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When I learned Spanish in school, I was taught to never say ¿Qué? when I needed someone to repeat something they just said. Rather I was taught to say ¿Cómo? Later, my wife taught me to say ¿Mande? as an even more polite question. But some people don't seem to understand what I'm getting at. Occasionally, they will try to clarify by saying "¿Qué?", which I'd always understood as rude. (Maybe I just look like a rude American or maybe the question isn't as disrespectful as I had learned.)

Am I safe in most situations (where I don't know the country of origin of the other speaker) in using ¿Cómo? (Trust me, this is a very common problem for me.)

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"Mande" is very common in center america and some countries of south america, but in the caribbean area is totally unknown the word in that meaning. Just using ¿Cómo? works –  Emilio Gort Nov 18 '13 at 16:46
    
"Mande" may sound like submission, at least in my country –  Emilio Gort Nov 18 '13 at 16:52

10 Answers 10

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Just as in English, there are many acceptable ways to ask someone to repeat what they've said. In my experience:

  • ¿Cómo? is very common, and completely acceptable. It's equivalent to the English What? or How's that?
  • ¿Qué? can be used, but is less polite, and is probably better understood as the English What?! Possibly as in the context of What I think I heard you say sounds unbelievable. Can you repeat that so I'm sure I heard you correctly?
  • ¿Qué dijiste? or ¿Qué dijo? literally What did you say? or according to Google Say what?
  • ¿Mande? or ¿Mande, Usted? (Apparently mainly in Mexico) Literally, Direct/Guide/Command me? Is very common in all situations. I've heard waitresses say it to me, I've heard mothers say it to their children. It might be considered a little more formal/polite than ¿Cómo? when dealing with clients or in other situations where the Usted form is appropriate. But it's not limited to that. And again, it's not used not everywhere.
  • ¿Disculpe? is the equivalent to the English Excuse me?
  • ¿Perdone? or ¿Perdón? is the equivalent to the English Pardon?
  • ¿Otra vez? is the equivalent of the English Again? I probably only use this with friends or people I'm already familiar with. I don't know how well accepted it is--so if you get weird looks, don't come running back to me. :)
  • Repita, por favor. is Repeat that, please. I'd probably use this more often when taking down someone's phone number, and I didn't get the last 2 digits, rather than in a general "What did you say?" context.
  • Más despacio, por favor. is More slowly please. After my second or third ¿Como? this phrase often comes in handy.

I think it's good to know more than one of these, because I hate to be too repetative when speaking to someone I can't understand. ¿Cómo? ... ¿Cómo? ... ¿Cómo? ... doesn't sound as good as ¿Cómo? ... ¿Perdona? ... ¿Disculpe? ... :)

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Yes, the suggestion to "slow down, please" is useful. But sometimes I need the other speaker to use different phrasing rather than just going at my learner's speed. Are any of the above more useful than the others for that purpose? (Might be better as a separate question, however.) –  Jon Ericson Nov 23 '11 at 19:32
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For that I often say No entiendo todas tus palabras. or similar. Most people will recognize that I'm struggling to understand and rephrase. It would probably make for a useful second question, though. :) –  Flimzy Nov 23 '11 at 19:34
    
Some English speakers find "What?" too blunt. I find French speakers seem to always use it in their English and it always feels harsh to my ears though that's just my instinctual reaction which I overlook because they're not native speakers. –  hippietrail Nov 23 '11 at 19:35
    
@hippietrail: Voice tone can have a lot to do with whether What? sounds too harsh, too. Probably the same with ¿Qué? –  Flimzy Nov 23 '11 at 19:36
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@Flimzy: True though at least in Australia our mums always told us not to say what when we were kids so there could be a regional factor, and there could be in Spanish too I suppose. –  hippietrail Nov 23 '11 at 19:49

You're on the safe side with "¿cómo?" in every situation. "¿Qué?" is not exactly rude in informal situation but it could be inappropriate in a lot of formals and semiformals ones and "¿Mande?" it's not exactly common, at least where I'm from (Mallorca), but understood. You could also use "¿Perdona/ne?" or "¿Disculpa/pe?"

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It's more "educated" to say ¿Disculpe? (excuse me), than "mande". I think mande is some kind of Mexican or LA word, rather than common Spanish/Castilian.

