Preguntando se llega a Roma…
See? Five words and we are already lost.
Thank goodness we have questions to rescue us from this kind of situation when we have no idea what’s going on.
So, since you are asking what it means, here you go: Better to ask the way than go astray.
And that’s so true! Can you imagine a world without questions? Because I can’t.
Asking questions is in our nature. We are curious creatures who want to know everything about everything.
Whether you speak English, Spanish or Swahili, your native language will have a set of question words and different kinds of questions. But, more on that later.
You want to learn how to form questions in Spanish, and that’s what this post is all about.
What’s in a Spanish Question?
Such a simple question and yet so difficult to answer…
It depends on the question, of course!
As you will see in this post, depending on the kind of question you want to ask, you will have one or more compulsory words you will need to add.
Sometimes, as it happens with Spanish yes or no questions, all you have to do is add the question marks:
Tengo hambre. (I am hungry.)
¿Tengo hambre? (Am I hungry?)
Other times, you will need to use a question word:
¿Qué es eso? (What is that?)
¿Cómo te llamas? (What’s your name?)
So, what’s in a Spanish question? It depends!
Keep reading to find out.
Differences Between English and Spanish Questions
The main difference between English and Spanish questions is the one I have just mentioned: sometimes, all it takes to make a question in Spanish is to add the question marks.
A statement like, “Eres Pedro” (“You are Pedro”) can be transformed into a question in the blink of an eye:
¿Eres Pedro? (Are you Pedro?)
As you can see, the Spanish sentence remains the same, and the word order is identical. However, English needs you to make changes, like an inversion (as in “you are” to “are you”) in this case.
One point for Spaniffindor!
The second major difference that you will find amazing is the fact that Spanish does not use any do auxiliary to make questions.
When I started learning English, my stress levels went through the roof every time I had to remind myself that do, does and did need to be added to questions for them to be grammatically correct. It was so stressful!
But you are learning Spanish, so you will not have to deal with that problem.
If an English question includes do, does, did or any other member of the family, just ignore them when translating or building the sentence in Spanish:
¿Te gusta el queso? (Do you like cheese?)
¿Vino Juan ayer? (Did Juan come yesterday?)
Easy peasy! And, a second point for Spaniffindor!
But enough of general information.
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty and learn once and for all how to build Spanish questions like a boss.
You will see I have divided them into five main groups: yes/no questions, information questions, indirect questions, tag questions and negative questions.
During my 19 years of teaching Spanish, I have realized that this specific order is the best and easiest way to learn Spanish questions. I do not know about the reasons behind it because there seems to be nothing published on the topic yet, but the trick works for the majority of students.
So, start from the beginning and jump to the next type of question once you have mastered the previous one. You will be unstoppable.
Cat Got Your Tongue? How to Ask Questions in Spanish and Never Be Tongue-tied Again!
There are several kinds of questions in every language in the world, and each of them is used for a specific purpose and has its own set of rules.
Spanish includes five main groups of questions. This may seem like a lot, but once you discover how easy it is to form questions in Spanish, you will not mind at all.
And, if you’re looking for a way to practice Spanish questions even more, try seeing them used in real-life contexts with FluentU!
You’ll have access to a huge video library of authentic Spanish content and interactive subtitles that make learning more about each word incredibly easy.
Plus, you can continue practicing Spanish questions and vocabulary with customized vocabulary lists, dynamic flashcards and fun quizzes.
And now, let’s get this Spanish question party started!
1. Yes/No Questions
Simply put, yes/no questions are questions where the answer will be either yes or no.
In English, you would not expect a yes or no answer to a question like What time is it? and the same goes for Spanish.
There are two main ways to ask a yes/no question in Spanish.
The first has been mentioned a couple of times already in this post: just take a Spanish statement, add the question marks—marks, plural! Remember, Spanish needs you to add an opening question mark too—and you have got yourself a beautiful yes/no question.
Here are some examples:
A Juan le gusta el chocolate. (Juan likes chocolate.)
¿A Juan le gusta el chocolate? (Does Juan like chocolate?)
Tenemos suficiente dinero. (We have enough money.)
¿Tenemos suficiente dinero? (Do we have enough money?)
Quieren comprar una casa. (They want to buy a house.)
¿Quieren comprar una casa? (Do they want to buy a house?)
El café está caliente. (The coffee is hot.)
¿El café está caliente? (Is the coffee hot?)
The second way is equally easy, but you need to make one little change in the sentence: an inversion.
Take the Spanish statement and invert the subject and verb as you would in English.
Tú eres Ana. (You are Ana.)
¿Eres tú Ana? (Are you Ana?)
Mis primos vienen la semana que viene. (My cousins are coming next week.)
¿Vienen mis primos la semana que viene? (Are my cousins coming next week?)
If the subject has been omitted in the statement but you want to build this kind of question, just add it:
Van al cine. (They are going to the cinema.)
¿Van ellos al cine? (Are they going to the cinema?)
