spanish question words

Burning Questions: 7 Key Spanish Question Words You’ll Need to Get the Answers You Crave

They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

But there definitely are some that can be nonsensical.

If you haven’t yet learned the correct ways to ask questions in Spanish, there’s a chance you may get some raised eyebrows or confused faces in response to your questions instead of the answers you seek.

When visiting a foreign country, you know how helpful it can be to be able to ask questions in the native tongue.

Where is a good restaurant? Where is the train station? What is the time?

Learning how to ask questions isn’t only one of the most practical things to learn if you plan on visiting a Spanish-speaking country, but it’s also one of the most important things for you to learn to help you expand your knowledge of the language.

So what are we waiting for?

Here are the basic how-to’s of setting up a question in Spanish, a few tips and words to get you started with your question-asking in Spanish.

Let’s get to know seven important question words in Spanish, also known as interrogative words!

You’ll be bothering Spanish-speakers like a pro in no time.

First things first.

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The Spanish Question Mark

There are a few simple differences when asking questions in Spanish to note right off the bat.

While Spanish, just like English, uses a question mark as punctuation at the end of questions, it also does a little something extra.

It uses two question marks. 

An upside-down question mark signifies the beginning of a question in Spanish. So if you wanted to ask a friend “what’s up?” it would look like this:

¿Qué pasa?

I’m guessing there isn’t a key for that on your keyboard. But don’t sweat it. This can easily be made on any PC by holding down alt while typing 0191 on your number pad. On Mac keyboards, you’ll need to press down the shift, option and question mark/dash keys at the same time.

You could also opt to download a Spanish-language keyboard layout for your computer and switch into that whenever you want to go into Spanish mode.

Well done. That was a big step. You’ve already learned the proper way to start a question in Spanish. And they say starting is the hardest part, right?

Next, let’s dive into just a few more distinctive differences between English and Spanish questions before we move onto learning the actual Spanish interrogatives.

The Basics of Asking Spanish Questions

For starters, in English, the words “does” and “do” are very commonly used when we ask questions. In Spanish, there isn’t usually a word that takes the place of “do” or “does.”

For example, let’s examine the question: “Does she eat Mexican food?”

In Spanish, it would look like this: ¿Ella come comida mexicana?” Notice how there isn’t a word that replaces “does.” It reads more literally as “She eats Mexican food?”

One last difference is that in English, it’s very important to use proper syntax. Since it’s mostly what defines a question, it would possibly be a bit confusing if words were out of order. In Spanish, question syntax is a lot less strict.

To expand on the previous example, the following sentences would also be acceptable as questions:

¿Come ella comida mexicana?

¿Come comida mexicana ella?

The next detail to remember is that all these question words have accent marks on them. When they are used in a non-question context, the accent mark is dropped!

The 7 Spanish Question Words and Their Various Uses

1. Who? — ¿Quién? 

Quién is the word we use for “who” in a question, but it can change slightly depending on the context it’s in.

We use quién for “who” (singular) and quiénes for “who” (plural).

Here are some examples of each.

Singular: ¿Quién es tu papá? (Who is your dad?)

Plural: ¿Quiénes son tus padres? (Who are your parents?)

This remains pretty simple, until we introduce the headache of whom vs. who. Many native English speakers still can’t seem to get this right, and in Spanish, it’s similar.

In many cases where we would use “whom,” we use a quién (singular) or a quiénes (plural).

¿A quién estás buscando? (You are looking for whom?)

And lastly, for “whose,” you would use de quién.

¿De quién es esta comida? (Whose food is this?)

2. What? — ¿Qué? and ¿Cuál?

Our next interrogative is the word “what.”

This one’s so commonly used in the English language that translating it into Spanish can get a bit tricky. It gets a little bit difficult because there are two different Spanish words that are appropriate equivalents of “what.”

Depending on the context, sometimes we’ll use qué and sometimes we’ll use cuál.

To try to make it as simple as possible, when we’re asking a question for which there’s only one possible answer, we’ll use the word qué. For example, if you’re asking for a definition, fact or information about something that’s generally well-known, qué would be used.

To make that a bit clearer, here are a few examples:

¿Qué es un martini? (What is a martini?)

¿Qué significa “bailar”? (What does “bailar” mean?)

Secondly, the word cuál will be used more when asking a question for which the answer requires a selection or more personal information.

