Explanation

Quick Answer

Spanish question words are used in countless contexts such as getting to know someone, asking for information, and clarifying details. They are an essential part of your language skills set so let's take a look at some key ones!

What Are Question Words and How Are They Used?

Question words are used amply in basic Spanish conversations, such as greetings and introductions, asking for directions, finding out the time, and countless others.

Before reviewing the question words in Spanish, let’s take note of a few things:

  • Question words are used to ask questions that require an answer beyond or no.
  • All question words have an accent on the stressed syllable.
  • Question words are always placed at the beginning of a question, after the upside down question mark. (Learn more about question marks in Spanish here!)
  • Even when two question words have the same English equivalent, they are not interchangeable.

List of Spanish Question Words

The following is a list of Spanish question words and their English equivalents. Being able to use the question words correctly will require more than the mere memorization of these words, so make sure to keep reading!

SpanishEnglishSpanishEnglish
a qué hora
what time
a quién
to whom
adónde
to where
cómo
how, what
con quién
with whomcuál/cuáleswhich/which ones
cuándo
whencuánto/cuántoshow much/how many
de dónde
from where
de quién
whose
dónde
where
qué
what
quién
who
para qué
why, for what
por dónde
which way
por qué
why

The 5 Ws and an H!

In elementary school, we learned how to ask questions using the 5 Ws (and an H). These were our building blocks for learning how to ask someone for information. Let’s take a look at the Spanish equivalents of the 5 Ws (and an H) and some examples!

Asking “Who”

Learning which who question word to use in Spanish boils down to knowing your prepositions. One small word changes the whole meaning of the question word!

Quién

Quién (who) is an interrogative pronoun used as the subject of the sentence. Use quién when the subject is one person (él/ella) and quiénes when the subject is multiple people (ellos/ellas).

Let’s take a look at some examples!

examples
¿Quién es ella?
Who is she?
¿Quiénes van a venir a la reunión?
Who’s coming to the gathering?

A quién

Now let’s take a look at using the preposition a(to) with quién.

  • A quién/a quiénes translate as to whom when the person in question is the indirect object of the sentence.
  • A quién/a quiénes translate as who or whom when the person in question is the direct object of the sentence or when using verbs like gustar.

For example:

examples
¿A quién le vendió la casa?
To whom did you sell the house?
¿A quiénes viste en la fiesta?
Who did you see at the party?
¿A quién le gusta bailar?
Who likes to dance?

Con quién

The preposition con(with) is added to quién or quiénes to ask with whom.

For example:

examples
¿Con quién estoy hablando?
With whom am I speaking?
¿Con quiénes vas al concierto?
Who are you going to the concert with?

Quién can be used with several other prepositions. Use

de quién(whose) to inquire about the possession of an object and para quiénto ask for whom.

Asking “What”

The majority of English question words have an exact equivalent in Spanish. For example, how much translates as cuánto. Unfortunately, the question word what doesn’t translate so easily.

When asking what, most of the time you use qué, cuál, or cuáles. Sometimes you use cómo, even though it directly translates as how, not what.

Qué vs. Cuál(es)

  • Use qué in front of a conjugated form of the verb serto ask for a definition or explanation for what something is. Under all other circumstances, use cuál before a form of ser when asking for a specific response.

  • Qué is used to ask what or which when used directly in front of any noun or conjugated verb without giving choices.

  • Cuál is used with the preposition deto ask which when giving a choice.

Cuál changes to its plural form cuáles when the noun to which it refers is plural.

Let’s take a look at some examples!

examples
¿Qué es eso?
What is that?
¿Cuál es tu color favorito?
What is your favorite color?
¿Cuáles son los síntomas de la COVID-19?
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
¿Qué película estás mirando?
What movie are you watching?
¿Cuál de estas camisas quieres?
Which one of these shirts do you want?

Using Cómo to Ask “What”

To be clear, cómo does not translate as what, but sometimes we use it in place of qué.

  • What is your name? translates as ¿Cómo te llamas?
  • Use cómo to ask what something or someone is like. For example, ¿Cómo es tu casa? (What is your house like?)
  • When a Spanish speaker didn’t hear you or needs you to repeat something, they will say ¿Cómo?, which translates as Pardon? or Come again?

Asking “When”

In general, use cuándo to ask when. If you are asking for a specific time, use a qué hora.

Let’s check out some examples!

examples
¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños? - El 15 de septiembre.
When is your birthday? - September 15th.
¿A qué hora empieza el concierto?
What time does the concert start?

Asking “Where”

Dónde, adónde, and de dónde are all used to ask where, but they’re used in different kinds of questions.

  • Dónde is used to inquire about the location of something or someone.
  • Adónde is used to inquire about someone’s destination. It is commonly used with the verb ir(to go).
  • De dónde is used to inquire about where someone is from.

Let’s put these into practice!

examples
¿Dónde está el baño?
Where is the bathroom?
¿Adónde van?
Where are you going?
¿De dónde son los nuevos estudiantes?
Where are the new students from?

Asking “Why”

When asking why, por qué and para qué are somewhat interchangeable, depending on what you want to emphasize.

  • Por qué is the most common translation of why and it is used to inquire about the reason for or motivation of an action.

  • Use para qué when you want to know the purpose or intention of an action. It translates as why or what for.

For example:

examples
¿Por qué lloras?
Why are you crying?
¿Para qué estudias inglés? - Para encontrar un buen trabajo.
Why are you studying English? - To find a good job.

Asking “How”

We use cómo to ask about how someone is feeling or to inquire about the manner in which something was done.

For example:

examples
¿Cómo estás hoy?
How are you today?
¿Cómo llegaste allí?
How did you get there?

Asking “How Much” and “How Many”

The translation of how changes when asking how much and how many.

  • To ask how much, use cuánto when the noun you are asking about is masculine and cuánta if it is feminine.
  • Use cuántos or cuántas to ask how many, depending on if the noun is masculine or feminine.
examples
¿Cuánto dinero tienes?
How much money do you have?
¿Cuánta leche se necesita para preparar el postre?
How much milk do you need to make the dessert?
¿Cuántos elefantes hay?
How many elephants are there?
¿Cuántas mascotas tienes?
How many pets do you have?

Tips for Students!

Have a quiz on question words coming up? We’ve got your back! Here is a list of resources you can use to get prepared!

Click here to quiz yourself on the question words and here to practice putting the question words into context.

Ready to practice?
Master Asking Questions with our interactive video lessons.