spanish-interrogative-pronouns

Say What? 8 Spanish Interrogative Pronouns to Ask Your Way to Fluency

Human beings are curious creatures with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

According to a 2013 study, by the age of four, girls ask about 390 questions a day!

As we grow older, we tend to ask less questions. But regardless of our age, there will always be stuff we do not know.

And that means that there will always be questions for which we need answers.

Questions can be divided into two big groups: Yes/No Questions and Wh- Questions.

Simply put, “Yes/No Questions” are those that can be answered with an affirmative or negative answer:

¿Te gusta la sopa? Sí. (Do you like soup? Yes, I do.)

¿Tienes hambre? No. (Are you hungry? No, I am not.)

On the other hand, “Wh- Questions” are questions in which we ask for specific information:

¿Qué es eso? (What is that?)

¿Quién eres? (Who are you?)

This post will be focusing on this second type of questions and the key words you need to ask them: Spanish interrogative pronouns.

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How to Ask Questions with Spanish Interrogative Pronouns

When we want to ask for specific information, we normally use an interrogative adjective or an interrogative pronoun.

As we know from other posts, adjectives modify nouns while pronouns substitute them.

Hence, when forming questions, we will need to use one of the two at the beginning of our sentences.

We will not be covering interrogative adjectives in this post but you should know what they are so you can distinguish them from interrogative pronouns.

An interrogative adjective is a question word that modifies a noun.

In other words, an interrogative adjective is an adjective that is followed by a noun in a question:

¿Qué libro quieres? (What book do you want?)

¿Qué libro estás leyendo? (What book are you reading?)

On the other side of the equation we have interrogative pronouns.

Since a pronoun is a word that substitutes a noun and an interrogative word is a word we use when asking a question, an interrogative pronoun is, quite simply, a pronoun used in order to form questions. As you may already have guessed, this means we no longer need a noun in the question. The pronoun is the only word needed.

This post includes a list of the different Spanish interrogative pronouns, their meanings and uses.

I have included examples for each word on the list to give you a clear picture of their usefulness. Additionally, I have added a couple of common instances where these pronouns are modified by prepositions.

Thanks to this list, you will not only see the subtle changes in meaning, but also the great variety of sentences you will be able to create just by learning eight interrogative words and a couple of prepositions.

As we say in Spanish: “Preguntando se llega a Roma” (You will never know unless you ask [literally: By asking one can reach Rome]). There are no stupid questions, so do not hesitate to use the following list as many times as you see fit.

8 Spanish Interrogative Pronouns to Ask Your Way to Fluency

Asking is in our nature. We may do it out of curiosity, necessity or simply boredom (“Are we there yet?”). But whatever the reason, the truth is that all of us, without exception, need to ask questions in our daily lives.

When learning a new language, learners tend to want to know it all in the first few lessons so they ask, and ask, and ask… I do not mind that at all, but if you want to make your teacher proud, ask in Spanish, will you?

One of easiest ways to learn how to form questions in Spanish is by using interrogative pronouns. With pronouns you do not even have to know how to say the noun you are referring to, because there is no need to use it!

Before we start learning, let me remind you that interrogative words must have an accent mark. Always! It does not matter if we are dealing with interrogative adjectives or interrogative pronouns—if they are interrogative, they must have a tilde.

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The following is a list of the eight Spanish interrogative pronouns and their prepositional friends. Once you master them, you will be able to call yourself the King or Queen of Spanish Questions.

1. dónde (where)

Dónde is one of the best words to start this list because it is very easy to see that it is an interrogative pronoun instead of an interrogative adjective.

If it were an adjective, it would have to modify a noun. However, if you use dónde and a noun, the question does not make sense at all:

*¿Dónde libro? (*Where book?)

Dónde substitutes a noun—specifically, a place (like a hospital, a house, a table or a spaceship)so it can only be an interrogative pronoun:

¿Dónde está el libro? (Where is the book?)

¿Dónde vivías en 2005? (Where were you living in 2005?)

¿Sabes dónde están mis gafas? (Do you know where my glasses are?)

Dónde can be modified by prepositions in order to change its meaning. It would be very tedious to list all the different combinations we can have, so I will only mention the most common ones:

adónde (where to)

We know a means “to” and dónde means “where.” Mixing the two, we can ask where a person or object is going:

¿Adónde vas tan tarde? (Where are you going to so late?)

Disculpe. ¿Podría decirme adónde va este autobús? (Excuse me. Could you tell me where this bus is headed to?)

de dónde (where from)

just as we can ask where someone or something is going, we can also ask where that same person or object is coming from. I am almost sure you have already heard about this duo at this point.

Have a look:

¿De dónde eres? (Where are you from?)

¿De dónde has cogido eso? (Where have you taken that from?)

2. q(what)

Qué must be one of the best known interrogative words in Spanish. It is one of the first words we learn and it helps us to ask about so many different topics that it would be almost impossible to survive without it.

