Gramática: Preguntas con “¿qué?” y “¿cuál?”

Objetivos

  • Ask and answer questions with ¿qué? and ¿cuál?

Preguntas con ¿qué? y ¿cuál?

You have already used some question words to elicit specific information:

  • Play Audio¿Cómo te llamas? (What is your name? – literally, How do you call yourself?)
  • Play Audio¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)
  • Play Audio¿Cuál es tu correo electrónico? (What is your email?)
  • Play Audio¿Cuántas sillas hay? (How many chairs are there?)

In the next few modules, we’ll look at the various question words, or interrogatives, that are used to ask for specific information in Spanish. We’ll start with ¿qué? and ¿cuál?

¿Qué? literally means “what?”, and its usage in Spanish is very similar to English. Spanish has two words to ask “which?”, depending on whether the answer is anticipated to be singular (¿cuál?), or plural (¿cuáles?). As when asking “which?” in English, ¿cuál? asks for an answer from among a more or less limited number of options.

Notes:

  1. Interrogatives have written accent marks which help distinguish them from the same words used as relative pronouns or conjunctions:
    • Play Audio¿Qué dices? (What are you saying?)
    • Play AudioNo puedo escuchar lo que dices. (I can’t hear what you’re saying.)

    This graffiti says: “Si hay más autos que árboles qué respiramos?” (Si hay más… = If there are more…)

  2.  Cuál has singular and plural forms:
    • ¿Cuál tienes? (Which one do you have?)
    • ¿Cuáles tienes? (Which ones do you have?)
  3. As in English, interrogatives normally come at the beginning of the question or the part of a sentence in which information is sought.  Be sure to include the upside down question mark at the point where the question begins:
    • Play Audio¿Qué clases tomas? (What classes do you take?)
    • Y tu amigo, ¿qué clases toma? (And your friend, what classes does he take?)

Further clarification: qué in contrast with cuál may be confusing sometimes for English speakers. For example: “what is your name?” does not translate as ¿qué es tu nombre?. Instead you need to use the question word ¿cuál?, meaning: “which of many proper names out there is yours?”.

The example above—”¿Qué clases tomas?”—may be used with either of these question words: “qué” requires an answer with the name/definition of these courses, whereas “¿cuáles clases tomas?” requires naming which of many courses out there are the ones you are taking.

Follow this link for a more detailed explanation of the difference between ¿qué? and ¿cuál?.

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