Tal is of those words that's best thought of as representing a concept rather than as the rough equivalent of a particular English word. Functioning as an adverb, adjective or pronoun, tal generally is used to refer in some way to something that has previously been said or implied, and it also is used in several common idioms.
Here are the most common uses of tal:
As adjective to indicate that the accompanying noun refers to something mentioned earlier: When used this way, tal can often be thought of as meaning "of that kind," and it is frequently translated as "such."
- No existe tal lugar. Such a place doesn't exist.
- ¡Por qué hay tal diferencia de precio? Why is there such a price difference?
- Había muchos tales libros en existencia a la hora de conquista española. There were many books of that kind in existence at the time of the Spanish conquest.
- Tal cosa jamás se ha visto. Such a thing has never been seen.
- Si una persona afirma tal idea, lo haga por error o por ignorancia. If a person asserts that kind of idea, he does it out of mistake or ignorance.
As a pronoun to refer to something that is vaguely like something else:
- No hay tal como la escuela perfecta. There isn't anything like the perfect school.
- Mi hermano come hamburguesas, pizza y tal. My brother eats hamburgers, pizza and things like that.
- Dígalo tal como es. Tell it like it is.
In the phrase con tal de to mean "for the purpose of": The phrase is typically followed by an infinitive. The similar phrases "con tal de que" and "con tal que" (followed by a conjugated verb) can have a similar meaning but most often convey the idea of "provided that," "as long as" or "in the case that."
- El exgobernador habla en español con tal de ganar votos. The former governor is speaking in Spanish in order to win votes.
- Los senadores están dispuestos a sacrificar la economía con tal de que el presidente no sea reelegido. The senators are inclined to sacrifice the economy so that the president isn't re-elected.
- Con tal de que me salga mi casa, soy feliz. Provided I leave my house, I'm a happy person.
- Con tal que me quieras, soy tuyo. As long as you love me, I'm yours.
- Las personas que sufren de insomnio tratan con casi todo con tal de dormir. People who suffer from insomnia try almost anything in order to sleep.
Functioning as an adverb with qué in questions to ask how people or things are: Literal translations of such sentences generally aren't possible, since such questions are often casual and idiomatic, so context will determine what's meant.
- Hola ¿qué tal? Hi, how are you?
- ¿Qué tal tu viaje? How was your trip?
- ¿Qué tal tu día? How's your day going?
- ¿Qué tal lo estamos haciendo? How are we doing?
In the phrase tal vez to mean "maybe" or "perhaps": The phrase, often written as talvez, especially in Latin America, is often followed by a verb in the subjunctive mood. See a further explanation in the lesson about translating "maybe."
- Tal vez fuera el eco de una aparición. Perhaps it was the echo of a ghost.
- Tal vez compremos otro coche pequeño. Maybe we'll buy another small car.
Sources: Sample sentences are adapted from a variety of sources, generally ones written by native speakers. The following sources were among those consulted for this lesson: Foro DVD Manía, Miguel Sánchez-Ostiz, Archivo Multi-idioma, Real Academia Española, Yahoo.es, Otromariblog, CNN en español, Pancho Madrigal, CanalSolidario, Comunicas.org, Para Lucir Más Joven, Artigoo.com, Objectivismo.org.