Qué as an interrogative pronoun is very easy to use, and I am sure you will have heard the first of the following examples a million times already:

¿Qué es eso? (What is that?)

¿Qué quieres de mí? (What do you want from me?)

¿Qué tienes ahí? (What do you have there?)

As you can see, the interrogative pronoun qué must be followed by a verb. If it were followed by a noun, it would actually be an adjective, not a pronoun, like in this example:

¿Qué teléfono prefieres? (What phone do you prefer?)

Just as with dónde, qué can also be modified by prepositions that change its meaning. Have a look:

a qué (what to)

This combination is mainly used with verbs that need the preposition a compulsorily:

¿A qué te refieres? (What are you referring to? / What are you talking about? / What do you mean?)

¿A qué piso vas? (What floor are you going to?)

con qué (what with)

This is used when you want to say you have done something with the use of an object:

¿Con qué has escrito la carta? (What have you written the letter with?)

¿Con qué estás jugando? (What are you playing with?)

de qué (what about / what flavor, material)

Use de qué when the main verb needs the preposition de, when you want to ask about a flavor or when inquiring about the material something is made of:

¿De qué estáis hablando? (What are you talking about?)

¿De qué es ese helado? De chocolate. (What flavor is that ice-cream? It is chocolate.)

¿De qué es esa silla? De madera. (What material is that chair made of? Of wood.)

en qué (how [used for means of transportation/specific date])

Finally, use en qué when you want to know what means of transportation someone has used/is going to use, or when asking about a specific day, month, year:

¿En qué has venido? (How have you come?)

¿En qué año naciste? (What year were you born?)

3. cuál / cuáles (which one / which ones)

Cuál is the first word on this list to have a plural form. You probably know already that Spanish loves gender and number agreement. That is its thing. Cuál is invariable when it comes to gender but it has a plural form.

A lot of people mix up qué and cuál. After so many years teaching Spanish, I finally get why this can happen, so I will do my best to make sure that you never, ever misuse them again.

It is true that both qué and cuál can be translated as “which.” However, there is one little trick that will help you choose the correct one every single time from now on.

Qué can mean “which” when we have to choose one person or object among two or more. Cuál, unfortunately, is used for the same thing. So how can we make the appropriate choice?

The only thing you have to remember is that qué only means “which” when followed by a noun (so it is an interrogative adjective), while cuál will always be an interrogative pronoun and will thus be followed by a verb:

¿Qué libro quieres? (Which book do you want? [adjective])

¿Cuál quieres? (Which one do you want? [pronoun])

It is really that easy!

The only thing you have to worry about is the number of the person or object you are talking about. The rest is just a walk in the park:

¿Cuáles has traído? (Which ones have you brought?)

¿Cuáles son los tuyos? (Which ones are yours?)

¿Cuáles quieres? (Which ones do you want?)

If you see cuál or cuáles preceded by a proposition, it will most likely be because the main verb requires said proposition. Below are a few examples of this.

a cuál (which one to)

This is normally used to ask about the specific place someone is going to:

¿A qué colegio vas? (Which school do you go to? [adjective])

¿A cuál vas? (Which one do you go to? [pronoun])

con cuál (which one with)

If you want to say you did, are doing or will do something with the use of an object (among a specific group of objects), use this combination:

¿Con cuál lo hiciste? (Which one did you do it with? [as in: which tool did you repair the radio with?])

¿Con cuál la escribiste? (Which one did you write it with? [as in: which pen did you write the letter with?])

4. cómo (how)

Just as dónde, cómo is another example of “easy-to-understand” interrogative pronouns. It is invariable, it never modifies a noun and it pretty much is translated as “how” most of the time.

If you want to ask about how or in which way something is done, use this interrogative pronoun:

¿Cómo lo has hecho? (How have you done it?)

¿Cómo has venido? (How have you come? [same as en qué above])

¿Cómo podemos saber si está diciendo la verdad? (How can we know if he is telling the truth?)

At this point, I almost always have a student raise their hands to tell me they know there is an exception… The first couple of times this happened I was quite puzzled because I did not know what they were talking about until they told me their “exception.”

And so, I am one step ahead of you:

The alleged exception is the universally known ¿Cómo te llamas? But the interesting thing here is that this is not an exception!

¿Cómo te llamas? literally means “how are you called?” and that is exactly what we mean.

In Spanish, believe or not, we ask people in which way they are called rather than what their name is (although this question also exists and it also uses an interrogative pronoun: ¿Cuál es tu nombre? — “which one (of all the names in the world) is your name.”

We are weird, but we know you love it.

5. cuándo (when)

Cuándo is probably my favorite interrogative pronoun. I know I have to be very nerdy to have a favorite interrogative pronoun, but to be fair, I never said I was not.

