Spanish Interrogatives (Question Words) Explained Clearly

  • Jada Lòpez
    Written byJada Lòpez
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Spanish Interrogatives (Question Words) Explained Clearly

Imagine a conversation (Spanish or otherwise) where you never used a question at all.

Where you might want to know more about a certain topic or need to understand more about what someone is saying to you, but didn’t have a word to turn a sentence into a question.

It would be quite limited, wouldn’t it? 😊

Without interrogatives, a conversation would be pretty dull.

You wouldn’t learn anything about someone when meeting them for the first time.

And you wouldn’t learn how things worked without a question of some form.

Without interrogatives, a dialogue would be made up of statements and little else.

But what are interrogatives?

Well, that’s the first question I’ll answer in this guide! Let’s take a look.

What are interrogatives?

An interrogative is a question word - typically a determiner or a pronoun - that features in sentences to turn them into questions.

The Spanish interrogatives are:

EnglishEspañol
WhoQuién
WhatQué
WhereDónde
WhyPor qué
WhenCuándo
HowCómo
WhichCuál
How manyCuánto

Spanish interrogatives and orthography

Did you notice that each Spanish interrogative listed above features a small accent mark?

This is very important when writing a question in Spanish.

To explain why the accent mark is so essential, take a look at the following sentences:

¿Por qué estas triste?

Why are you sad?

Estoy triste porque me lastimé la rodilla.

I’m sad because I hurt my knee.

The difference between using an accent mark on the word por qué, and not using one, means the difference between asking ‘why?’ (the interrogative) and stating ‘because’ (the conjunctive - porque).

You can also tell the difference between the interrogative and the conjunctive because the space helps you distinguish between por qué (interrogative), and porque (conjunction).

Our article on the four porques in Spanish, covers more on these differences.

But if you want more details on the word qué, and more on question words, keep reading.

Interrogative marks

When using interrogatives and questions in their written form in Spanish, you will need to use question marks.

Spanish question marks feature an upside-down question mark at the beginning of the sentence and an ordinary question mark at the end.

Here’s an example:

¿Dónde está la farmacia?

Where is the pharmacy?

¿Tienes 30 años?

Are you 30 years old?

¿De qué color es el cielo?

What colour is the sky?

Interrogative marks are important in Spanish.

Take the second question, for example. Without the interrogative marks, this question would translate to English as ‘you are 30 years old’.

It would be a statement and not a question.

Where there are questions in the middle of a sentence, the upside-down question marks should also frame the question.

Here’s an example of this in action:

Me dijó que has comprado una casa… ¿En serio? ¡No me digas!

He told me that you bought a house… Really? No way!

So, yes, the upside-down question mark still features within the sentence.

It’s particularly useful in written texts and books.

If you need to read them aloud, you’ll always recognise when a question is coming up, and you’ll know when to change your tone of voice when reading - (see more on this in the following section).

Intonation for Spanish interrogatives

Though in English, we typically use the question word ‘does’ or ‘do’ to frame our questions, this is different in Spanish.

To form questions in the spoken form, and so others know that we’re asking a question, we have to change the tone of our voice.

This way, a sentence can change from a statement to a question.

Look at the difference between these sentences

Ella habla gallego.

She speaks Galician.

¿Ella habla gallego?

Does she speak Galician?

So, you probably noticed that the first sentence is a statement and the second is a question.

To distinguish between these in the spoken form, the speaker should use a rising tone of voice towards the end of the question.

Using the verb hay to ask questions in Spanish

The verb hay is used frequently for asking questions in Spanish.

The verb hay means ‘there are’.

For example, it’s used to ask questions in Spanish as a tourist if you want to know more about the local area.

Here’s an example:

¿Hay una farmacia en esta zona?

Is there a pharmacy in this area?

¿Hay muchos parques por aquí?

Are there many parks around here?

¿Hay muchas playas por aquí?

Are there many beaches around here?

In each of these examples, the verb hay would be the same as saying ‘is/are there…?’

Unlike some of the words on this list, the verb hay does not have a plural form.

