Que Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

Have you ever heard the phrase “que sera sera” and wondered about the meaning of “que”? Well, wonder no more with this handy guide!

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Because of the globalized world we live in today, many aspects of different languages have influenced English. Sometimes, words from other languages will appear commonly in English speech. 

But this has been going on for much longer than in the modern era, where travel is readily accessible. Some words have been commonly used in the English language for centuries. 

Today’s word of the day is one such word: que. It’s a small word, and its definition is quite simple. Still, this Spanish, Portuguese, and French word pops up in English more often than you might think. Let’s walk through the definition of this word, a little of its history, and some common sayings that use it. 

What Is the Definition of Que?

The word que (pronounced kay’) has a relatively simple definition. And it has virtually the same definition in all three of the languages mentioned above. It’s one of the first words that beginners in these languages all learn. 

It has a few different definitions in each language. In all three, que translates to the relative pronoun form of the word “that.” For example: 

  • I can really enjoy roller coasters that have a loop in them
  • Cars that have squeaky brakes are a big pet peeve of mine.

This form of the word “that” translates to que. 

In Spanish and Portuguese, the English translation of qué can also be “what.” This is probably the most common translation that we see in English today. For example: 

  • What is the meaning of this?
  • What is your favorite movie? 

In Spanish and Portuguese, the word que also shows up in the word for the adverb “why.” The Spanish word “por qué” directly translates to “for what,” but a more clean translation would be “why.” In Portuguese, a different accent is used: “por quê.” For example:

  • Why did you hit your little brother? 
  • Why is the sky blue?

In Spanish and French, the word que can also mean “how.” This doesn’t work for all translations of “how.” It doesn’t work in the interrogative form (when asking a question), but it works when making an exclamation. For example:

  • I love this view. How beautiful!
  • I got a C in history class this semester. How disappointing!

What’s the History Behind Que?  

The word que has an incredibly long history. It only makes sense that such a commonplace, important word has been around for such a long time. 

It is believed that the word que comes from the Latin word “quid,” which means “what.” This Latin word has been around for millennia. The word found its current form in French and Spanish in the 9th and 10th centuries. 

Since then, que has been used widely in these languages without much evolution. Even after hundreds of years, such a short, simple word doesn’t have much room to evolve. 

The word found its way into the English language through a strange set of circumstances. The popular phrase “que sera sera” entered the English language during the 16th century. It means, “whatever will be, will be.” At first glance, one might think that it is a Spanish phrase, but this would be improper grammar in the Spanish language. 

In actuality, the popular saying is based on Spanish and Italian words that were substituted for English words with English grammar. So, although the phrase has a lovely ring to it, it technically has no foundation in any one language. 

The phrase is more closely tied to the Italian phrase “che sará sará,” but it still has a spelling issue. This fatalistic motto became quite popular in the English language in the 16th century and was even placed on a brass plaque in a church in England. It also began to appear on gravestones to commemorate the life motto of the deceased. 

A Modern Resurgence 

Fast forward to the middle of the 20th century to the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much. The film starred the famous actress Doris Day. For the film, she sang the song “Que Sera Sera.” The chorus contains the popular phrase, followed by the refrain, “Whatever will be, will be.”

The phrase has since become incredibly popular, especially in American English, and many different artists have covered the famous song over the past several decades, solidifying the phrase’s popularity.

Here are some examples of que when used in the phrase, “Que sera, sera”: 

  • I don’t know what my future holds, but que sera, sera right? 
  • I just lost my house and my job, but I have to keep moving forward. Que sera, sera!

Other Forms of Que

But this popular saying isn’t the only place where we find the word que in use in English. There are a few other notable uses of the word que. 

One of the more common instances where que pops up is as an abbreviation for the city of Quebec, Canada. QUE is commonly used in transportation services and similar industries to shorten the city’s name for convenience’s sake. In this context, QUE is not an actual word. It is only the shortened version of the city’s name. 

You might also see the word que when eating at a barbeque restaurant. Many of these regional restaurants will incorrectly spell “bar-b-que” to come across as charming and informal. 


Here are some synonyms for the word que:

  • What
  • That
  • Why 
  • Which 
  • Whatever 

Likewise, here are some synonyms for the phrase “que sera, sera”:

  • Whatever will be, will be
  • It is what it is
  • So it goes
  • That’s life
  • Whatever happens, happens
  • That’s that
  • What happened, happened

Que and All Its Forms

The word que is an incredibly important word for a variety of different languages. In English, we have some important uses of the word through popularized idioms. It just goes to show how dynamic and ever-changing language is. 

Now you know everything you need to know about que and its associated sayings. Use them in your writing, your conversation, and more!


  1. Que | Dictionary.com 
  2. “Que Sera Sera” | Austin Community College 
  3. What Is A Relative Pronoun? Definition And Examples | Theasaurus