Interrogative Pronouns in Spanish Grammar

Introduction

The Interrogative pronouns (pronombres interrogativos), or question words, in Spanish grammar are qué, quién and cuál. Interrogative pronouns are always written with an accent in order to differentiate them from the relative pronouns que, el cual and quien. They can be used in direct and indirect questions.

Learn about interrogative pronouns with Lingolia and practise what you have learnt in the exercises.

Example

¿Quién es esa chica?

¿Qué hace?

¿En qué piensa?

¿Cuál es la lengua oficial de su país?

Advertisement

Quién, qué, cuál

The interrogative pronouns quién (who), qué (what) and cuál (which) are used to identify people and things in questions.

function person object
subject ¿Quién(es)? ¿Qué?/¿Cuál(es)?
direct object
¿A quién(es)? ¿Qué?/¿Cuál(es)?
indirect object
¿A quién(es)? ¿A qué?/¿A cuál(es)?
  • Quién (who/whom) only refers to people. It can be used with a preposition. Note that in Spanish there is a plural form (quienes), used to ask about more than one person.
    Example:
    ¿Quién es esa chica?Who is that girl?
    ¿Quiénes son esas chicas?Who are those girls?
    ¿A quién has visto?Whom did you see?
  • Qué (what?) can refer to everything except people, and can also be used with a preposition.
    Example:
    ¿Qué hace ella?What is she doing?
    ¿En qué piensa ella?What is she thinking about?
  • Cuál (which?) is used to define a selection from severla options. Here, too, there is a plural form in Spanish (cuáles).
    Example:
    ¿Cuál es la lengua oficial de su país?Which is the official language of his country?
    ¿Cuáles son las lenguas oficiales de su país?Which are the official languages of his country?

Qué or cuál

Deciding when to use the interrogative pronoun qué and when to use cuál is often confusing. In order to use these question words correctly, we have to take a closer look at the word order of questions using qué and cuál. Since each interrogative pronoun has a fixed function, they are not interchangeable.

Qué is generally used to identify an element from a free selection, whereas cuál distinguishes one element from a pre-determined selection.

Example:
¿Qué ves?What are you watching?
¿Qué género de cine te gusta más?Which film genre do you like best?
¿Cuál es tu película favorita?What is your favourite film?
¿Cuál prefieres: esta película o esta otra?Which film do you prefer? This one or that one?

There are four word order patterns that should help you understand when to use which pronoun.

  • qué + verb
    Use qué + verb to identify an element. The answer to a question with qué + verb refers to categories that are unknown or are not mentioned. For example films, documentaries, a series, a live concert etc.
    Example:
    ¿Qué ves?What are you watching?
  • qué + noun + verb
    Use que + noun + verb to ask about an element from a specified category, for example film genre. Although a broad category is specified, there is no pre-determined selection of film genres mentioned. The answer is, therefore, not limited to a specific selection and can be freely chosen from within the category of film genre.
    Example:
    ¿Qué género de cine te gusta más?Which film genre do you like best?
  • cuál + verb + noun
    Use cuál + verb + noun to ask about an element from a specified category but without a predetermined selection (any film you can think of out of all the films that exist). The usage is similar to que + noun + verb above. The only difference is the word order of the question. In this case, the question word is followed directly by a verb and then the element we wish to identify.
    Example:
    ¿Cuál es tu película favorita?What is your favourite film?
  • cuál + verb + predetermined selection
    Use cuál + verb + predetermined selection to ask for a choice from a predetermined selection of elements which are of the same type.
    Example:
    ¿Cuál prefieres: esta película o esta otra?Which film do you prefer? This one or that one?

Note that cuál is always followed by a verb which means that it is never placed directly before a noun.