Instead, you should use the singular when asking questions in Spanish.

That uncomplicates things a bit, right?

Using qué to ask questions in Spanish

You can use the word qué to ask questions in Spanish too.

You might want to ask general questions such as ‘What is that?’, which would translate as:

Qué es eso?

One thing to remember with the word qué is its accent mark.

A qué without its accent mark has a different meaning.

If it doesn’t have an accent mark, it is either a conjunction, which means ‘that’, or a pronoun, which means ‘who’.

Take a look at the difference between these two sentences to better understand this:

¿Qué es un otorrinolaringólogo?

What is an otolaryngologist?

El hombre sentado allí, que es un otorrinolaringólogo, es un especialista.

The man sitting there, who is an otolaryngologist, is a specialist.

Each of these sentences uses the word qué (the first with an accent mark, the second without one).

Only the first is a question because it uses an accent mark.

The second sentence uses the word que, which means ‘who’.

Finally, here is an example where que is used as a relative pronoun and means ‘that’:

El hombre que anda por allí es un otorrinolaringólogo.

The man who walks through there is an otolaryngologist.

Using cuál in sentences to ask questions in Spanish

You can also form questions in Spanish using the interrogative cuál.

For instance, you might need to ask a question in Spanish as a student.

If you wanted to ask your Spanish teacher which textbook you should buy, you might say:

¿Cuál de estos libros debería comprar?

Which of these books should I buy?

Or, if you’re a completely new student, and are unsure where to sit for the first lesson, you might ask:

¿Cuál de estos asientos es mio?

Which of these seats is mine?

But you can also use cuál to ask questions in general, as cuál can also mean ‘what’.

¿Cuál es el nombre de la zona noroeste de España?

What is the name of the northwestern area of Spain?

Or

¿Cuál es el nombre de la zona en Francia en su frontera sur?

What is the name of the zone in France on its southern border?

Pluralising cuál

Another thing to think about when using the word cuál is its pluralized form.

That’s right, cuál has a plural - which is cuáles.

Just add -es to cuál to make the plural.

When do we use cuáles?

We use the interrogative plural word cuáles when referring to an object or item that is also plural.

Check out the examples below for the difference between cuál and cuáles.

¿Cuál es su casa?

Which is your house?

¿Cuáles son tus casas?

Which are your houses?

In the first example, the person asking the question refers to a noun in its singular form - la casa.

For this reason, the singular form cuál must also be used to complement the singular noun.

In our second example, the person asking the question refers to a noun in its plural form las casas.

So, when we have a plural noun, the pluralized form cuáles must be used to complement the plural noun.

When to use quién when asking questions in Spanish

To ask simple questions in Spanish to find out more about a person, quién is the interrogative you’ll need.

Quién means ‘who’ in English.

It can be used in a similar way to the English version.

For instance, if you wanted to know who ate the last chocolate biscuit, you could ask:

¿Quién comió la última galleta de chocolate?

Who ate the last chocolate biscuit?

If you wanted to know who gave sent you a mysterious birthday present, you might ask:

¿Quién me envió este regalo? ¡No es mi cumple - mi cumpleaños fue ayer!

Who sent this present to me? It’s not my birthday - it was my birthday yesterday!

Quién, like cuál also has a plural form. Its plural form is… quiénes. In a similar way to cuales, you would use quiénes when referring to more than one person.

Here’s an example of how to use quiénes in a question:

¿Quiénes son tus mejores amigos?

Who are your best friends?

¿Quiénes son tus peores enemigos?

Who are your worst enemies?

When to use cómo for asking questions in Spanish

Cómo is a Spanish interrogative that you can use in a similar way to the English word ‘how’.

Here are some example sentences that feature the word cómo.

¿Cómo están los niños? ¡Me alegro de verte!

How are the kids? I’m glad to see you!

¿Cómo podemos trabajar juntos cuando nunca estamos de acuerdo?

How can we work together when we never agree?

¿Cómo funciona este coche? ¿Es automático o manual?

How does this car work? Is it automatic or manual?

