This is lesson #9 in Crashed Culture’s Spanish grammar series.
Asking a question in Spanish
How do you ask a question in Spanish? Around about the same way you do it in English, just with less words. It’s pretty awesome, ’cause it means we have more brain space to deal with more difficult grammar concepts.
We’ll address how to build a question, but first we’ll go through Spanish question words, also known as Spanish interrogatives; without them, it’s a bit difficult to ask a question in Spanish, wouldn’t you say?
And before we do anything, remember to put in “¿” before every question!
Spanish question words
Spanish question words are, generally, the same as our English words. It mostly boils down to taking in the vocab. The most basic interrogative words in Spanish are:
These are the most important interrogative words in Spanish, in their most basic forms. Notice how every single one of them has an accent – question words always have an accent!
So, basically, those terms are all you need to ask questions in Spanish (and the upside down question mark, of course):
|Who are you?||¿Quién eres?|
|What do you want?||¿Qué quieres?|
|Which color do you like?||¿Cuál color te gusta?*|
|When are you free?||¿Cuándo estás libre?|
|Where is your girlfriend?||¿Dónde está tu novia?|
|Why do you need a job?||¿Por qué necesitas un trabajo?|
|How do you do that?||¿Cómo haces eso?|
|How much does an apple cost?||¿Cuánto cuesta una manzana?|
*When you’re asking “cuál” questions, it needs to be conjugated if you’re asking about something plural. For example: ¿Cuáles colores te gustan?
How to ask questions in Spanish
I sure do love my language quirks. If you’ve been around Spanish at all, you’ve probably noticed questions being presented in a kind of backwards way:
¿Qué estudia Serena? (literally: What studies Serena?)
¿Cuándo nadas tú? (literally: When swim you?)
You might be asking why that happens, and when it’s appropriate to flip the verb and subject like that. Wanna know the answer?
In this case, it’s just a matter of Spanish being more flexible than English. There’s no “rule”, per say, as to when you can or cannot do this. It’s whether or not either sentence structure fits the word flow of what’s being said.
Therefore, the more comfortable you get in Spanish, the better you’ll get at understanding when it feels “right”. Ain’t Spanish fun?
Qué vs cuál
Most of this stuff is easy enough until we get to qué vs cuál. In Spanish, we use what and which in different ways. It might take a minute to understand completely, so pay attention.
Now, most of the time, they’re pretty much the same as in English; we use qué to ask general questions (what are you doing, what are you thinking, etc), and cuál to ask about differentiating between options (which do you prefer, which one is wrong).
However, you’ll run into examples that seem like rule breakers:
¿Cuál es tu nombre? (What is your name?)
¿Cuál es tu número de télefono? (What is your phone number?)
In cases like this, we use a different word. Why?
Because using qué would be asking for a meaning, or a definition, not a specific response. In these examples, you would be asking:
¿Qué es tu nombre? (What is the meaning of ‘tu nombre’?)
¿Qué es tu número de télefono? (What is the meaning of ‘tu número de télefono?)
Like I said, it’ll take some practice.
Ready to move on?
Check out the next lesson: negation