Spanish Lessons


Lessons for topic Idioms

¿De cuándo acá? and Other Rhetorical Questions

In the first installment of Tu Voz Estéreo, our brand new series from Colombia, we hear a conversation between two not very pleasant characters who are planning to steal a guide dog (ಠ_ಠ!) from his blind owner:

Ay, pero ¿cómo y de cuándo acá nos gustan tanto los perros?
Oh, but how and since when do we like dogs so much?
Caption 31, Tu Voz Estéreo - Laura - Part 1

The idiom de cuándo acá (since when) is a rhetorical question. In Spanish, asking ¿Desde cuándo te gustan los perros? is not the same as saying ¿De cuándo acá te gustan los perros? The first one is a simple question, while the second one is asked in order to create a dramatic effect of surprise, outrage, disbelief, or disapproval:

¿Y de cuándo acá eres mi juez?
And since when are you my judge?

Órale, ¿de cuándo acá tan bien vestidos? ¿Dónde es la fiesta?
Wow, since when you dress so well? Where's the party?

There are different ways to translate the English expression "how come?" into Spanish. As a standalone expression, you can use questions such as ¿cómo es eso? (literally "how is that"), ¿cómo así? (literally "how this way"), ¿cómo? (how), or ¿por qué? (why). It's important to add a special emphasis to the way you pronounce these questions:

No había nada interesante que hacer. -¿Cómo?
There was nothing interesting to do. - How come?
Caption 38-39, Guillermina y Candelario - Una aventura extrema - Part 1

But when the expression is part of a sentence (for example, "How come you don't know that?") you can use the idiom cómo que (literally "how that") or cómo es que (how is that):

¿Cómo es que no sabes eso!
How come you don't know that?!

¿Cómo que no trajiste nada de dinero?
How come you didn't bring any money?

You could say that by using this phrase cómo que we're simply omitting the verb decir (to say), as shown in this example:

¿Cómo (dices) que te echaron?
How come (you say) they fired you?
Caption 8, Verano Eterno - Fiesta Grande

In Colombia and other Latin American countries, some people add the word así after que:

¿Cómo así que chucho?
How come it's chucho?
Caption 32, Festivaliando - Mono Núñez - Part 4

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Using the Word "Sea" - Subjunctive | Verb Ser (to be)

The present subjunctive of the verb ser is the same in the first- and third-person singular: sea. This little word is used profusely in Spanish for the most varied purposes. Let's explore and learn a few.
The first person yo (I) uses sea. You can use it to express other people's wishes or expectations placed on you:
Quieres que [yo] sea cuidadosa
You want me to be cautious
or to deny hypothetic situations or conditions:
No es que yo sea mala...
It's not that I'm bad...
The third person (he, she, it) also uses sea. Here are examples using sea to talk about people (he, she). The tricky part is that Spanish usually gets rid of the pronouns él or ella, so you will only hear or see the verb sea.
No importa que sea morena, blanca, rubia o canela
It doesn't matter if she is dark-skinned, white, blonde or brown
Caption 52, Alberto Barros - Mano a mano - Part 1
¿Cómo me voy a andar fijando en él por más simpático, alto, caballero y bello que sea?
How am I going to go around thinking about him no matter how nice, tall, gentlemanly and handsome he might be?
Caption 75, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 11
It's the same when you use sea to, for example, talk about a poisonous mushroom:
Por tocarlo no pasa nada. Aunque sea mortal.
Nothing happens by touching it. Even though it's lethal.
Caption 115, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 11
However, the use of sea extends far beyond that in Spanish. Many idiomatic expressions use it. For example, the expression sea lo que is used to express fatalistic sentiments. Use this model phrase to learn it: sea + lo que dios mande (literally, let it be what God commands). Note that it uses subjunctive plus subjunctive:
Que sea lo que dios mande
Let it be God's will.
Of course, it's possible to get rid of the pronoun que (that) and combine the phrase with a different verb, like querer (to want):
Sea lo que Dios quiera.
Let it be God's will.
Caption 8, Baile Folklórico de Puerto Rico - Los Bailarines

But there's also the expression sea lo que sea, literally meaning "let it be whatever it might be," or more simply put: "whatever it may be."
Sea lo que sea, quiero saber la verdad.
I want to know the truth, whatever that may be.

The shorter expression lo que sea (whatever) is even more common:
No es solamente utilizar una moneda local o lo que sea
It's not just to use a local coin or whatever
Caption 67, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 4
...sea hombre, mujer, o lo que sea.
...whether it's a man, a woman or whatever.
Caption 60, Arume - Barcelona - Part 1
The clause para que sea (for it to be, so that it is) is also a great addition to your Spanish vocabulary:
Entonces, para que sea una sorpresa también.
So, for it to be a surprise also.
Caption 12, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 10
Para que sea más fácil, le cortáis por la mitad.
So that it is easier, you cut it in half.
Caption 49, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli - Part 3

Finally, don't forget the expression o sea (I mean, meaning):
¡O sea, esto es más de lo que cualquier chica popular puede soportar!
I mean, this is more than any popular girl could bear!
Caption 1, NPS No puede ser - 1 - El concurso - Part 4

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