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How formal is the Spanish word cuán? When is it appropriate to use, and when does it seem out of place? How are sentences using cuán normally expressed in informal speech?

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+1 Nice question! I wanted to know that myself (shame on me Spanish is my native language :$) –  César Jan 10 '12 at 14:45
    
I personally like 'cuán', but indeed it sounds a little sophisticated here (Argentina). –  leonbloy Jan 12 '12 at 19:20
    
Cuán follows the same path as whom in English... in 20 years rom now nobody will use it. –  pferor Feb 21 '12 at 19:08
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In Spain, cuán is rarely used in normal, informal speech, though I think it would generally be understood.

To express the same, you can use qué, or lo ... que:

¡Cuán rápidamente caminan las malas nuevas! = ¡Qué rápidamente caminan las malas nuevas!

No puedes imaginarte cuán desgraciado soy = No puedes imaginarte lo desgraciado que soy

In questions, in Spain, it is often replaced by cómo de:

¿Cuán grande es tu coche? = ¿Cómo de grande es tu coche?

But this usage is probably incorrect.

NOTE
Though the definition by RAE doesn't say anything about the use of cuan in questions, the DPD does.

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I strongly disagree with using it as Cómo de. I think it is incorrect. Do you have a source for it? Or are you a native spanish speaker so it may be a regionalism? :) Thanks! –  Joze Jan 10 '12 at 12:09
    
No, I don't have any sources. I have always heard it as cuán, but it may well be incorrect. I'll edit my answer. –  MikMik Jan 10 '12 at 14:25
    
Thank you! I am not sure it is incorrect. It only sounds very bad. :) –  Joze Jan 11 '12 at 6:27
    
Cuán, as in the example of the coche, could be replaced with "¿Qué tan grande..." –  Alfredo Osorio Jan 11 '12 at 21:11
    
+1 "Cómo es de grande tu coche?" is accepted use in Argentina, actually the standard way; though it sounds slightly incorrect. –  leonbloy Jan 12 '12 at 19:18
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In questions, "cuán" is equivalent to "qué tan":

¿Cuán rápido estamos caminando? = ¿Qué tan rápido estamos caminando?

¿Cuán bueno es ese restaurante? = ¿Qué tan bueno es ese restaurante?

¿Cuán lejos está la biblioteca? = ¿Qué tan lejos está la biblioteca?

In exclamations, "cuán" is equivalent to "qué":

¡Cuán rápido estamos caminando! = ¡Qué rápido estamos caminando!

¡Cuán bueno es ese restaurante! = ¡Qué bueno es ese restaurante!

¡Cuán lejos está la biblioteca! = ¡Qué lejos está la biblioteca!

"Cómo de" is a regionalism. I think outside of Spain it sounds very bad. In general, if you can use "qué", this will be the preferred form in the informal and formal speech. "Cuán" is more common in writing, especially in literature. I think using "cuán" is not formal; it's just not usual. My hypothesis is educated people use "cuán" more frequently, but it isn't related to a formality issue.

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Although this isn't really what you were asking about, maybe it's worth mentioning that it would be somewhat out of place to use cuán when you're in Mexico, where it is far more common to say qué tan. For example,

¿Qué tan lejos está el Zócalo?

or

¿Qué tan grande es?

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