Sometimes it can be frustrating to understand all the different ways to ask a question in Spanish. Even though it is a beautiful Latin language filled with romantic and detailed expressions, many Spanish-students are often discouraged to learn the language once they find themselves immersed in the comparison tables of ‘when and how’ to use a specific word. Fear not anymore though, as this guide will help you dissipate every confusion that could arise in regards to Spanish interrogatives, otherwise known as the Spanish Question Words.
Oh, Español, ¿Por qué, cómo, cuándo y dónde te volviste tan difícil?
First things first, what are Spanish Question Words?
When studying Spanish one of the first sections you will learn is called ‘Interrogative Pronouns’, also referred to as the Question Words or interrogatives. These words are used to form questions in Spanish, and they will be very handy to you if you ever go to a Spanish-speaking country and you need to find your way around. Learning the Spanish interrogatives will also help you obtain a wider grasp of the language you are learning as it will welcome new vocabulary for your day-to-day life.
Nevertheless, asking questions in Spanish can be very different from the English form, in fact, one of the differences appears right from the beginning of the question when you will often find the inverted question mark that is so famous in the Spanish language. This upside-down question mark is always used and it implies the beginning of the question, thus the intonation of the speaker should change accordingly.
So, in Spanish, if you wanted to say “How old are you?”, you should ask “¿Cuántos años tienes?”. However, the question mark does not always go at the start of the sentence because sometimes there are other relevant words beforehand.
- For example, in English you would ask, “Hernán, where are you going?” and in Spanish, you would ask, “Hernán, ¿Adónde vas?”.
Another difference is in regards to the English words “Does” and “Do” as they are usually used as auxiliaries when asking questions. However, in Spanish, you won’t be able to find a word that will translate directly to “Does” or “Do”.
- For example, “Does Carlos eat Venezuelan food?”. In Spanish it would be, “¿Carlos come comida Venezolana?”, which could then be roughly translated to “Carlos eats Venezuelan food?”
A great thing about the Spanish language is that there is a relaxed way of using and creating its syntax (which is the arrangement of words in a sentence). So, when asking a question these would be perfectly acceptable as well:
- “¿Come Carlos comida Venezolana?”
- “¿Come comida Venezolana Carlos?”
In addition, another difference between the two languages is the accent marks. In Spanish question words must have an accent mark in order to understand that a question is being asked. Always remember to place the first (inverted) question mark, if not you will probably be changing the question that you have asked.
- For example, “¿Carlos come comida Venezolana?”. This is a question, “Does Carlos eat Venezuelan food?”.
- “Carlos come comida Venezolana”. This is a positive statement, “Carlos eats Venezuelan food“.
Useful tip: Remember that if you would like to emphasize an exclamation point in a question then you could do it like this:
- For example, “¡¿Qué comiste?!” or “¿¡Qué comiste!?” which translates to “What did you eat!?”.
Keep on reading this guide so you can find a complete and relevant list of the essential question words in Spanish.
Always remember that in Spanish if the subject of the sentence is singular or plural it means that it will also affect subsequent parts of the sentence.
So, what are the Question Words in Spanish?
Spanish question words list
1. ¿Qué? / ¿Cuál? = What?
To some people, the use of the Spanish interrogative ‘Qué’ can be very intimidating as it has diverse meanings. Do not worry though, as we are now going to have a look at the correct and possible uses of this question word:
- Use ‘Qué’ when asking ‘What’ in Spanish if the following word is a noun.
For example, “¿Qué libro estás leyendo?” or “What book are you reading?”.
- Use ‘Qué’ when the following word is any form of the verb ‘ser’ (or ‘to be’), especially when you are asking for a further explanation or definition.
For example, “¿Qué dirección debo tomar?” or “What direction should I take?”.
- However, if you want to have a specific response to this question, then you should ask with the word “¿Cuál?”.
For example, “¿Cuál es tu dirección actual?” or “What is your current address?“.
- The word ‘Qué’ can also be used as ‘Cómo’. Let’s say you didn’t hear a word of what someone else told you, if you simply say “¿Qué?” it could often be interpreted as a rude answer on your behalf. However, if you reply “¿Cómo?” which also translates as “What?” then you are considered to be more polite.