In each of these examples, the word cómo is used to get more information on a topic. Don’t forget the accent mark when you’re writing!

Without the accent mark, como can be used as a conjunction that means ‘as’.

How to use dónde, de dónde and a dónde when asking questions in Spanish

To ask ‘where’ in Spanish, the word you’re looking for is dónde. Dónde and de dónde are interrogatives meaning ‘where’ and ‘from where’.

In other words, the little preposition de gives donde a whole new meaning.

But let’s start with donde.

If you wanted to ask a question in Spanish as a tourist who is slightly lost, you might ask:

¿Dónde está el supermercado?

Where is the supermarket?

Or

¿Sabe usted dónde está el paseo marítimo?

Do you know where the seaside walk is?

Dónde with an accent mark is an interrogative word.

But you will need to keep in mind that donde - without an accent mark - is not the interrogative. It’s a relative pronoun.

Consider the differences between the examples above and the following example:

El supermercado es un lugar donde compro mucha fruta.

The supermarket is a place where I buy a lot of fruit.

Did you notice the difference?

This second example of the word donde is a relative pronoun that links together two concepts - it’s the first one, which has an accent mark, that is used to ask questions or, more specifically, to write them down.

Now, on to the phrase de dónde.

The first example of this phrase you’ll typically encounter in your Spanish course is the phrase:

¿De dónde eres?

Where are you from?

You might also need to ask where an object comes from.

In this case, you would still use the interrogative form:

¿De dónde provienen estos platanos y estas uvas? Son riquísimos.

Where do these bananas and grapes come from? They’re delicious.

Just remember, dónde is the interrogative, de dónde refers to places of origin,

Now, the third use of the interrogative dónde is when it is used to ask where someone is going.

In this case, you would use the phrase a dónde. Here’s an example of this:

¿A dónde vas?

Where are you going?

Or

¿A dónde fuiste anoche? Estaba esperándote muchas horas.

Where did you go last night? I was waiting for you for many hours.

Using the interrogative cuánto

Cuánto is a Spanish question word used for asking ‘how much’ or ‘how many’ of something there is.

This word has four separate forms.

These forms are cuánto, cuántos, cuánta and cuántas

If you wanted to ask how much the grapes cost at a supermarket, you would ask:

¿Cuánto cuestan las uvas?

How much do the grapes cost?

Here, we would use the singular form of the interrogative cuánto, which complements the masculine, singular noun dinero (though not mentioned in both the English and Spanish sentences).

Depending on whether the noun, we would need to use a different form of the word.

Take the examples below:

¿Cuántas tazas de agua bebes en una semana?

How many cups of water do you drink in one week?

¿Cuántos niños tienes?

How many children do you have?

Notice how the gender and number of the word cuánto can change?

In the first example, we use cuántas because it complements the feminine, plural noun tazas. In the second example, we use cuántos to complement the masculine and plural noun niños.

So, one tip is to always remember that Spanish has masculine and feminine words.

It’s important for other interrogatives as well.

Using cuándo to ask ‘when’ in Spanish

The interrogative cuándo means ‘when’.

You use it in a similar way to its English equivalent. For instance, to ask when the train will arrive, you would ask:

¿Cuándo llegue este autobus? ¿A las doce cuarenta y dos, o a las doce y media?

When does the bus arrive? At twelve forty-two or twelve-thirty?

As with the interrogative dónde, the small accent mark makes a significant difference.

The word cuándo - which features the accent mark - is used to ask questions such as the examples above.

However, the word cuando without an accent mark is used as a relative pronoun.

For example:

Estaba esperándote en la estación, cuándo un ladron me robo.

I was waiting for you at the station when a thief robbed me.

Learn more about interrogatives to learn more Spanish

Interrogatives are obviously really important.

Whether you’re in a Spanish class and need to ask a question about the Spanish subjunctive, or need to ask a question in Spanish as a tourist, you need question words.

Keep practising! It won’t take long before you have Spanish interrogatives memorized.


Got any other advice for learning Spanish question words?

Make a note of your contributions below in the comments!

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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