Basic Spanish Course

The multiple uses of COMO in Spanish (with exercises): CLASS 2

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Transcript of class:

  1. Como.

    Okay, just in case you’re an alien from another planet and really don’t know any Spanish, the word for ‘hello’ in Spanish is…

    __ Hola

    Please remember that the ‘h’ is silent, and avoid the bad habit of saying the ‘o’ like it’s the ‘o’ of the alphabet (as in ‘hello’. It’s the ‘o’ sound of the word ‘obvious’.

    __ Hola.

    A quick word about something really weird you’re going to notice about saying ‘hello’ in Spain…

    …If you pass someone in the street in England or the States, you say ‘hello’ and carry on walking. In Spanish you say ‘bye’. Seriously, it takes years to adapt to this because telling someone ‘bye’ when you pass them on the street is like dismissing them. It’s a subtle way of saying ‘Fuck off’. Imagine you see a beautiful girl you know and you pass her on the street, and before you open your mouth she says ‘adios’; you’re thinking ‘shit…do I smell?’ Well, no…she’s just saying what all Spanish people say when they pass an acquaintance in the street.

    Anyway, after learning ‘hola’ let’s learn “how are you?”

    __ ¿Cómo estás? (alternatively: ¿que tal?)

    And the answer…

    __ Muy bien – very well.

    When it’s possible to use two phrases you should learn both but use only one. It’s extremely common for students to start combining elements of two phrases and end up with a hash of both. In our case we will choose to use ‘¿como estas?’ because of its wider grammatical implications. However, remember to recognise – ‘que tal’ – as it’s very common.

    Notice with ‘¿como estas?’ that once more it’s not necessary to put a pronoun (you). We also learn two words…

    __ Como – how/what/as/like
    __ Estas – you are (from the verb ‘estar – to be)

    __ Muy – very
    __ Well – bien

    For the rest of the class, however, I would like to focus on the word ‘como.’ We will study ‘como’ and the way it features in a number of common phrases. Now, Some language teachers will tell you that teaching six meanings of the same word will confuse people, but consider this: if we don’t get the multiple meanings of ‘como’ straight off then you’ll entrench the one meaning and have difficulty with the others later on.

Different phrases with ‘como’

1. ¿Cómo estás?__ How are you?

2. ¿Cómo te llamas? __ What’s your name?

3. ¿Cómo es Sevilla? __ How’s Seville? Or – What’s Seville like?

4. ¿Cómo? __ Pardon (I didn’t hear you).

5. Trabajo como camarero __ I work as a waiter.

6. Ella canta como Beyonce __ She sings like Beyonce.

7. ¿Cómo Va? __ How’s it going?

In order to avoid the aforementioned sensation of overload, I’m now going to put each language point on a separate piece of paper. Take your time reading each page. Reread. Remember…this is not a novel but a long stream of linguistic data that you cannot rush through. You must understand each language point.

‘Como’ for ‘What’s your name?’

As you can see, ‘como’ has multiple meanings, and it won’t surprise you if I say it’s a bloody important word. Not only is it the backbone of…’how are you?’

__ ¿Cómo estas?

But it’s also the backbone of ‘What’s your name?’

__ ¿Cómo te llamas?

This is because the Spanish do not literally say ‘what’s your name?’ They say “How do you call yourself?”

¿Como (how do you…)
te (yourself…
you call (llamas)

So, Rookie, how do you say ‘What’s your name in Spanish?”

That’s right…

__ ¿Cómo estas?

‘Como’ for ‘What’s it like?’

A very important use of ‘como’ is when you want to know what something is like. Imagine you want to know what it’s like to fuck a nun, a donkey and a transsexual at the same time, in English you’d say “what’s it like to…”

In Spanish you would never say that…you’d use ‘como’ and say “How is it to fuck a…” Whether you’re asking about someone’s new girlfriend or Irish beer or Paris in Spring you must try and erase the English habit of asking ‘What’s Paris like?’ and think in Spanglish ‘How’s Paris’ or ‘How’s the beer.’ Spanish people say…

__ ¿Cómo es la cerveza de Irlanda?
__ ¿Cómo es Paris?

So, Rookie, how do you say ‘What’s Spain like?”

That’s right…

__ ¿Cómo es España?

‘¿Como?’ for ‘I didn’t hear you… i.e. pardon?’

If you don’t hear or understand someone, it is common to say – ‘¿como?’- . Although not the height of good manners, it’s not as brusque and rude as ‘what?’ in English. It is used with a questioning intonation…

__ ¿Cómo?

So, Rookie, how do you say ‘Pardon’?

That’s right…

__ ¿Cómo?

Como – As (but not ‘while’)

__ Trabajo como médico __ I work as a doctor.

‘As’ has two meanings in English. You can read the first one above, while the second meaning of ‘as’ in English is a synonym of ‘while’…

__ “As I was walking in the red light district, I saw your mum.”

When you want to translate this form of ‘as’ you do not use ‘como’.

In other words, in Spanish you can use ‘como’ to translate one sense of ‘as’ in English (I worked as a doctor) but not the sense of ‘as’ when it means ‘while’.

This is something that you will discover time and time again when studying languages: there are certain words which have multiple meanings in a language but only some of them can be translated to the target language. These words are the biggest sources of errors because students don’t learn the multiple meanings straight off. They learn one, it becomes entrenched, and then they can’t take on the other meanings. Sorry to repeat myself…but it is essential that you deal with multiple meanings immediately so as to avoid entrenchment. As the great linguist Naom Chomsky didn’t say (but should have)…

Entrenchment leads to entrenchment.