Other uses of the Spanish question word ‘Qué’ in sentences are as following:
- “¿Qué haces esta noche?” or “What are you doing tonight?”.
- “¿Qué significa esto?” or “What does this mean?”.
- “¿Qué quieres comer?” or “What would you like to eat?”.
Remember: If you want more specific information then you need to use the word ‘Cuál’.
- “¿Cuál es tu numero de casa?” or “What is your house number?”.
- “¿Cuál es tu comida favorita?” or “What is your favourite food?”.
As you can see from the previous examples, the word ‘Cuál’ is often used when asking more personal questions.
2. ¿Quién? / ¿Quiénes? / ¿De quién? / ¿De quiénes? = Who?
‘Who’ in Spanish can be translated as ‘¿Quién?’. When you use this question word you have to remember that it must agree with the number of people you are referring to, so, ‘¿Quién?’ is for a singular subject while ‘¿Quiénes?’ is for plural subjects.
- For example, “¿Quién es la fotógrafa?” or “Who is the photographer?”.
- “¿Quiénes son los invitados?” or “Who are the invited people?”.
However, when you want to ask about “Whose thing is this”, then you need to use the “¿De quién? / ¿De quiénes?”.
- For example, “¿De quién es este lápiz?” or “Whose pencil is this?”.
- “¿De quiénes hablas?” or “Who are you talking about?”
We are now moving to the Cu-Cu-Cu question words (Cuando, Cual, Cuanto):
3. ¿Cuándo? = When?
When you would like to ask ‘when’ in Spanish you must use the word ‘cuándo’.
- For example, “¿Cuándo viene Mara?” or “When is Mara coming?”.
- “¿Cuándo vamos a salir a tomar algo?” or “When will we go out to drink something?”
Sometimes the word ‘Cuándo’ does not go at the beginning of the sentence, but it is still used as a connector in the question.
- For example, “¿Me puedes llamar cuando llegues?” or “Can you call me when you arrive?”.
4. ¿Cuál? / ¿Cuáles? = Which? / Which ones?
To say ‘which’ in Spanish, for example when you have to choose between two or more things, you often use the word ‘cuál’.
- For example, “¿Cuál color te gusta mas el azul o el amarillo?” or “Which colour do you like the most blue or yellow?”.
- “¿Cuál es tu animal favorito el león o el tigre?” or “Which one is your favourite animal the lion or the tiger?”.
Useful tip: Always remember to match the endings of the word ‘Cuál’ with the singular or plural forms of the nouns.
- For example, “¿Cuáles zapatos te gustan?” or “Which pair of shoes do you like?”.
- “¿Cuál de estos helados has probado?” or “Which one of these ice creams have you tried?”.
5. ¿Cuánto/a? / ¿Cuántos/as? = How much? / How many? (Both for feminine and male nouns).
In Spanish, we use the word “Cuánto/a” to ask for “how much” and “how many” but it all depends on what you are asking about in order to understand how to use these two forms of the same word. (Note: To be fair, it is more difficult to understand the English words than the Spanish ones).
Useful tip: Remember “¿Cuánto?” Is for a singular masculine subject; “¿Cuánta?” is for a singular female subject, while “¿Cuántos?” is used for a plural masculine subject and “¿Cuántas?” is used for a plural feminine subject.
- For example, “¿Cuánto cuesta el jugo de naranja?” or “How much (cost) is the orange juice?”.
- “¿Cuánta cantidad de leche debo colocar en la torta?” or “How much quantity of milk should I put in the cake?”.
- “¿Cuántos años tiene Lautaro?” or “How many years does Lautaro have?”.
- “¿Cuántas cucharas de azúcar quieres en tu té?” or “How many spoons of sugar would you like in your cup of tea?”.
6. ¿Cómo? = How?
When you want to ask “How?” in Spanish you use the word “¿Cómo?”.
- For example, you have probably already learnt the most basic use of this word “¿Cómo estás?” or “How are you?”.
Sometimes, however, ‘Cómo’ is also translated as ‘What’.
- For example, “¿Cómo te llamas?” or “What is your name?”.
