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The Essential Spanish Question Words

How many question words in Spanish are you familiar with? Do you know how to write a question in Spanish? Asking questions is one of the most important skills you need to master in the language you are learning. In this lesson, we will learn the most important interrogative words in Spanish. However, before we explore those words, let's discuss a couple of things about asking questions in Spanish. 

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How do you say the word 'question' in Spanish?

'Pregunta' is how you say the word 'question' in Spanish. 'Pregunta' is a feminine noun and its plural form is 'preguntas'. Let's practice the pronunciation of this term:

 

Kevin, la pregunta es:

Kevin, the question is:

Caption 13, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 1

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Los voy a dejar con cuatro preguntas.

I am going to leave you with four questions.

Caption 48, Carlos explica - Tuteo, ustedeo y voseo: Ustedes y vosotros

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Spanish question structure

Do you know how to write a question in Spanish? Let's take a look at the basic structure of a question in Spanish.

 

Punctuation and question marks

To begin with, you need to stick to the rules of Spanish punctuation. Because of that, when you write a question in Spanish you need to remember that question marks are always double-sided. In other words, you need to start the question with an opening question mark (¿) and end it with a closing one (?):

 

¿Cómo es Japón?

What's Japan like?

¿Qué te gusta de Japón?

What do you like about Japan?

Captions 69-70, Clase Aula Azul - Pedir deseos

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Yes/No questions

Let's start with simple questions. Believe it or not, for these kinds of questions your intonation is what matters the most. You basically make Yes/No questions by transforming a statement into a question. The Spanish question structure for these kinds of questions is the following:

 

¿ + (subject) + conjugated verb + (additional information) + ?

 

Please note that the terms in parenthesis are optional. Let's see a couple of examples:

 

A Pedro le gusta comer pizza. (Pedro likes to eat pizza.)

¿A Pedro le gusta comer pizza? (Does Pedro like to eat pizza?)

 

For negative questions, you just need to place a "no" before the conjugated verb.

 

No quieres estudiar. (You don't want to study.)

¿No quieres estudiar? (Don't you want to study?)

 

Go ahead and play the following clips so you can hear the intonation of the following Yes/No questions. Notice how the pitch of the speaker's voice gets higher at the end of the sentence when asking questions in Spanish:

 

Mmm... ¿Quieres ir al cine?

Mmm... Do you want to go to the movies?

-Sí, ¡buena idea!

-Yes, good idea!

Captions 45-46, Conversaciones en el parque - Cap. 5: Me gusta mucho este parque.

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¿Necesitas ayuda?

Do you need help?

-Mmm... Sí.

-Mmm... Yes.

Captions 9-10, Español para principiantes - La hora

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¿No conoces Manhattan?

You don't know Manhattan?

Caption 37, Yago - 2 El puma

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As you can see, it is very common to start Yes/No questions with a conjugated verb.

 

Questions that ask for specific information

The following is the Spanish question structure you need to keep mind when your question is aimed at getting some sort of information:

 

¿ + (preposition) + question word + conjugated verb + (additional information) + ?

 

Please note that the terms in parenthesis are optional. Let's see a couple of examples:

 

¡Oh! ¿Dónde está el cajero automático?

Oh! Where's the ATM?

Caption 36, Natalia de Ecuador - Palabras de uso básico

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In the example above, we have the following structure: 

¿ + question word (dónde) + conjugated verb (está) + additional information (el cajero automático) + ?

 

Let's listen to another clip:

 

¿Desde cuándo tienes este piso?

Since when have you had this apartment?

Caption 35, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos

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In this last example, the Spanish question structure is the following: 

¿ + preposition (desde) + question word (cuándo) + conjugated verb (tienes) + additional information (este piso) + ?

 

Now that we have seen the structure of a question, let's take a look at some Spanish question words in sentences.

 

Top Spanish question words

It's time to review the most important interrogative words in Spanish. If you are thinking about WH questions, you are right. Let's find out what the Spanish question words are for 'what', 'which', 'when', 'where', 'who', 'why' and 'how'.

 

Top question words in Spanish

For your reference, here's a list of the top question words in Spanish.