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Hmm... I learned that that phrase was best used when you accidentally ran into someone or stepped on their toes or some physical invasion of space like that. But I can verify that ¿Mande? is common in Mexico and therefore LA. –  Jon Ericson Nov 23 '11 at 18:51
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yes you are right, but Disculpe (with the interrogation) is an apology because you don't hear or understood what he/she said: ¿Disculpe, puede repetir lo que dijo? (Excuse me, can you repeat what you said?). Que is rude or uneducated for some people, and Como is ok. –  Adrianne Nov 23 '11 at 19:03
    
Welcome to Spanish.SE, by the way. It seems like the consensus is that I continue using ¿Cómo? Thanks for the input. –  Jon Ericson Nov 23 '11 at 19:07
    
@Jon "Cómo?" is perfectly acceptable, but colloquial. Don't use it in formal situations. "Disculpe?" is the opposite :) –  belisarius Nov 24 '11 at 3:32

Certainly my Colombian flatmate in London (and his wife) would use "¿Cómo?" - in person, on the phone in business dealings, and on Skype to his parents. So it would seem to be find to use in most contexts from that.

In my Spanish classes in NZ, UK and Argentina, we were told it was more polite to say "¿Perdone?"

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¿Mande? is very common in Mexico but I believe it is a Mexicanism not widely used elsewhere.

If you are in Mexico or amongst Mexicans I believe it is a softer alternative to ¿Qué? but I do not know if it is considered informal or colloquial to any degree. I've seldom had to use Spanish in formal settings.

I interpret "disculpe" in this sense exactly as in English some people say "Sorry?" or "Excuse me?" when they didn't quite hear what you're saying.

I also interpret "¿Qué?" to be exactly like English "What?" - some people find both too be too blunt/rude/uneducated.

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Here in Chile, "¿Mande?" isn't used at all.

And I imagine that in many other Spanish speaking places, should be misunderstood. What if the person you're talking to is trying to give you some sort of order or suggestion? With mande you could give the impression that you've not only understood what he told you, but you've also agreed with it.

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How can I upvote 3 or 5 times this ?????????? –  qPCR4vir Jan 30 '13 at 1:02

Here in Mexico City, it is safe to say "¿Cómo?", except in the most formal occasions. In such stuations you should say something like "¿Me lo podría repetir, por favor?". An intermediate solucion is to use "¿Qué dijiste?" or "¿Qué dijo?".

Throughout history, Mexicans have been subjugated under various authorities. Therefore, the indigenous people were taught to obey. Hence, many people educated their children to answer "¿mande?", or more formally "mande usted" —notice the lack of the question mark, so that means "at your service". This still happens, particularly in the inland.

About the "¿perdón?" phrase: you say it because you want to ask for the pardon of your interlocutor because you are afraid to ask her to repeat the phrase (I think it is the same for the English phrase "excuse me?").

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Not a direct answer to my question, but it's probably a mistake to assume someone is being rude to me. Afterall, the language is incredibly varied in its social connotations and unless I know for sure what the other person thinks of me, it's best to assume the best. They know the language we are using better than I do and so I probably am missing some tidbit of knowledge.

On the flip side, I try not to be offended or insulted when an English learner makes some sort of faux pas in the language I know best. Afterall, they are learning too. My best response is to point out the mistake as politely and humbly as possible.

That said, I'm pretty sure ¿Cómo? is still the best choice since it seems universally understood and not jarring to anybody who might be easily offended. (But I'm eager to hear other opinions. ;-)

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Sometimes both you are the person with whom you are communicating are not native speakers but don't have another common language. But in that case I think you're safer from faux pas anyway (-: –  hippietrail Nov 23 '11 at 19:32
    
@hippietrail: At our church, we have an Italian drummer who sometimes plays in the Spanish-language service. It surprised me that he spoke with the rest of the band in English! My wife got on best in Spanish when we traveled to Italy and even I understood a surprising amount of spoken Italian. But I suppose the drummer and the band are interested in exercising their English skills, which are valuable around here in the long run. –  Jon Ericson Nov 23 '11 at 19:39

I think you would be safe using ¿Perdona? (as a short form of Perdona, ¿lo puedes repetir? / Perdona, ¿qué has dicho?). It's what I usually say and haven't had any problem so far (colloquial, academic, and office environments).

¿Qué? may sometimes be a little rude, but using ¿Cómo? should be fine (but in formal situations may not be suitable).

I'm living in Spain (Catalonia to be more specific), so I cannot give you any feedback about other countries.

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Interesting. I was taught that ¿Perdón? is best used when you are asking permission to part company, as in: "Excuse me, but I have to take this call." I've never heard_¿Perdona?_. Could it mean something like "I'm sorry. Would you repeat that?" I wonder if it works in other places... Thanks for the suggestion. –  Jon Ericson Nov 23 '11 at 19:05
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@Jon Ericson, I think that would be the best translation of what I explain in my answer (I'm not a native English speaker). So yes, Perdona, ¿lo puedes repetir? would be something like I'm sorry. Would you repeat that? –  Ignacio Contreras Pinilla Nov 23 '11 at 19:10

Universal?.. Simple, "Podrias repetir lo que me acabas de decir?"

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