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I was taught that

¿Qué pasa?

loosely means How are things? or What's happening? but I keep hearing

¿Qué pasó?

Why?

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  • In Argentina we never use "¿Qué pasa?" or "¿Qué pasó?" to say hi but "¿Qué tal?", "¿Cómo va?" and, colloquially and mainly among young people, "¿Qué onda?" It comes as a surprise that "¿Qué pasa?" and "¿Qué pasó?" are used as a greeting.
    – Gustavson
    Nov 19 '19 at 0:06
  • @Gustavson In Spain, "¿Qué pasa?" is commonly used as a neutral greeting in which you don't really expect any specific answer. I've heard "¿Qué pasó?" in tv movies and series depicting Mexicans.
    – RubioRic
    Nov 19 '19 at 7:40
  • Ah, yes, I remember my university friends from Argentina said "Que tal." I think I'll use that one. "Que paso" doesn't make sense to me because it translates as "What happened" and I would think it would be used when someone breaks a leg or I see a terrible traffic accident. "Oh, my God, what happened?" I hear it from Mexicans, so perhaps it's idiomatic. Thanks for the prompt and informative answer.
    – Sharon
    Nov 19 '19 at 17:50
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"¿Qué pasa?" is present tense same as "what is going on?" while "¿qué pasó?" is past tense and translates as "what happened?"

Both are valid ways of asking another person about recent or present events on his life so they both are used as common greetings among many other ways of saying hello in Spanish.

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