Asking QuestionsStart first lesson
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?
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 síor 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!
|what time||to whom|
|to where||how, what|
|with whom||cuál/cuáles||which/which ones|
|when||cuánto/cuántos||how much/how many|
|who||why, for what|
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!
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!
Let’s take a look at some examples!
- 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.
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 changes to its plural form cuáles when the noun to which it refers is plural.
Let’s take a look at some examples!
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?
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!
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!
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.
We use cómo to ask about how someone is feeling or to inquire about the manner in which something was done.
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.