For example, you would use cuál if you wanted to ask:

¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono? (What is your phone number?)

¿Cuál es tu restaurante favorito? (What is your favorite restaurant?)

And as with most cases in Spanish, whether the subject of the sentence is plural or singular will affect other parts of the sentence. With cuál, if what you’re inquiring about is plural, you’ll have to use cuáles instead of cuál. 

3. When? — ¿Cuándo?

Cuándo is the word we use for “when” in a question.

This one is pretty straightforward and doesn’t change much depending on the words that surround it.

Here’s an example of how to use cuándo in sentence:

¿Cuándo quieres ir? (When do you want to go?)

Now, I think this is a good time to revisit the detail about accents on question words that we briefly discussed in the introduction. One thing to note about this question word, as well as all the others, is that when it’s used without an interrogative meaning, the accent mark will be dropped. Note the differences between these sentences:

  • ¿Cuándo quieres ir? (When do you want to go?) This is a classic interrogative sentence in Spanish.
  • Necesito saber cuándo quieres ir. (I need to know when you want to go.) We find no question marks here, but the meaning is still interrogative. There’s missing information that’s being requested.
  • Cuando llegues, llámame. (When you arrive, call me.) No interrogative meaning here.

An example of this can be found in the song, Cuando Me Enamoro” by Enrique Iglesias, which translates in English to “When I Fall in Love.” Notice how since the word isn’t interrogative, it’s used as cuando instead of cuándo.

4. Where? — ¿Dónde?

The proper way of saying “where” in Spanish has been known to give learners a bit of trouble, but it’s really not that difficult once you learn the base word and pay attention to the slight changes.

First off, we have dónde. This is the word we use most generally for “where.”

Here’s an example of how to use dónde in a sentence:

¿Dónde está el restaurante? (Where is the restaurant?)

Next we have, adónde / a dónde which means “to where.”

¿Adónde / a dónde fuiste? (To where did you go?)

Lastly, we have de dónde, which means “from where.”

¿De dónde eres? (Where are you from?)

See, it’s really not that complicated if you pay attention to your prepositions. You’ll have it in no time with a bit of practice. And remember that when using dónde in a question, it must have the accent mark.

5. Why? — ¿Para qué? and ¿Por qué?

Why’s the word for “why” so difficult to grasp?!

This word can be confusing for English speakers because there are two different words that may be used and there are only subtle differences between the appropriate contexts for when to use each.

The words we use are ¿Para qué? and ¿Por qué?

If you’ve already learned the differences between por and para, learning when to use these “why” phrases should be easy, but if not, stay tuned.

Por qué is used to inquire about the direct cause of something, which is simple, specific or generally well known. Porque is the non-question version of the word used for “because.”

Here are examples of when to use por qué:

¿Por qué estás acostado? (Why are you lying down?)

Porque me siento mal. (Because I feel bad.)

And para qué digs for something like an intention or purpose. There’s no real non-question version. Here’s an example:

¿Para qué estudias español? (Why do you study Spanish?/ What do you study Spanish for?)

See how the first question (with por qué) was a question about a cause and the second one (with para qué) inquires for a purpose?

It will take some practice, so be sure to read up more about the differences between para and por to master your Spanish questioning skills.

6. How? — ¿Cómo?

Cómo is often the interrogative we use for “how.”

Surely, you’ve heard a few examples of this already.

Think of your basics, like ¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)

This word is fairly simple and unchanging, but if you want to ask “how many,” it gets a little bit trickier and there’s another word that we use.

7. How many?/ How much? — ¿Cuánto(a/os/as)?

Cuánto is the Spanish word we use for “how much” and “how many,” and this word will change depending on what you’re asking about.

Cuánto is used for a singular masculine subject (uncountable), cuánta is used for a singular feminine subject (uncountable), cuántos is used for a plural masculine subject and cuántas is used for a plural feminine subject.

Here are a few examples:

Plural, masculine: ¿Cuántos dólares cuesta la chaqueta? (How many dollars does the jacket cost?)

Singular, masculine (uncountable): ¿Cuánto dinero cuesta la chaqueta? (How much money does the jacket cost?)

 

Whew. That was a lot.

Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve learned the basics of asking questions in Spanish.

Once you’ve got these words down, many doors will open for you in Spanish conversation.

Buena suerte with your future interrogations in Spanish!

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