 

What / Which (Qué / Cuál)

When (Cuándo)

Where (Dónde)

Who (Quién)

Why (Por qué)

How (Cómo)

 

Now, let's see each one of these question words in action with a list of some of the most basic Spanish questions you can ask.

 

Basic questions to ask in Spanish using WH questions

And now, let's dive into our list.

 

What / Which (Qué / Cuál)

 

Diremos, "¿Qué hora es?"

We'll say, "What time is it?"

Caption 49, Español para principiantes - La hora

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O, ¿A qué te dedicas?

Or, What do you do? [with "tú"].

Caption 17, Karla e Isabel - Tú y Usted

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Oye, y ¿en qué trabajas?

Hey, and what do you do [for a living]?

Caption 82, Ricardo - La compañera de casa

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Por supuesto; ¿cuál es su dirección de correo?

Of course; what is your e-mail address?

Caption 69, Negocios - Empezar en un nuevo trabajo

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¿Recuerdas cuál era la copa para servir vino?

Do you remember which cup was the one for serving wine?

Caption 36, Ana Carolina - El comedor

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When (Cuándo)

 

¿Y cuándo hizo el "check-in"?

And when did he check-in?

Caption 13, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa - Capítulo 3

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¿Cuándo terminas de estudiar?

When do you finish studying?

Caption 72, Carlos explica - Tuteo, ustedeo y voseo: Conjugación

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Where (Dónde)

 

¿De dónde eres?

Where are you from?

Caption 36, Curso de español - ¿De dónde eres?

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Y ¿en dónde vives?

And where do you live?

Caption 8, Cleer - Entrevista a Lila

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Let's see a couple of clips from Raquel to see the kind of questions you ask when you want to find out where something is located:

 

¿Me podrías decir dónde está el baño?

Could you tell me where the bathroom is?

Caption 7, Raquel - Expresiones para un festival de música.

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¿Sabes dónde hay alguna farmacia?

Do you know where there's a pharmacy?

Caption 24, Raquel - Expresiones para un festival de música.

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Who (Quién)

We use 'who' when we want to find out someone's identity. Let's see a couple of examples:

 

Mi jugador favorito juega en el Real Madrid.

My favorite player plays for Real Madrid.

¿Quién es?

Who is it?

Captions 19-20, El Aula Azul - Las Profesiones

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¿Usted quién es?

Who are you?

Roberto. Un amigo.

Roberto. A friend.

Captions 24-25, Yago - 9 Recuperación

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Why (Por qué)

 

¿Por qué dices eso? -No...

Why are you saying that? -No...

Caption 14, Cortometraje - Beta

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How (Cómo)

 

Para saludar, podemos decir: "Hola. ¿Cómo estás? ¿Todo bien?"

To greet (people), we can say: "Hello. How are you? (Is) everything good?"

Caption 7, Español en las calles - Varias expresiones

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Keep in mind that the word 'cómo' is not always translated as the English word 'how'. In fact, one of the most basic Spanish questions you can ask is a good example of that:

 

Buenos días, ¿cómo te llamas?

Good morning, what's your name?

Caption 8, La rutina diaria - La mañana

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When we want to find out someone's age or the price of an object, we combine 'how' with other words such as 'old' or 'much'. When we want to get that kind of information, we use other interrogative words in Spanish. Let's take a look:

 

Ah, lindo.

Oh, nice.

¿Cuánto cuesta?

How much does it cost?

Captions 33-34, Natalia de Ecuador - Palabras de uso básico

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¿Cuántos años tienes?

How old are you?

Caption 6, Cleer - Entrevista a Lila

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Ah, vale. ¿Cuántos hijos tienes?

Oh, OK. How many sons do you have?

Caption 39, Clase Aula Azul - El verbo parecer

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¿Y cuántas botellas de agua hay aquí?

And how many bottles of water are there here?

Caption 78, Español para principiantes - Los números del 1 al 100

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And that's it for now. We hope you use this review of the most important Spanish question words as the perfect excuse to start asking questions in Spanish. Are you ready? We encourage you to do that and don't forget to send us your questions and comments.