Cuándo is another example of an invariable pronoun that does not accept any noun under any circumstance. I am sure it will not pose any problem for you, ever:

¿Cuándo es tu cumpleaños? (When is your birthday?)

¿Cuándo habéis llegado? (When have you arrived?)

¿Cuándo podrás ayudarme? (When will you be able to help me?)

There are two prepositions that love keeping cuándo company. They are desde (from) and hasta (to):

desde cuándo (from when / (from) what time / how long)

Use desde cuándo when you want to ask about the origin of an action, i.e. the moment that action started, starts or will start. In some instances (like in the first example below), desde cuándo can also be translated as “(for) how long”:

¿Desde cuándo vives en Polonia? (How long have you been living in Poland?)

¿Desde cuándo está abierta la tienda? (What time does the shop open? [meaning: from which moment in time will it be opened?])

hasta cuándo (until when / until what time)

On the other hand, if you are interested in the time an action will end, this is your choice:

¿Hasta cuándo está abierto el banco? (Until what time is the bank open?)

¿Hasta cuándo vas a seguir mintiendo? (Until when are you going to keep lying?)

6. quién / quiénes (who)

The interrogative pronoun quién is one of the easiest ones to master because it can only refer to people.

It, like cuál, has a plural form that is used when talking about more than one person. Apart from this feature, it is a totally inoffensive pronoun:

¿Quién eres? (Who are you?)

¿Quién puede estar llamando a la puerta? (Who can be knocking on the door?)

¿Quién te dijo eso? (Who told you that?)

As for prepositions, quién can be accompanied by a lot of them. Here are the most common combinations:

a quién (who / to whom)

Many Spanish verbs require the preposition a, so seeing this couple here should not come as a surprise.

Apart from that, every time we have a personal object in Spanish, we need to use the personal a, so you will see a quién quite a lot in Spanish. For example:

¿A quién viste ayer? (Who did you see yesterday?)

¿A quién le enviaste la carta? (Who did you send the letter to?)

¿A quién tengo que decírselo? (Who do I have to tell it to?)

con quién (with whom)

Another common and quite self-explanatory duo. Use it when asking about the company someone had when doing something:

¿Con quién vives ahora? (Who are you living with at the moment?)

¿Con quién estás? (Who are you with?)

de quién (whose / from whom)

This phrase is used in two situations: when you want to ask about who something belongs to and when you want to ask who something came from.

You need to know the context in order to be able to know which meaning is the speaker referring to:

¿De quién es este libro? (Whose book is this? / Who is this book from?)

¿De quién es ese regalo? (Whose present is this? / Who is this present from?)

7. cuánto / cuánta / cuántos / cuántas (how much / how many)

This is the only Spanish interrogative pronoun with four forms (masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural and feminine plural).

It is used to ask about quantities, obviously, and apart from its four forms, there is nothing special or difficult about it:

¿Cuánto cuesta esa sandía? (How much is that watermelon?) — masculine uncountable, in this case, dinero (money)

¿Cuánta has necesitado? (How much have you needed?) — feminine uncountable, in this case, let’s say harina (flour)

¿Cuántos quieres? (How many do you want?) — masculine/mixed countable, for example, libros (books)

¿Cuántas has comprado? (How many have you bought?) — feminine countable, for example, bicicletas (bicycles)

Cuánto can indeed be used with some prepositions, but this does not happen very often in Spanish.

However, since you want to be the King or Queen of Spanish Questions, here you have a couple of examples:

con cuánto (with how much / with how many)

Used in order to ask about the quantity of people or objects with which someone has done something:

¿Con cuántas fuiste? (How many did you go with? [in reference to people, for example])

¿Con cuánta lo has hecho? (How much have you made it with? [referring to the flour needed for a cake, for example])

de cuánto (about/of how much / how many)

There are some verbs that need the preposition de. When that is the case, you can find instances like the following:

¿De cuánto estamos hablando? (How much are we talking about? [for example, when talking about money])

¿De cuántas consta? (How many is it made of? [like when talking about pieces of a puzzle])

Bonus: 8. por qué (why) / para qué (what for)

Even though we have already covered the pronoun qué, I have opted for adding these two combinations at the end because they are so popular that they almost have a meaning of their own, so not many people link them to the pronoun qué.

I am sure you have already heard about por qué and para qué thousands of times, but no Spanish interrogative pronouns list would be complete without a couple of examples for each of them:

¿Por qué has venido? (Why have you come?)

¿Por qué no quieres comer? (Why don’t you want to eat?)

¿Para qué es eso? (What is that for?)

¿Para qué han traído más libros? (What have they brought more books for?)

 

If you have survived until here, you most definitely deserve the title of King or Queen of Spanish Questions.

There is nothing now between you and all the information you want to know about the Spanish language (or any other topic, for that matter).

So go out (or go online) and start asking away!

As William Arthur Ward once said: “Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.”

So stay curious, and happy learning!

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