¿El qué?

Polyglott2000

Member
English-United States
Hello,

I’m watching a movie from Argentina. A brother and sister just got into their dad’s old car.


Hermano: ¿No lo hueles?

Hermana: ¿El qué?

Hermano: Este coche huele a papá.


My question is, why is the definite article “el” joined to “qué” in this sentence? I could understand the sentence without “el”. I believe this is related to “lo que” in some way.

Thanks for the help.
 
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  • fenixpollo

    moderator
    American English
    I don't think it's related to "lo que", although maybe from one perspective. I think it's a reference to an implied article in the question.

    A similar conversation in English might sound like this:

    - Do you smell the aroma that's in the air?
    - The what?

    Remember that Spanish doesn't really use the subject "it", so you might think of the article as a stand-in for that subject in English.

    - Can you smell it?
    - "It" what?
     

    Polyglott2000

    Member
    English-United States
    I don't think it's related to "lo que", although maybe from one perspective. I think it's a reference to an implied article in the question.

    A similar conversation in English might sound like this:

    - Do you smell the aroma that's in the air?
    - The what?

    Remember that Spanish doesn't really use the subject "it", so you might think of the article as a stand-in for that subject in English.

    - Can you smell it?
    - "It" what?
    Thanks for your reply. Are you saying that "el" is functioning as stand-in for "el olor" or that "el qué" is actually two separate words (el/the) and (qué/what)?
     

    duvija

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Uruguay
    Calm, please. In Uruguay we say 'lo qué?' but in Argentina (or at least Buenos Aires) they say 'el qué?' (I lived for many years in Baires and this was something I couldn't 'learn').
    They mean the same, it's just a regional variety. Of course, we understand each version with no problem.

    It just means 'whaaaaa?"
     

    Tin

    Senior Member
    Catalan - Majorca / Spanish - Spain
    A)
    - ¿Te gusta?
    - ¿Qué?
    - Que si te gusta.

    B)
    - ¿Te gusta?
    - ¿El qué?
    - El reggeatón.

    Explanation: if you just say "¿Qué?" (A) you mean you didn't understand the question or you couldn't hear it well. If you say "¿El qué?" you mean "What (thing do you mean if I like)?". So, in my opinion, these two answers are very different and not interchangeable. It's a very important difference and I don't agree with duvija, "¿el qué?" means "what?" in a normal way, no emphasis or anything added.
     

    Polyglott2000

    Member
    English-United States
    Thanks to everyone that replied to this post.

    If I understand correctly, ¿qué? focuses on the question as a whole and ¿el qué? focuses on a specific part of the question.
     

    Tin

    Senior Member
    Catalan - Majorca / Spanish - Spain
    Not really, Polyglott2000. Not to my understanding. "¿Qué?" is just short for "What did you say?", in the sense that the listener couldn't hear the question well or couldn't understand it and asks for it to be repeated. Whereas "¿El qué?" asks for a clarification: what's the object the questioner is referring to? Following my example: "What is it that you're asking me whether or not I like?"
     

    Polyglott2000

    Member
    English-United States
    Not really, Polyglott2000. Not to my understanding. "¿Qué?" is just short for "What did you say?", in the sense that the listener couldn't hear the question well or couldn't understand it and asks for it to be repeated. Whereas "¿El qué?" asks for a clarification: what's the object the questioner is referring to? Following my example: "What is it that you're asking me whether or not I like?"
    mmm.. I'm not sure why this is not quite "clicking". Can you give a couple of examples with translations that may reveal this better?
     

    Tin

    Senior Member
    Catalan - Majorca / Spanish - Spain
    Rocko, ¿puedes explicar más lo que quieres decir?

    Polyglott2000, I don't think I can come up right now with a better example than the one I already wrote above:

    A) Here they both know what "it" refers to:
    - ¿Te gusta? (Do you like it?).
    - ¿Qué? (What? = Sorry, what did you say? I couldn't hear you well).
    - Que si te gusta. (I asked if you like it).
    - Ah, sí, sí que me gusta. (Ah, yes, I do like it).

    B) Here the listener doesn't know what "it" refers to:
    - ¿Te gusta? (Do you like it?).
    - ¿El qué? (What? = "it" what? = Do I like what?)
    - El reggeatón.
    - Ah, no, no me gusta. = Ah, no, I don't like it.
     

    S.V.

    Senior Member
    Español, México
    As Rocko mentioned, ¿qué? works for both A) and B) here, with a different pronunciation (just like What in English).

    The articles refer back to words which we couldn't hear: —¿Te gusta el sushimi? —¿El qué? —¿Te gustan las gyozas? —¿Las qué?
     

