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Spanish 101A

Spanish 101B

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Interrogatives are words that form questions. They are the Spanish equivalents of the English "Who, What, When, Where, Why, How and How Much."

Questions formed using interrogatives require more then a "yes or no" answer. They are requesting information.




Por qué

Quién &
a quién



Cuánto &

Where What Which/what Why Who & whom How When How much &
How many

Notice that the Spanish interrogatives all have accent marks. This is important when writing because these words have different meanings without the accent marks.

For example,

  • qué means `what', but que without an accent mark on the e means `that';
  • cómo means `how', but como without an accent mark on the o means `as' or 'like'.

This is true for the "tilde" as well: Ñ

Let's look at the question ¿Cuántos años tienes? This means literally `How many years do you have?' Años means `years'.

Look up the word ano in a dictionary. It does not mean years. This is a good example of the importance of the tildes and the accent marks. Accented vowels and the tilded Ñ are different letters than unaccented vowels and the N. This means you change the word if you leave them out.

Dónde can be used to form several types of questions:
  • Dónde by itself means `where', as in
      • ¿Dónde está tu carro? "Where is your car?"
  • De dónde means `from where', as in
      • ¿De dónde eres? "Where are you from?" [From where are you?]
  • Adónde means `to where', as in
      • ¿Adónde vas? "Where are you going [to]?"

Cuánto can mean "How Much" but it can also mean How many:

  • When cuánto is used as an adjective [how many], it needs to agree with the noun it is modifying. Like all adjectives that end in o, Cuánto has four (4) forms:
      • ¿Cuántos libros compras?
      • ¿Cuántas mochilas tienes?
      • ¿Cuánto tiempo hace que montó a caballo?
      • ¿Cuánta cerveza bebes normalmente?

    • Cuánto continues to agree even when the noun it is modifying isn't there, but only implied:
      • ¿Cuántas amigas van a la playa contigo?

  • When cuánto is used as an adverb [how much], its form doesn't change:
      • ¿Cuánto cuesta el texto?
      • ¿Cuánto estudias?

Qué vs. Cuál

  • Qué means "what" when we need to define something:
      • ¿Qué es esto? What is that?
      • ¿Qué haces? What are you doing?

  • Cuál means "which" but it also can function as "what". We use Cuál to mean "what" when we are identifying something:
¿Cuál es su nombre? What is your name?
--meaning, "of all the names there are, which is yours?"

If you asked, ¿Qué es su nombre?, you would be asking what type or kind of name do you have - Irish? English? Cuban?

¿Cuál es su número de teléfono? What is your telephone number?

--meaning, "of all the phone numbers there are, which is yours?"

If you asked, ¿Qué es su número de teléfono?, you would be asking what is a telephone number (it's a series of numbers one enters into a telephone in order to call another person's telephone.

There is a basic rule of thumb that we use Qué with nouns and Cuál with verbs:

¿Qué materias estudias este semestre? ¿Cuáles son tus clases este semestre?

However, as grammar references guides will note, sometimes cuál is used as an adjective in Latin American countries in everyday conversations:

¿Qué comida vas a probar? ¿Cuál comida vas a probar?