When you want to translate “Cómo” you must be very aware of the context you would like to give it in the English version. This will help you out in determining when to use ‘How’ or ‘What’.
7. ¿Dónde? = Where?
The most important thing to know about the Spanish question word “¿Dónde?” is that you need to pay a lot of attention to notice the changes of the rest of the sentence. Many students are also afraid of this word, but do not worry as we are now going to go through the proper explanation of how to say ‘Where’ in Spanish and the uses of this Interrogative Pronoun, while also providing you with the possible variants.
- For example, “¿Dónde está la bicicleta?” or “Where is the bike?”.
- “¿Dónde naciste tú?” Or “Where were you born?”.
Now let’s learn the variant words for “Dónde”.
- “¿Adónde?” = Means “To where?”.
- For example, “¿Adónde quieres enviar este paquete?” or “Where would you like to send this package to?”.
- “¿Adónde fuiste?” or “Where did you go to?”.
Another fairly used variant is “De Dónde” or “From where”.
- For example, “¿De dónde eres?” or “Where are you from?”.
- “¿De dónde vienes?” or “Where do you come from?”. The trick here is to pay attention to the rest of the sentence, because “¿De dónde vienes?” could mean where do you originally come from, i.e what country or region, but, it could also mean where was the last place you visited.
- So, “¿De dónde vienes?” or “Where do you come from?” and the possible answers could be “Vengo de Venezuela” or “I come from Venezuela”, or, “Vengo de comprar comida” or “I come from the shops”.
Useful tip: Always pay attention to the prepositions, once you fully learn them you will start remembering how and when to use them in a question.
8. ¿Por qué? / ¿Para qué? = Why?
Even though there is a slight difference between the meanings of the words “¿Por qué? / ¿Para qué?” they are more often than not used to mean to “Why” in Spanish. It can be argued that “¿Por qué?” speaks about a cause, while “¿Para qué?” is more in terms of purpose and is often translated to “what for”.
- For example, “¿Por qué le pegaste?” or “Why did you hit him/her?”
- “¿Para qué lo hiciste?” or “What did you do it for? Or Why did you do it?”.
Useful tip: As always in Spanish, you must pay attention to the context as it will often give you some clues and in some cases, it will give you the answers.
- For example, “¿Para qué confirmaste si ahora no vas a ir?” or “Why did you confirm if you are not going now?”. Please note that an answer is not expected on this type of question, and, even if there is one possible answer it will start with “Para”.
- “¿Por qué te cansas tan rápido?” or “Why do you get tired so fast?”. Then an answer is expected, “Porque me siento mal” or “Because I feel bad”.
Now we have studied the Spanish interrogatives and you have become an expert it is time to tell you two extra useful tips and tricks for you to have in mind.
More ways to form a question in Spanish
In Spanish you can also ask questions without using these questions words, all you need to do is raise your intonation at the end of the sentence and that is it!
- For example, “Ella comió” or “She ate”. This is a positive statement. If you want to change it to a question all you need to do is say “¿Ella comió?” Or “Did she eat?”.
The second trick is to know that in Spanish you can -almost all the time- leave the personal pronoun out. This means the he / she / you / me / we / us could be left out of the question.
- For example, “¿Ella me llama?” or “Is she calling me?” In Spanish, you could also ask “¿Me llama?” Or “Call me?” and it makes perfect sense because the verbs usually change in form in accordance to the personal pronoun, so you know who is talking about just by paying attention to the form of the verb.
How to remember Spanish question words
The best way to remember interrogative words in Spanish is through lots of practice. This is where Clozemaster is an excellent resource for learning Spanish question words – it helps you get lots of exposure to Spanish interrogatives in context so you remember how the question words are used and learn how to ask questions in Spanish naturally.
I know we have covered a lot in this guide, but I would personally like to congratulate you for learning Spanish and keeping it up by reading this guide! I know first-hand that learning a language is not an easy task, but it is possible to learn it well enough, sometimes if you practice hard enough you will even sound like a native speaker. So, I want to encourage you to keep on studying, practicing and reading the guides we always publish so you can be a better version of yourself…at least in Spanish!