, it’s like saying “how are you doing? and “what’s up?” in the same sentence.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.