Están en casa. (They are at home.)
¿Están ellos en casa? (Are they at home?)
2. Information Questions
The second one of the big groups of questions is the information questions group.
Information questions ask about specific pieces of information, such as place, time, person, etc. and thus need what we call question words, or wh- words.
Spanish question words are not wh- words, but they all have something in common too: they all have an accent mark.
Have a look at the most important ones:
qué — what
quién — who
cuál — which one
cómo — how
dónde — where
cuándo — when
por qué — why
cuánto — how much/how many
Information questions in English start with a question word and then have either an auxiliary or main verb:
Where are you?
What does it mean?
However, Spanish makes things easier once again.
Indeed, we will also start our information question with a question word, but after that, the only compulsory thing you need to add is a conjugated verb. If you are feeling like it or the context requires it, you may add a subject after the conjugated verb.
Let’s see some Spanish questions with the question words mentioned before:
¿Qué es eso? (What is that?)
¿Quién es? (Who is [that/it]?)
¿Cuál prefieres? (Which one do you prefer?)
¿Cómo está tu madre? (How is your mother doing?)
¿Dónde vives? (Where do you live?)
¿Cuándo llegaste? (When did you arrive?)
¿Por qué amas a María? (Why do you love María?)
¿Cuánto cuesta esta camisa? (How much does this shirt cost?)
Easy! The reason for this simplicity is quite obvious: Spanish conjugation has a different ending for each person. Subjects can normally be omitted if the context fills the gap, so the only pieces you need are the question word and the conjugated verb.
There are only two little exceptions to this rule. The question words qué and cuánto/a/os/as can be followed by a noun when we are asking about a specific object or group of objects. In this case, the question word is followed by a noun, but the rest of the sentence (conjugated verb + optional subject) remains the same:
¿Qué libro te gusta más? (Which book do you like the most?)
¿Cuánta harina necesitas? (How much flour do you need?)
¿Cuántos amigos tiene Romina? (How many friends does Romina have?)
¿Cuántas camisas compró Pablo? (How many shirts did Pablo buy?)
3. Indirect Questions
Indirect English questions are one of those things that give the biggest headaches to my students.
They tend to ignore there is no inversion whatsoever, or they simply forget about choosing a statement construction instead of a question one, so they end up saying things like:
*Tell me what time is it.
*Do you know if did Michael like the movie?
(The symbol * means the sentence is grammatically incorrect.)
Surprisingly enough, most indirect Spanish questions don’t use inversion either. The problem is that learners of English have been taught so intensely that they need to remember the word order in questions and the addition of auxiliaries when necessary that they forget they are dealing with indirect questions and treat them as direct ones.
So, as I was saying, most indirect Spanish questions do not need inversion. Take this as an advantage, since the order of the sentences will normally be the same as in English.
The easiest way to build an indirect question is by using the statement word order: optional subject + verb + optional object. You can build every indirect Spanish question by using this template.
However, there will be times when a Spanish-speaking person will use inversion just for fun. This does not change the meaning of the sentence and it is not compulsory, but you should know that it can be done. (All the examples with inversion in this section are in bold.)
Just as it happens in English, Spanish has two different types of indirect questions: if questions and question word questions.
If/whether questions are questions in which we ask if something has happened or someone has done something. They are the equivalent to yes/no direct questions, and so they cannot include a question word. They use if/whether in English and the conditional si in Spanish.
Moreover, Spanish can also add or not at the end of the question, as in the third example below:
Me pregunto si María estará en casa. (I wonder if María is at home.)
Juanita quiere saber si queda algún huevo. (Juanita wants to know if there is any egg left.)
No sé si iré a la fiesta o no. (I don’t know whether I will go to the party or not.)
Necesitamos saber si ha llegado Juan. (We need to know if Juan has arrived.)
On the other hand, question word questions are simply indirect information questions. They look pretty much the same as their direct counterparts so, like before, the only compulsory words are the question word and a verb.
Quiero saber por qué me mentiste. (I want to know why you lied to me.)
Ana pregunta cuándo va a llegar Peter. (Ana is asking when Peter is going to arrive.)
Mi madre no entiende qué estás diciendo. (My mum does not understand what you are saying.)
Nunca te diré cómo murió Juan. (I will never tell you how Juan died.)
4. Tag Questions
Although the majority of native Spanish speakers have no idea, Spanish does indeed use tag questions, or as we know them coletillas interrogativas (lit. interrogative little pigtails).
Most people are not aware of this because the tag question system in Spanish is infinitely easier than it is in English. Score!
In English, you have to take into account the person, the tense and even whether the sentence is affirmative or negative.
However, in Spanish the only thing you need to do is add one of the following coletillas to the end of a statement and call it a day:
¿verdad? — lit. true?
¿cierto? — lit. true?
¿no? — lit. no?
¿OK? — OK?
¿de acuerdo? — lit. agreed?
¿no es cierto? — lit. isn’t it true?