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Entorno vs. en torno

As with any other language, Spanish can be tricky sometimes. Do you know how to use the word entorno? What about the expression en torno? Which one would you use in the following sentence:

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Fuengirola es un importante punto turístico. Su economía gira ________ a este sector.

Fuengirola is an important touristic spot. Its economy revolves around this sector.

Captions 12-13, Fuengirola - Mercado

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What about this sentence:

 

Encontró en su _________ un atractivo natural para los amantes del ecoturismo.

Found in its environment a natural beauty for the lovers of ecotourism.

Caption 94, Tecnópolis - El Coronil

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Let’s find out what the answer is.

 

What is the English meaning of entorno?

To begin with, entorno is a noun and the meaning of this word is environment or surroundings. However, it is important to say that entorno encompasses the same broad meaning of the English word “environment,” meaning “the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded.” Let’s take a look at some examples:

 

... las calles, la gente... lo que es el entorno urbano.

... the streets, the people... what the urban environment is.

Captions 39-40, Leif - El Arquitecto Español y su Arte

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Para modificar el entorno, desarrolló herramientas, ¿no?

In order to modify the environment, he developed tools, right?

Caption 50, Lo que no sabías - Arte electrónico

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Regarding the last example, the word entorno is very common in information and computer science, especially when talking about the features that define the execution and placement of a particular application.

 

The meaning of the expression en torno

As far as the expression en torno goes, we can use it to mean about, around or approximately. Let’s take a look:

 

que hay en torno a cincuenta millones, eh, hispanohablantes en Estados Unidos.

that there there are about fifty million, um, Spanish speakers in the United States.

Captions 42-43, El Instituto Cervantes - Director del Instituto

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Puede andar en torno a los dos mil seiscientos...

It could be around two thousand six hundred...

Caption 50, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos

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Finally, keep in mind that en torno is either followed by the preposition a or the preposition de:

 

  • Ella llegó en torno a la medianoche.
  • She arrived around midnight.

 

  • Las esculturas en torno de la iglesia.
  • The sculptures around the church.

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That's it for this lesson. Now that you know the difference between entorno and en torno, you can answer the questions we posed at the beginning, right? And don’t forget to send us your feedback and suggestions.

Getting Impersonal

An impersonal statement is one that has no determinate subject. In English you'll hear impersonal expressions like "you shouldn't point your finger at people" or "one would think the airlines would have to close down." 

Spanish has a different way to express the impersonal voice, though. To make general statements Spanish adds the pronoun se in front of verbs. Let's see some examples:

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 In the new episode of Yago - Pasión Morena we hear a distressed Yago stating a very basic and general principle indeed:

 

No se mata lo que se ama.

You don't kill what you love.

Caption 25, Yago - 11 Prisión

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Of course, to express this idea in Spanish you can also do as in English and simply conjugate the verb in the second person:

No matas lo que amas.
You don't kill what you love.

However, in Spanish the use of se is much more common, expressive and emphatic.

Actually, in Spanish it's also possible to use the word uno (one) instead. In this case you must use the third person:

Uno no mata lo que ama.
One shouldn't kill what ones loves.

Here are another two examples from our catalog, both using the verb decir (to say):
 

Bueno y se dice que la mujer tiene un sexto sentido

Well, and one says that a woman has a sixth sense

Caption 16, Club de las ideas - Intuición

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Bananas, o ¿cómo se dice en España?

Bananas, or how do you say it in Spain?

Caption 39, Curso de español - Tiendas y edificios públicos en la ciudad

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And then with the verb hacer (to do, to make):

 

...s' se hace como un... té.

...o' one makes like a... tea.

Caption 12, Recetas - Capirotada

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Take note, both the Spanish impersonal and singular passive voice use the same construction. You can clearly see it by comparing the above example with the following one using the same verb hacer (to do, to make):
 

¿Esto se hace en otros puntos de... de Europa?

Is this done in other parts of... of Europe?

Caption 59, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 13

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Luckily, being able to make this distinction is really not that relevant because the difference is mostly just grammatical. For example, for practical purposes, you could also interpret this example as a case of the impersonal and translate it as, "Do you do this in other parts of... of Europe?"

