Spanish Question Words
This post includes:
Table of Contents
- 7 Spanish Interrogative Pronouns
- Differences between Spanish and English
- Interrogatives with a Written Accent (‘)
- How to Ask Questions
Spanish Question Words
The Spanish expression goes that preguntando se llega a Roma (“by asking questions, one gets to Rome”), so asking questions is a fundamental part of being able to communicate with other people in any language.
But how can we ask questions in Spanish? Do we need a special order in sentences? How to correctly use Spanish question words? Do we have to use auxiliary verbs in Spanish? If you want to discover the answer to these and other questions, you are in the right place. Shall we start?
7 Spanish Interrogative Pronouns
Differences between Spanish and English
First thing we notice when we see questions in Spanish is this sign “¿” that is completely unknown in other languages. Spanish is the only language that needs to mark where the question begins and ends.
Cómo te llamas? 🆇 ¿Cómo te llamas? ✅ (What is your name?)
Eres italiana? 🆇 ¿Eres italiana? ✅ (Are you Italian?)
Thanks to this sign we can read the questions with the correct intonation from the beginning.
Interrogatives with a Written Accent (´)
The written accent is very important in Spanish, but why do we sometimes write the same word with or without an accent? QUÉ or QUE? Which is the correct option? What does it depend on?
Qué, cuándo, cómo, cuál(es), dónde, quién(es), cuánto(a)/s always have a written accent when they are interrogative pronouns, in other words, when we use them to ask a question. Here are some examples:
They are also written with an accent when they are used to exclaim (exclamatory pronouns):
Qué, cuándo, cómo, cuál(es), dónde, quién(es), cuánto(a)/s don’t have an accent in relative clauses. These sentences are not questions or exclamations. Have a look at these examples:
Practice the use of accents in Spanish questions
Qué vs. Cuál(es)
What vs. Which one(s)
Spanish students’ eternal question: QUÉ or CUÁL? It’s very simple. Take a look at this chart and learn the rules.
CUÁL(ES) + noun is NOT correct:
¿Cuál camiseta vas a comprar? 🆇 (Which T-shirt are you going to buy?)
Before a noun we use QUÉ:
¿Qué camiseta vas a comprar? ✅ (Which T-shirt are you going to buy?)
If we use the interrogative pronoun QUÉ in this type of question we want to know the meaning of something and not to identify it. The answer is a definition.
We use QUÉ to:
We use CUÁL(ES) + verb to:
1. Identify an element within a group of the same category:
CUÁLES is the plural form of CUÁL. We use the plural CUÁLES when we ask for a plural noun.
Look at these two examples from the dialogue above:
Try this exercise on the use of QUÉ and CUÁL(ES)
Por qué vs. Porque
Why vs. Because
There is also PORQUÉ (together and with an accent). It’s a noun that is equivalent to ‘the reason’ or ‘the motive’.
Es muy difícil saber el porqué de su enfado.
(It is very difficult to know the reason for his anger.)
Test your new skills!
De dónde vs. Dónde
From where vs. Where
We use both to ask about places, but the preposition DE makes an important difference.
We use DE DÓNDE to:
1. Ask about the origin, provenance or nationality of people, objects and animals.
We use DÓNDE to:
1. Ask for the location of people, objects, animals and places.
Adónde vs. A dónde
Where vs. Where to
We use ADÓNDE and A DÓNDE to ask for an address or a destination. Both options are correct and are used in the same way.
Therefore, you can use ADÓNDE and A DÓNDE in the same cases:
¿A dónde vamos a cenar esta noche? = ¿Adónde vamos a cenar esta noche?
¿A dónde se dirige este tren? = ¿Adónde se dirige este tren?
Let's try this exercise!
A quién vs. Quién
To whom vs. Who
QUIÉN is used to ask about the identity of people.
We use QUIÉNES when we ask for more than one person.
QUIÉN(ES) can only be used with people.
For objects we use QUÉ.
We use A QUIÉN(ES) to:
1. When a person is the Direct Object.
Remember that the direct object of a person needs the preposition A.
Yo veo la televisión. (I watch television.)
Yo veo a Martina. (I see Martina) → direct object of person
No conocemos Madrid. (We don’t know Madrid.)
No conocemos a tu madre. (We don’t know your mother) → direct object of person
2. When we ask for the Indirect Object or Indirect Object complement.
In the indirect object case, we use the preposition A also with objects, but we only use A QUIÉN(ES) when we ask about people.
How to Ask Questions?
When the normal order of the sentence and auxiliary verbs are changed in another language, it can be a real nightmare. However, in Spanish it’s quite simple. It’s a more flexible language when it comes to asking questions and intonation becomes the key part.
When there are no interrogative pronouns, we can maintain the normal order of the enunciative sentences (affirmative or negative).
When there is an interrogative pronoun, this pronoun has to initiate the question.
From the examples, we see that in Spanish the use of the explicit subject is optional. This means that we have two options:
yo soy arquitecta = soy arquitecta. (I am an architect.)
On the contrary, when there is an interrogative pronoun, we need to put the subject after the verb:
Now that we finally understand how to ask questions in Spanish and how to use interrogative pronouns we have to face the final enemy: indirect questions.
The first thing we need to know is that there are two basic types of questions: direct questions and indirect questions.
Several examples of both types of questions appear in the conversation above. Look:
¿Quién quiere ir esta noche al nuevo restaurante italiano?
¿Conocéis el barrio de Chueca?
¿Habéis estado en el mercado de San Ginés?
→ Direct questions
…no sabemos dónde está.
Yo no recuerdo cómo llegar.
→ Indirect questions
Direct questions are those we write between question marks (¿?).
¿Conocéis el barrio de Chueca?
Indirect questions do not have interrogative signs.
These are verbs that introduce indirect questions: decir (to say), saber (to know), preguntar (to ask), recordar (to remember), comprender (to understand),…
- Sí, pero yo no recuerdo cómo llegar. (Yes, but I don’t remember how to get there.)
- Vamos a explicar cuándo necesitamos usar la tilde. (Let’s explain when we need to use the written accent.)
Congratulations! It’s been a long one… Now that you have all the information, you can form the Spanish questions correctly.
I hope you were able to see the differences between the questions words, so now, ask us a question!
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