¿vale? – OK?
Generally speaking, tag questions are used for the same purpose in Spanish and in English. We either want the listener’s opinion and want to know whether they agree with us or not, or we need confirmation about something.
Te casaste en marzo, ¿verdad? (You got married in March, didn’t you?)
María no tiene mucho dinero, ¿no? (María doesn’t have a lot of money, does she?)
No lo amas, ¿no es cierto? (You don’t love him, do you?)
Espérame aquí, ¿vale? (Wait for me here, will you?)
When it comes to answering this kind of question in Spanish, things are pretty easy as well.
Answer affirmatively if you want to agree with the statement and negatively if you don’t agree. The fact that the statement is affirmative or negative makes no difference in Spanish:
Sí, me casé en marzo. (Yes, I did. I got married in March.)
Sí, no tiene mucho dinero. (No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t have a lot of money.)
No, me casé en febrero. (No, I didn’t. I got married in February.)
No, tiene mucho dinero. (Yes, she does. She has a lot of money.)
Funny enough, you can use no in Spanish to also agree with a negative statement:
No, no tiene mucho dinero. (No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t have a lot of money.)
Languages are amazing, aren’t they?
5. Negative Questions
Let me start by stating a fact: negative questions tend to be avoided in both English and Spanish, not just because they make things a little bit more difficult for learners but because their answers can create all types of confusion and ambiguity.
That being said, the truth is that negative questions exist and they are used from time to time, so why not learn a little bit about them? (This last question is a negative one, by the way.)
Negative Spanish questions can be divided into two subgroups: totally negative questions and partially negative questions.
Totally negative questions are normally used in order to make a positive question more polite. In order to build them, you just need to add no in front of the main verb of a statement and question marks at the beginning and end of the sentence:
(Usted) Quiere café. (You—formal—want some coffee.)
¿Quiere café? (Do you want some coffee?)
¿No quiere café? (Don’t you want some coffee?)
Necesitas ayuda. (You need help.)
¿Necesitas ayuda? (Do you need help?)
¿No necesitas ayuda? (Don’t you need help?)
María quiere venir. (María wants to come.)
¿María quiere venir?/¿Quiere venir María? (Does María want to come?)
¿María no quiere venir?/¿No quiere María venir? (Doesn’t María want to come?)
Totally negative questions belong to the yes/no questions group. The answer to this type of question will not be informational, but only positive or negative.
And here is where the fun starts (thank you, ambiguity!).
In order to answer a totally negative question, you can choose among different options. Let’s take the question ¿No quiere café? as an example and answer it:
¿No quiere café?
Sí. (Totally ambiguous. Yes, what? Yes, I don’t want any coffee? Yes, I want some coffee?)
No. (Totally ambiguous. No, what? No, I don’t want any coffee? No, I do want some coffee?)
Sí, no quiero café. (Yes, I agree with you. I don’t want any coffee.)
Sí, sí quiero café. (Yes, I disagree with you. I do want some coffee.)
No, no quiero café. (No, I don’t want any coffee.)
No, sí quiero café. (No, I disagree with you. I do want some coffee.)
A Spanish speaker will make sure to handle the situation in a way that makes it clear whether they want that coffee or not, but it can be a little bit tricky for learners of Spanish.
The bright side of this is that it does not really matter if you answer sí or no as long as you add a statement (Quiero café/No quiero café), so don’t worry too much about this.
On the other hand, partially negative questions belong to the information questions group. They start with a question word, and the main verb is negated. This type of question is used in order to get specific information about what has not been done, where it has not been done, why it has not been done, etc.
Have a look at the following sentences and the differences in meaning:
¿Qué has hecho? (What have you done?)
¿Qué no has hecho? (What haven’t you done?)
¿Por qué fuiste? (Why did you go?)
¿Por qué no fuiste? (Why didn’t you go?)
¿Cuál te gusta? (Which one do you like?)
¿Cuál no te gusta? (Which one don’t you like?)
Answering this type of question is way easier than answering a totally negative question since we just need to give the information we have been asked about:
¿Qué no has hecho? (What haven’t you done?)
No he hecho el último ejercicio. (I haven’t done the last exercise.)
¿Por qué no fuiste? (Why didn’t you go?)
Porque estaba cansado. (Because I was tired.)
¿Cuál no te gusta? (Which one don’t you like?)
No me gusta el negro. (I don’t like the black one.)
And that is all for today!
You now know what types of questions there are in Spanish and how to use each of them.
As you can see, Spanish questions are easier than English questions. Granted, they still require a little bit of practice and a lot of patience (especially when dealing with negation), but all in all, they are an easy topic.
We are curious by nature. A child is able to ask up to 300 questions to their mother every single day!
I don’t need you to ask 300 questions a day, but you can start by learning the five types of Spanish questions and using each of them at least once a day. I am sure you will find the appropriate situation in which to do so!
Stay curious, my friends, keep on asking questions and, as always, happy learning!
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