Question Words in Spanish (also called Interrogative Words) are words we use to start some questions, indicating the type of information we are asking for. They are the equivalent to the English words “What? When? Where?”, etc.
In this lesson we will study Spanish Question Words one by one, providing example sentences.
The first question words we will study are “Qué” and “Cuál”, because Spanish learners usually have trouble understanding their difference.
At the end there is also a section about Accent Marks on Question Words.
1. List of Spanish Question Words
The following is a list of Spanish Question words, with their meaning in English:
- Qué = What / Which
- Cuál, cuáles = Which / What (singular and plural).
- Cuándo = When
- Quién, quiénes = Who (singular and plural)
- Dónde = Where
- Cómo = How
- Cuánto, cuánta = How much
- Cuántos, cuántas = How many
- Por qué = Why
Next we will read example sentences for each Question Word.
We will begin with an explanation on how to choose between “Qué” and “Cuál / Cuáles”.
2. “Qué” Vs. “Cuál / Cuáles”
Choosing between “Qué” and “Cuál / Cuáles” can be challenging for the Spanish learner.
All 3 words can mean “what” or “which”, depending on the sentence.
In order to pick the right word, we need to decide according to the following logic:
If the next word in the sentence is a noun, then…
… we don’t need to think any further: “qué” always sounds better.
¿Qué coche tienes?
What car do you have?
¿A qué escuela vas?
Which school are you going to?
If the next word in the sentence is not a noun, then…
… we need to think further, applying this logic:
- If we ask about something among other things of the same nature that form a well defined category, we use “cuál” or “cuáles”, depending on singular or plural:
¿Cuál es tu número?
What’s your number? (among all possible numbers of the well-defined category “numbers”)
¿Cuáles son tus colores favoritos?
What are your favorite colors? (among all possible colors of the category “colors”)
¿Cuál te gusta más?
Which one do you like more? (for example, while showing 2 dresses. Among the category “dresses”, which one of these you like more)
- If we don’t ask about something among other things of the same nature that form a well defined category, we use “qué”:
What do you want? (it’s an open question, there is no well defined category).
¿Qué te han dicho?
What have they told you? (no well defined category either).
“Cuándo” means “when”:
¿Cuándo empieza la película?
When does the film start?
¿Desde cuándo estudias español?
Since when do you learn Spanish?
4. “Quién, quiénes”
“Quién” means singular “who”:
¿Quién es tu hermano?
Who is your brother?
¿Con quién juegas?
Who are you playing with?
“Quiénes” means plural “who”:
¿Quiénes son tus amigos?
Who are your friends?
“Dónde” means “where”:
Where do you live?
¿Dónde están mis cosas?
Where are my things?
It is also frequent to find “a dónde” (where… to) and “de dónde” (where… from):
¿A dónde vas?
Where are you going to?
¿De dónde eres?
Where are you from?
“Cómo” means “how”:
How are you?
¿Cómo se dice “table” en español?
How do you say “table” in Spanish?
7. “Cuánto, cuánta”
Both “cuánto” and “cuánta” mean “how much”.
“Cuánto” is masculine:
¿Cuánto dinero tienes?
How much money do you have?
“Cuánta” is feminine:
¿Cuánta mantequilla quieres?
How much butter do you want?
8. “Cuántos, cuántas”
Both “cuántos” and “cuántas” mean “how many”.
“Cuántos” is masculine:
¿Cuántos amigos tenemos en Madrid?
How many friends do we have in Madrid?
“Cuántas” is feminine:
¿Cuántas manzanas vas a comprar?
How many apples are you going to buy?
9. “Por qué”
“Por qué” means “why”. Click here to learn the difference between “por qué”, “porque”…
¿Por qué dices eso?
Why do you say that?
¿Por qué no vamos a Tailandia?
Why don’t we go to Thailand?
10. Accent Marks on Question Words
As you can see in the examples above, all Question words have accent marks when they are performing an interrogative role.
However, sometimes we find these words without an accent mark, in cases where they work as relative pronouns, without an interrogative role.
Let’s use “dónde” as an example. Here are two sentences where it has an accent mark, followed by a sentence where it doesn’t have it:
Where are you? (With accent, because of its interrogative role).
No sé dónde estás.
I don’t know where you are. (With accent, because even though there are no question marks, someone is still wondering where the person is, and that counts as an interrogative role).
Esa es la casa donde vive Manuel.
That’s the house where Manuel lives. (No accent, it is just a relative pronoun without any interrogative role).