Introducing Afterthoughts and Offhand Remarks

How To Say 'By the Way'

border fence between Mexico and the U.S.
Por cierto, la valla fronteriza fue construida por Estados Unidos. (By the way, the border fence was built by the United States.). Photo by Brooke Binkowski; licensed via Creative Commons.

Spanish has two common ways of introducing an afterthought, unrelated comment or offhand remark, ways that are typically translated as "by the way" or "incidentally" in English. The expressions used are a propósito and por cierto, with the former being somewhat more formal. Here are some examples of their usage:

  • Por cierto, ¿no estás descargando música ilegalmente? (By the way, are you downloading music illegally?)
  • Por cierto, la valla fronteriza fue construida por Estados Unidos. (By the way, the border fence was built by the United States.)
  • Por cierto, vamos a preparar algo para septiembre. (By the way, we'll be getting something ready for September.)
  • Por cierto, la lente del teléfono está compuesta por cinco elementos. (Incidentally, the lens in the phone is made up of five elements.)
  • A propósito, quiero hacer una fiesta este fin de semana. By the way, I want to put together a party this weekend.
  • A propósito, la ciudad está a menos de 40 kilómetros de la frontera. (By the way, the city is less than 40 kilometers from the border.)
  • A propósito, tenemos más de 40.000 alumnos. (Incidentally, we have more than 40,000 students.)

Note that por cierto does not mean "certainly," as you might expect. As a noun in other usages, cierto often expresses certainty.

In some contexts, a propósito can also mean "on purpose" or "deliberately." (As a noun, propósito typically means "intention" or "purpose.") When used in that way, a propósito typically comes after the verb instead of at the beginning of a sentence. Example: Determinaron que no fue a propósito. (They determined it was not done deliberately.)

A propósito de also can be a way of saying "with respect to," "concerning" or something similar. Example: Recordé una historia que Mamá me contaba a propósito de mi padre. (I remembered a story Mom would tell me about my father.)


Closely related to the introduction of afterthoughts is that of minimizing or downplaying the importance of what follows. In English, this might be done using "anyway," such as in "Anyway, we found a restaurant that wasn't closed." Such minimizations are more common in speech than they are in writing.

In Spanish, common phrases of downplaying include "de todas formas," "de todas maneras" and "de todos modos." They can be translated in a variety of ways, as these examples show:

  • De todas formas, no me molesta que tienes muchos amigos. (In any case, it doesn't bother me that you have a lot of friends.)
  • De todas maneras los escádalos financieros generan un impacto reputacional. Anyway, the financial scandals are having an impact on reputation.
  • De todos modos, le gustaría volver a tener su propia casa. (In any event, she would like to return to her own home.)

All three of these Spanish phrases can be used interchangeably with no significant changes of meaning, much like the English phrases used above.

Especially in speech, it is also common to use words such as nada and/or bueno something like filler words for a similar effect:

  • Bueno nada, queria compartir con ustedes mi tatuaje. (Anyway, I want to share my tattoo with you.)
  • Bueno, quizás podamos hacer una excepción. (OK then, maybe we can make an exception.)