    Doraemon-

    Senior Member
    "Spanish - Spain" "Catalan - Valencia"
    That "¿el qué?" is perfectly correct and it has its explanation in Spanish grammar (just "¿qué?" of course would be perfectly correct too).
    The point is that interrogative pronouns can sometimes be used as a noun, more or less as you talk in English about The five Ws (when, what, why, where, who); in Spanish we could talk about "the first W" as "the what". In those cases the noun (as any noun) can be determined with an article, defined or undefined, and it's always done in masculine (EL), not in neutral gender (LO).
    "No me interesa el qué sino el cómo", "Quiero saber el por qué", "En ciencias sociales siempre hay múltiples causas; un único por qué no es el por qué", etc.
    In a sentence like this the article is then optional, because it can act as a pronoun (you can ask it directly), or as a noun:
    -¿qué?
    -¿el qué?
    "Lo" can't be used here, only "el". ¿el qué? o ¿lo qué?

    A different thing is the replacement of a word with "qué" when you don't hear or undestand a word (as in the S.V.'s examples right above). "Lo qué" could be correct here, but this is a fully different thing.
    -Me gusta lo fashion.
    -¿Lo qué? / ¿Que te gusta lo qué?
     

    Laurentiana

    Member
    English - Canada
    @Polyglott2000, it seems we’ve established that both ¿Qué? and ¿El qué? can be translated with a single English word, What? Since we’re both native English speakers, let me play around briefly in English with your bit of film dialogue.

    English isn’t a tonal language. But speakers do use different tones with partners in dialogue to convey different meanings.

    What? as a reply can be spoken with a rising or falling tone. Try it out. What?↗ What?↘

    Rising tones can be short or long. A short rising tone, What?↗, is a request for the partner to repeat what they said. A long rising tone, Wha-a-a-t?↗, indicates that the partner isn’t making sense, or simply ridicules. A falling tone, What?↘, is combative, meaning the partner's utterance has been interpreted as a criticism or challenge, and asking them to explain or justify it.

    Here are two English renderings of your film dialogue. The first corresponds to what you heard, suggesting how falling-tone What? would represent Spanish ¿El qué? The second shows how short-rising-tone What? would represent Spanish ¿Qué?

    What? as ¿El qué?

    1. Can’t you smell it?

    2. [falling tone, challenging] What?

    [meaning any of:
    a. What do you mean, “it?”
    b. I can’t smell anything.
    c. What are you insinuating?
    d. What the hell are you talking about?]
    1. This car smells like Dad.

    ——————————————

    What? as ¿Qué?

    1. Can’t you smell it?

    2. [short rising tone, querying] What?

    [meaning any of:
    a. Couldn’t hear/understand what you said. Please say it again.
    b. Pardon me?
    c. Come again?]

    1. This car smells like Dad.

    To sum up, ¿El qué? asks for clarification and possibly justification. ¿Qué? would ask for repetition, possibly because the dialogue partner wasn’t heard or understood.

    The definite article in ¿El qué? is there for a reason. The subject of the dialogue partner’s question is a smell that he labels only with a pronoun (lo = it). This is what the reply asks to clarify or identify further. Post #2 suggested a literal translation of ¿El que? as “It” what? An inversion of that, What “it”? might be a better literal representation. An actual English speaker would say only What? and use voice inflection to augment the meaning.

    We don’t have any context for this snippet of dialogue but I’m guessing Sister likes Dad more than Brother does.;)

    Cheers
    paul
     

    Cerros de Úbeda

    Senior Member
    UK
    Spanish - Spain (Galicia)
    Hermano: ¿No lo hueles?
    Hermana: ¿El qué?

    I believe this is related to “lo que” in some way.
    I think this is very perceptive...


    In Spain, the usual form is '¿Qué?', meaning 'What?' ('Which thing?', 'What are you referring to?').

    But '¿El qué?' is also used. It is a form characteristic of colloquial speech, indicating a stronger sense of perplexity, of confusion... It is a more emphatic way of asking - and, correspondingly, it is usually said in a stronger tone of voice.

    And this is where it relates to '¿Lo qué...?', which uses the 'neutre pronoun' 'lo', indicating a vaguer way of asking, a more indefinite meaning.

    When you use 'lo que' it means that 'whatever' it is, you don't know it. You don't know what it is; that's why you use 'lo', instead of just 'que'.

    Here '¿El qué...?' works similarly, indicating lack of knowledge, confusion, or unfamiliarity with what's being said.

    It is a very slight diffence between using just '¿Qué...?', or '¿El qué...?'


    On the other hand, the interrogative 'qué' by itself, is an adjective. The use of the definite article 'el' makes that '¿Qué?' into a noun.

    This brings in a subtle change of meaning or denotation in the language; from talking about something a bit vague (an undefined concept, like qualities, that adjectives point to), now the question refers to something more definite, to a thing. It refers to a more rotund concept, and a clearer sense of the 'thing that is unknown' - it points to the speaker's lack of knowledge, and to his / her confusion (their psychological impression / reaction) at the same time.


    The article 'el' makes the 'qué' a noun (a 'thing'), and thus makes the speaker's sense of doubt or confusion more clear, more present or palpable.