Como – like (similar to)

__ Ella canta como Beyonce … She sings like Beyonce.

The above use of ‘like’ is translated as ‘como.’

However, there is no compound verb ‘to look like’ – the Spanish have a separate verb for that which we will encounter later.
Also, the verb ‘to like’ has nothing to do with ‘como’ and is a separate verb we will also deal with later.

So, if you want to say your mum sings like Beyonce you use ‘como.’

And by the way, if your mum doesn’t sing like Beyonce but sings like a cat that is being simultaneously waterboarded and castrated, then Spanish people will listen to her sing and say: “stop singing or you’ll make it rain.” There’s this entire family of phrases that all center on the fact that when a bad singer starts singing…they’re so bad they make it rain.

__ Cuando cantas…llueve.
__ When you sing…it rains.

¿Como Va? How’s it going?

__ ¿Como Va? _ How’s it going?

Our final phrase with ‘como’ is extremely common and worth learning. All students are prepared for ‘¿como estas?’ And ‘¿que tal?’ But usually get thrown by the equally common…

__ ¿Como va? _ How’s it going?

The reason it’s so important is because, like English, it’s the way you ask how a new project is going or your new job or a million other things…

__ ¿Como va el proyecto? _ How’s the project going?

Notice how short the phrase ‘¿como va?’ is in Spanish compared with English. This is because in Spanish – as you already know – the pronoun is unnecessary. But it’s also because they don’t add the ‘is’ and the ‘ing’. Therefore…como va…is literally ‘how it goes’. We shall deal with this in more detail when talking about verb tenses.

Also note the word order when you want to ask how something in particular is going. In English ‘the project’ goes in the middle, but in Spanish at the end.

__ ¿Como va el proyecto? _ How’s the project going?


When thinking about homework I’d like you to think of a mathematical equation: a + b = c.

When it comes to learning a language the equation is very simple: not doing homework = not learning Spanish. The two are inseparable, and probably the most important thing you need to do is to stop thinking about it as ‘homework’.

As well as the obvious association with school and the fact that homework sucks, homework gives this sense of an added extra. It gives the impression that the real learning stuff happens in the classroom and that this homework thing is supplementary. In the case of language learning this is utterly incorrect.

All I do in a class is relate information about words and rules for combining those words. But unless you assimilate those words and rules in your long term memory neither the class nor the information counts for shit. So, far from being supplementary, homework is the time when you achieve deep assimilation and long term retention of the linguistic information transmitted in class. Therefore, in this course we don’t not call it homework we call it, ‘realwork’ because when you get home, that is where the real work gets  done.


Now let’s get down to the real work. These are the phrases you have to memorise. Write them down repeatedly and say them repeatedly. Do not…and I mean do not…pass onto the next class without definitive, complete memorisation.

¿Cómo estás? (¿que tal?) __ How are you? Muy bien – very well.

¿Cómo te llamas? __ What’s your name?

¿Cómo es Sevilla? __ How’s Seville? Or – What’s Seville like?

¿Cómo? __ Pardon (I didn’t hear you).

Trabajo como camarero __ I work as a waiter.

Ella canta como Beyonce __ She sings like Beyonce.

¿Como Va? __ How’s it going?

INSTRUCTIONS: Now translate into Spanish…

1. What’s Paris like?
2. What’s Russia like?
3. Very well.
4. What’s Penelope like?
5. What’s crack like?
6. I work as a waiter. (camarero – waiter)
7. I work as a whore.
8. I worked as a whore at university.
9. I worked as a crack whore at university.
10. How are you?

¿Cómo es París?
¿Cómo es Rusia?
Muy bien.
¿Cómo es Penélope?
¿Cómo es crack?
Trabajo como camarero. Camarero camarero
Trabajo como puta.
Trabajé como puta en la universidad.
Trabajé como puta de crack en la universidad.
¿Cómo estás?

12. You sing like Donald Trump.
13. Very well.
14. ¿How!?
15. What’s your name?
16. How’s it going?
17. You sing like Beyonce.
18. I’m a doctor.
19. You sing like Beyonce.
20. ¿How?!

Cantas como Donald Trump.
Muy bien.
¿Cómo te llamas?
¿Cómo te va?
Cantas como Beyonce.
Soy médico.
Cantas como Beyonce.

21. Well.
22. How’s it going?
23. How’s university going?
24. How’s the project going?
25. How’s everything going? (everything – todo)
26. You sing like a whore.
27. What’s Barcelona like?
28. How are you?
29. How is he?
30. How is your mother? (mother – madre)

¿Cómo va?
¿Cómo va la universidad?
¿Cómo va el proyecto?
¿Cómo va todo?
Cantas como una puta.
¿Cómo es Barcelona?
¿Cómo estás?
¿Cómo estamos?
¿Como es el?
¿Cómo esta tu madre?

Question: Have you memorised all the phrases? If you have then you won’t mind if I ask you to prove it. Do not…I mean…do not…turn that motherfucking page unless you can translate the following perfectly without so much as a misplaced syllable.

How are you? Very well.

What’s your name?

How’s Seville? Or – What’s Seville like?

Pardon (I didn’t hear you).

I work as a waiter.

She sings like Beyonce.

How’s it going?

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