Finally, note that Spanish also uses the plural to express impersonal ideas. In this case, however, you don't need to use the pronoun se, you only use the third-person plural ellos (they).
 

Y el futuro que vendrá, dicen que pende de un hilo

And the future that will come, they say that it hangs by a thread

Caption 79, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 2

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The beautiful thing about the Spanish plural impersonal is that it doesn't use the pronoun ellos (they)—just the verb conjugated in the third-person plural dicen (they say). In fact, in Spanish it can't be impersonal at all if you include the pronoun, if you actually say ellos dicen (they say). If the same example were to include the pronoun ellos (them), then it would mean that the subject is actually known from context. Check out the modified version of the previous example to which we added one of many possible contexts in brackets:

[Los dioses llegaron en sus naves blandas.Y el futuro que vendrá, dicen ellos que pende de un hilo.
[The gods arrived in their soft vessels.] And the future that will come, they say that it hangs by a thread.

The plural impersonal is used a lot to spread gossip when combined with the verbs decir (to say), contar (to tell), etc.
 

Dicen que nadie puede seguirte el tren

They say nobody can keep up with you

Caption 14, Bahiano - Oyelo

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Or popular knowledge:

 

Dicen que si los sueños se cuentan

They say that if you tell your dreams,

después no se cumplen, loco.

then they won't come true, dude.

Caption 43, Muñeca Brava - 41 La Fiesta

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Grammar

The Complicated World of Reflexive Verbs in Spanish

The use of reflexive verbs in Spanish can be very challenging for English speakers. A verb is used reflexively when the subject of the verb is also its object. In other words, when the subject is acting on itself.

 

Of course, English also uses reflexive verbs. However, while English makes use of expressions like "to himself," "to herself," etc., Spanish uses reflexive pronouns. Let's compare the use of reflexive verbs in Spanish and English in the following examples:

 

Es que con su electricidad se defiende.

The thing is that with her electricity, she defends herself.

Caption 22, Guillermina y Candelario - Un pez mágico

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One of the most challenging aspects of the use of reflexive verbs in Spanish is the different ways in which reflexive pronouns and verbs are combined. You can use the pronoun as in the first example: ella se defiende (she defends herself), but adding the reflexive pronoun as a suffix to the verb is also correct (though kind of poetic), ella defiéndese (she defends herself). 

 

Here's another example that even combines two reflexive verbs in such a way:

 

Ella está dedicándose a relajarse pintando.

She's dedicating herself to relaxing [herself] by painting.

Caption 21, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 13

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And there is even a different way to express the exact same idea: 

Ella se está dedicando relajarse pintando

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It's also very common to use more than one verb in reflexive expressions in Spanish. Usually one verb is conjugated and the other one is an infinitive. Here is an example that combines the verbs saber (to know) and cuidar (to take care):

 

No le teme a nada, él se sabe cuidar

He's not afraid of anything, he knows how to take care of himself

Caption 42, Alberto Barros - Mano a mano

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There is another way to express the same idea. Can you guess it now? Let's take a look:

él sabe cuidarse.

 

Remember we said that Spanish uses reflexive pronouns while English uses expressions such as "to himself," "to herself," etc.? Well, that doesn't mean that Spanish doesn't have similar expressions. Let's see what those expressions are:

 

- mí mismo (myself) 

- sí misma (herself)

- sí mismo (himself, itself)

- sí mismos (themselves), and 

- nosotros mismos (ourselves) 

 

It may seem repetitive, but it's correct and very common to use them altogether with reflexive pronouns and verbs:

 

De crecer, de vivir, de ver, de realizarse a sí mismos.

To grow, to live, to make themselves [to come into their own].

Captions 14-15, Horno San Onofre - La Historia de la Pastelería

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Another confusing aspect of reflexive verbs in Spanish is that they are not always used in the same situations in English. A classic example is the use of the reflexive bañarse to describe the action of taking a bath. You wouldn't normally say "I'm bathing myself" in English, but rather "I'm bathing" or "I'm taking a bath." Or take, for example, the verb arrepentir[se]:

 

Quisiera arrepentirme, ser el mismo, y no decirte eso

I would like to repent, to be the same, and to not tell you that

Caption 19, Camila - Aléjate de mi

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Sometimes things get even more confusing. Expressions like la sopa se quema or el plato se rompió (literally "the soup burns itself" and "the dish broke itself") don't seem to make much sense, right? How can inanimate objects act on themselves? However, these expressions are correct in Spanish, and they are commonly used as some kind of passive voice. That's how they usually translate to English:

 

...pero no muy oscuro porque si no, se quema la arepa.

