¿Qué Onda Vos? A Series on Speaking Guatemalan Spanish

“¿Qué onda vos?” is XelaWho’s a monthly guide to speaking Spanish Guatemalan style. This month’s topic: Guatemalan filler words by James Gray.

A challenge to mastering the verbal part of a new language is mastering those “in-between” words, the glue that holds everything else together. In English, for example, what would we do without such as “um”, “ok”, “so”, “well”, “anyway”, etc. In a vain effort to sound somewhat native, I have collected similar Spanish words that Guatemalans seem to use. Here are a few:

Pues: Earlier in my Spanish-learning journey, I decided that once I have mastered the word “pues”, I will be so fluent. Well, I am not yet fluent, but I am psyched I can actually use the word and not sound like an moron. Here are some common uses:

Si pues! Say this when you want to agree with someone (i.e. “yeah, you’re right”, “uh, huh” or “I agree”) or indicated that you are following along with someone’s logic. (Another way to say the same thing, by the way, is “simón”, with emphasis on the 2nd syllable.

Pues, si: This is a common conversation re-starter, such as on the phone, e.g. when a person comes back on the line after an interruption or if there is a pause in the chat. Something like “ok, where were we?”

Pues, no sé! This is one typical usage of pues, used like “well…” in English, along the lines of “Well, I don’t know!” Pues is also great for adding a mini-pause and moving on to another topic.

Vaya (sometimes just “va”): Vaya is a great word to set up an ending. Perhaps you’re going to say good-bye to a friend, this is your first word. For example, “Vaya, mi amigo, ya me voy. Nos vemos manana, vos.” (Meaning: Alright, my friend, I’m leaving now. See you tomorrow, dude!” 

You can actually do the same with vaya pues or va pues, too. “Va pues, cuidate mucho.” I.e. “well, take care!”

Or vaya also be used when you’re pleading you’re case to someone. Let’s say your Mom complains you’ve been burning through money during your travels. You might respond “Vaya mamita, tienes razón pero ahorita no tengo ingresos.” (Yeah, you’re right, Mom, but right now I don’t have any income.”

And va and vaya are both great filler words, something like “got it”. Someone is giving you directions and as they are wrapping up, you can use either word to confirm that you understand each item said to you.

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