cual vs que

How to say “What” in Spanish

How do you say ‘what’ in Spanish? This is an interesting question because ‘what’ can be translated in Spanish to more than one word! Let’s look at cual vs que.

Example:

  1. What is your name? -> ¿Cómo te llamas?
  2. What is your address? -> ¿Cuál es tu dirección?
  3. What do you mean? -> ¿Qué quieres decir?

As you may know, literal translations from English to Spanish don’t always work. Nonetheless, the most widely accepted translation of ‘what’ is ‘qué’, while ‘cuál’ is generally interpreted as ‘which’.

¿Qué? Is more appropriate for when you are looking for general information, a definition or an explanation, as well as to clarify something.

Example:

  1. ¿Qué libro es? -> What book it is?
  2. ¿De qué se trata la historia? -> What is the story about?
  3. ¿Qué significa la imagen de la portada? -> What is the meaning of the image on the book cover?

How to say “Which” in Spanish

¿Cuál? It is more appropriately used to enquire about objects, people, or places, as well as to make comparisons between them.

Example:

  1. ¿Cuál de los personajes te ha gustado más? -> Which of the characters did you like the most?
  2. ¿Cuál es el mayor éxito de este autor de libros? -> Which is the biggest success of this book author?
  3. ¿Cuáles fueron los pasajes que consideras más divertidos? -> Which were the passages that you consider most entertaining?

Difference between Cuál and Qué

Sometimes the same thing can be asked using both words:

  1. ¿Qué opines de la obra? -> What do you think about the play?
  2. ¿Cuál es tu opinión sobre la obra? -> What is your opinion about the play?

However, the main difference between cuál and qué is that qué can’t be used in plural whereas cuál can (cuáles).

  1. ¿Qué prefieres? -> What do you prefer?
  2. ¿Cuál de estas prefieres? -> Which of these do you prefer?
  3. ¿Cuáles prefieres? -> Which ones do you prefer?

In order to speak like a native, it is necessary to study the proper practices of formulating phrases with cuál and qué, along with other Spanish questions words to form interrogative sentences.

It is advisable to learn from a certified native Spanish teacher at LiveLingua.com to pick-up the useful idiom insights!

Idiomatic Phrases with Qué

what in spanish

ENGLISH SPANISH
Come what may Pase lo que pase
No matter what Sí o sí
To what extent… ¿Hasta qué punto?
What good does it do… ¿De qué sirve?
In what way… ¿De qué modo?
Whatever Lo que sea
Whichever El que sea
What are you saying? ¿Qué dices?
What did you say? ¿Qué dijiste?
What the f*#k?! ¡Qué mierda!
For what it is worth Por si te interesa/Por lo que vale

Popular Spanish Question Words Vocabulary

Let´s start with the most common Spanish question words used to form an interrogative sentence:

  1. Qué -> What
  2. Cuál -> Which
  3. Quién -> Who
  4. Cómo -> How
  5. Cuándo -> When
  6. Dónde -> Where
  7. Por qué -> Why
  8. Para qué -> What for
  9. Cuánto -> How much

Example:

  1. ¿Qué te gustaría desayunar? -> What would you like for breakfast?
  2. ¿Cuál es tu color favorito? -> Which is your favorite color?
  3. ¿Quién es tu maestro? -> Who is your teacher?
  4. ¿Cómo te fue en el examen? -> How did your exam go?
  5. ¿Cuándo será la boda? -> When will the wedding be?
  6. ¿Dónde conociste a tu esposo? -> Where did you meet your husband?
  7. ¿Por qué me lo preguntas? -> Why are you asking?
  8. ¿Para qué quieres una mascota? -> What do you want a pet for?
  9. ¿Cuánto cuesta la motocicleta? -> How much does the motorbike cost?

Spanish Question Words

cual vs que

Now, let’s look into the details. In the table below, you will find the question word in Spanish and English, then a description of its main use, followed by an example in both languages.  

SPANISH ENGLISH
Qué What
To ask for information or clarification
¿Qué hora es?
What time is it?
Cuál Which
To ask about particular objects, people or places, and to make comparisons
¿Cuál es la montaña más alta del mundo?
Which is the highest mountain in the world?
Cómo How
To ask about how things work or have gone (looks for more details)
¿Cómo estuvo tu viaje?
How was your trip?
Quién Who
To ask about people
¿Quién es el nuevo presidente?
Who is the new president
Dónde Where
To ask about places, positions, spaces, and destinations
¿Dónde vives?
Where do you live?
Cuándo When
To ask about dates or times
¿Cuándo regresa tu madre?
When does your mother come back?
Por qué Why
To ask about causes or reasons
¿Por qué has llegado tarde?
Why are you late?
Para qué What for
To ask about uses or purposes
¿Para qué se usan las cajas de Petri?
What are Petri dishes used for?
Cuánto How much
To ask about quantities and prices
¿Cuánto cuesta el boleto de avión?
How much is the flight ticket?

Note that cuál, quién, and cuánto are the only ones that can be used in plural, thus the verb and the noun needs to reflect that!

Example:

  1. ¿Cuáles son tus platillos italianos preferidos? -> Which are your preferred Italian dishes?
  2. ¿Quiénes van a ir a la fiesta? -> Who’s going to the party?
  3. ¿Cuántos jitomates necesitas para la sopa? -> How many tomatoes do you need for the soup?
which in spanish

Spanish Upside-Down Punctuation Marks

Spanish has an opening and a closing sign for interrogative phrases. The upside-down question mark (¿) is used at the beginning the sentence and then you finish with the question mark (?) used in English.

Example:

  1. ¿Cómo estás? -> How are you?
  2. ¿Qué me cuentas? -> What’s up?

Spanish Accents on Question Words

A diacritic accent is a Castilian orthographic sign used to distinguish two words (mainly monosyllables such as te/té, si/sí, and mas/más), which are written in the same way but have different meanings. 

According to the Royal Spanish Language Academy (Real Academia de la Lengua Española), the words qué(what), cuál(which), quién(who), cómo(how), cuánto(how much), cuándo(when), and dónde (where) are always spelled with a diacritic accent when they are used in an interrogative or exclamative sense.

Example:

  1. ¿Hasta cuándo te quedas? -> Until when are you staying?
  2. La nota indica cuándo hay que entregar los papeles. -> The note says when the papers need to be handed-in.
  3. Era de noche, cuando llegó su padre. -> It was night, when his father arrived.

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