    And, well, going further into colloquial language, and beyond, towards the unexplored territory of the vulgarisms, you can find any number of variations on the '¿El qué...?', or '¿Lo que...?' alternation, such as '¿El cuál...?' or '¿Lo cuál...?'.

    And, my favourite ones, '¿El cuálo...!?', La cuála...!?' and '¿Lo cuálo...!?' - emphatically pronounced (and sometimes used for humour, as a jovial iteration). These two are just common mispronunciations typical of Andalucian Spanish that don't actually exist as such.
     
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    Doraemon-

    Senior Member
    "Spanish - Spain" "Catalan - Valencia"
    And, my favourite ones, '¿La cuála...!?' and '¿Lo cuálo...!?' - emphatically pronounced (and sometimes used for humour, as a jovial iteration). These two are just common mispronunciations typical of Andalucian Spanish that don't actually exist as such.
    I completely agree with your comment (very well explained), but this "¿lo cuálo?" is not only Andalusian, it's typical "cateto" everywhere, also in Castile and I think everywhere.
     

    Cerros de Úbeda

    Senior Member
    UK
    Spanish - Spain (Galicia)
    I completely agree with your comment (very well explained), but this "¿lo cuálo?" is not only Andalusian, it's typical "cateto" everywhere, also in Castile and I think everywhere.
    Yeees...!!! 'Lo cuálo forever.', would be my t-shirt slogan. :thumbsup: :cool:


    I was doubting before... I thought to have heard it, but wasn't sure about it.

    In Galicia it is not used - has competence in '¿Cá, oh...!?' (= ¿Qué, oh...?').

    In Andalucia the youths I knew used it as a knowing joke, employing it as a kind of greeting and a self-ironic slogan when going out. As a way of having fun with language.
     
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    Rocko!

    Senior Member
    Español - México
    Not really, Polyglott2000. Not to my understanding. "¿Qué?" is just short for "What did you say?", in the sense that the listener couldn't hear the question well or couldn't understand it and asks for it to be repeated. Whereas "¿El qué?" asks for a clarification: what's the object the questioner is referring to? Following my example: "What is it that you're asking me whether or not I like?"
    Sí, como dijo S.V., aquí contestaríamos "¿qué?", o "¿qué cosa?, para que nos digan de qué hablan, es decir, qué deberíamos oler en este caso.

    Para contestar a A y B, usaríamos "¿qué?" en ambos casos, pero con diferente entonación, en cada caso.
     
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    gengo

    Senior Member
    American English
    Sí, como dijo S.V., aquí contestaríamos "¿qué?", o "¿qué cosa?, para que nos digan de qué hablan, es decir, qué deberíamos oler en este caso.

    Para contestar a A y B, usaríamos "¿qué?" en ambos casos, pero con diferente entonación, en cada caso.
    Yes, I think Mexican usage is very similar to English usage here. A flat or falling intonation means "What smell?," whereas a rising intonation means "What did you say?" or "What are you talking about?"

    I was glad to read Tin's explanation (#6), which I found very clear and helpful.
     

    Cerros de Úbeda

    Senior Member
    UK
    Spanish - Spain (Galicia)
    Yes, I think Mexican usage is very similar to English usage here.

    I was glad to read Tin's explanation (#6), which I found very clear and helpful.
    I am sorry to disppoint you, gengo, but Tin's comment misses the crux of the matter, which several of us have been trying to point out across the thread. Namely, that both used are almost equivalent (in Spain's Spanish);

    1- Both '¿Qué?', and '¿El qué...?' mean (more or less) the same.
    (This is a difference akin to that of 'What?' and 'Which?'. It may be somewhat subtle, or rather obvious, depending on the cases, and on your opinion).
    2- There is an additional, but separate, use of '¿Qué...?' which is translatable as 'Pardon?' - but is nothing to do with this one.
    3- Spain's Spanish and Mexico's uses are different on this - Mexico's seems similar to English, as you mentioned.
     

    Tin

    Senior Member
    Catalan - Majorca / Spanish - Spain
    Cerros de Úbeda, I honestly don't understand what you mean. In Spain, both "¿Qué?" and "¿El qué?" mean "What?", yes, but they have very different meanings, as I tried to explain.

    I might be missing something here due to the fact that my mother tongue is Catalan and not Spanish, but I highly doubt it since I grew up in a mostly Spanish speaking town.
     

    Cerros de Úbeda

    Senior Member
    UK
    Spanish - Spain (Galicia)
    Cerros de Úbeda, I honestly don't understand what you mean.

    Well..., I tried to explain my view in my last post.

    I hope you don't take it as a criticism in any way, but, as I see it, until your post in #6, all the posts were pointing in the same direction. But your interpretation lead the thread to this approach, mixing Mexican's use - which I understand not to have the 'El qué?'. - with the Spanish, for English speakers.

    Then Doraemon- and me explained it in #13 and #16 respectively.

    Maybe the Catalonian use is different - either in Catalan, or in Catalonia's Spanish. That is the only way I can make sense of your peculiar 'blind spot' to this expression.
     
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