...but not very dark because if not, the arepa gets burned.

Caption 41, Dany - Arepas - Part 2

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To end this lesson we want to share with you a Spanish saying that uses reflexive verbs. It may come in handy if you are thinking reflexive Spanish verbs are way too confusing. It goes like this: 

 

No te preocupes, mejor ocúpate (Don't worry yourself, it's better to occupy yourself).

 

We hope you enjoyed this lesson about reflexive verbs in Spanish and please send us your comments and suggestions.

 

Andar bien

The verb andar usually conveys meanings related to movement. Depending on the context, it can mean "to walk," "to work," or even "to ride." However, the verb andar is also used to talk about actions that are more often expressed with the verb estar (to be). Let's see how all this works.

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First, andar means "to walk":
 

Si tienes unas piernas fuertes y ganas de andar, te lo recomiendo mucho.

If you have some strong legs and feel like walking, I highly recommend it to you.

Captions 102-103, Blanca - Cómo moverse en Barcelona

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It can also be used to express movement, in which case it's better translated as "to go" or even "to ride":
 

Y por dondequiera que ando, tu recuerdo va conmigo.

And wherever I go, your memory goes with me.

Captions 16-17, El Ausente - Acto 1

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Yo ando en bici y tú andas en motocicleta.
ride a bike and you ride a motorcycle.

When you use it to refer to the functioning of a machine or any sort of gadget, andar means "to work":

La lavadora no anda. | El carro anda bien. | La bicicleta no anda.
The washing machine doesn't work. | The car works well. | The bicycle doesn't work.

Spanish speakers also use the verb andar instead of the verb estar (to be). For example:
 

Me ha gustado, pues, el arte del circo, entonces por eso ando aquí.

I have liked, well, the circus arts, so that's why I'm here.

Caption 4, Circo Infantil de Nicaragua - Learning the Trade

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¿Dónde anduviste hoy?

Where have you been today?

Caption 9, Yago - 1 La llegada

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(Notice andar conjugates as tener (to have). Don't say "andé"!)

It can be used to express the state of being of a person, or an affair:
 

Tío, ¿qué pasa, hombre, cómo andas?

Pal, what's up, guy? How are you?

Caption 65, Animales en familia - La operación de Yaki

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Es que, bueno, las cosas, bueno... no andan bien.

The thing is that, well, things, well... are not going well.

Caption 21, Muñeca Brava - 8 Trampas

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Ando cansado. | Ella anda un poco triste últimamente.
I am tired. / I am feeling tired. | She has been a bit sad lately.

It is common to use andar for a state of being you have been feeling for some time and to use it with adverbs such as “lately” or “these days.”

Andar can replace estar when used as an auxiliary verb too:
 

Ando buscando un dormitorio más. (could also be: Estoy buscando un dormitorio más)

I'm looking for one more bedroom.

Caption 18, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos

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To say estar buscando and andar buscando is really the same. You hear Spanish speakers using them interchangeably all the time. If anything, using andar just adds a sense of vagueness or indetermination to the action. That's why it's commonly used to make estimations, for example:
 

Y ahora andarán sobre los, eh... tres mil ochocientos, cuatro mil.

And now they would be about, um... three thousand eight hundred, four thousand.

Captions 46-47, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos

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Here is another example:
 

¿Cómo explicarte lo que ando pensando(could also be estoy pensando)

How to explain to you what I'm thinking?

Caption 2, Los Tetas - Como Quisiera Decirte

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So, while estoy pensando means "I'm thinking (right now)," ando pensando means "I'm thinking (right now but also maybe before that)." Again, in this context, both verbs mean exactly the same. 

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¿Cómo andan con sus estudios de español? Drop us a line when you have the time at support@yabla.com. Thanks for reading! 

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