Questions in Spanish Grammar

Introduction

Questions (las oraciones interrogativas) in Spanish grammar are always written between two question marks (¿ … ?). There are two types of questions; closed questions (yes–no questions) and questions that use an interrogative pronoun (question word).

Questions in Spanish can be direct (e.g., ¿Cuándo viene Juan?)When is Juan coming? or indirect (No sé cuándo viene Juan.)I don’t know when Juan is coming. Indirect questions are a type of subordinate clause and are often used without question marks. All question words have an accent, even in indirect questions.

Learn about the types of questions in Spanish grammar and their word order with Lingolia. Put your knowledge to the test in the exercises below.

Example

- ¡Buenos días, Julia! ¿Cómo estás?
- Bien, gracias. Voy al cine.
- ¿Qué vas a ver?
- Una película de acción. ¿Te gusta ir al cine?
- ¡Sí, mucho! ¿Puedo ir contigo?
- Sí, si quieres. ¿Quieres comprar palomitas?

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Closed Questions

The simplest question type is closed questions, also known as yes–no questions. Their sentence structure is the same as a declarative sentence (subject + verb + object) and there is no question word; only the question marks and the rising intonation indicate that the sentence is actually a question.

Example:
Te gusta ir al cine. → ¿Te gusta ir al cine?You like to go to the cinema. → Do you like going to the cinema?
Puedo ir contigo. → ¿Puedo ir contigo?I can come with you. → Can I come with you?
Quieres comprar palomitas. → ¿Quieres comprar palomitas?You want to buy popcorn. → Do you want to buy popcorn?

There are two types of closed questions:

  • yes–no questions that offer two opposing options;
    Example:
    ¿Te gusta ir al cine (o no)?Do you like going to the cinema (or not)?
  • questions that offer two or more options;
    Example:
    ¿Te gusta más el cuadro grande o el cuadro pequeño?Do you like the big painting more or the small one?
    ¿Vamos al cine hoy, mañana o pasado?Shall we go to the cinema today, tomorrow or the day after?

Open-ended Questions

Open-ended questions can’t simply be answered with yes or no, but require more information. This is because they contain a question word (quién/-es, qué, cuál, cuánto/-a/-os/-as) or an interrogative adverb (cómo, dónde, adónde, cuánto, cuándo, por qué).

  • Open-ended questions have the following structure: question word + verb + subject, except in the case of the question word quién, which acts as the subject of the sentence.
    Example:
    ¿Qué haces (tú) hoy? – Voy a ver una película de acción.What are you doing today? – I’m going to watch an action film.
    ¿Dónde está el cine? – El cine está cerca de Tirso de Molina.Where is the cinema? – The cinema is close to Tirso de Molina.
    ¿Quién actúa? – Actúa mi actor italiano favorito.Who’s in it? – My favourite Italian actor is in it.
  • When the question contains a preposition, it comes before the question word.

    Example:
    ¿Con quién vas al cine? — Voy al cine con mis amigos. —Who are you going to the cinema with? —I’m going to the cinema with my friends.
    ¿Para quién son las palomitas? — Las palomitas son para .Who is the popcorn for? — The popcorn is for me.

Common Question Words and Phrases

The question words in Spanish are: quién, qué, cuál, cómo, dónde, cuándo, cuánto and por qué.who, what, which, how, where, when, how much/many, why They can all be used in direct and indirect questions.

Example:
¿Quién es la protagonista de la película?Who is the main character in the film? (direct)
Los amigos se preguntan quién es la protagonista de la película.The friends wonder who the main character in the film is. (indirect)

The majority of question words can be combined with a preposition to make another question word. The preposition depends on the verb used and always comes before the question word.

Example:
— ¿Con quién has ido al cine?Who did you go to the cinema with?
— He ido con Marta y Lucía.I went with Marta and Lucía.ir con alguien

The table below gives an overview of the different question words and phrases in Spanish along with the rules of usage and examples.

Question Word Translation Usage
(to ask about …)
Example
quién/quiénes
  • who, whom
  • subject
  • direct object (person)
  • —¿Quién te ha dado el libro? —El profesor.Who gave you the book? —The teacher.
a quién/a quiénes
  • (to) whom
  • direct object (person)
  • indirect object (person)
  • —¿A quién has visto? —A nuestro entrenador. Whom did you see? —Our coach.
  • ¿A quién le has dado el libro? —A mi novia.To whom did you give the book? —My girlfriend.
con quién
  • with whom
  • company
  • —¿Con quién has ido al cine? —Con mis amigos.With whom did you go to the cinema? —With my friends.
para quién
  • for whom
  • recipient
  • —¿Para quién son las flores? —Para mi hermana.For whom are the flowers? —For my sister.
qué
  • what
  • which
  • subject or object, when not a person
  • action
  • —¿Qué es eso? —Un móvil.What is that? —A mobile phone.
  • —¿Qué habéis visto? —Un arcoiris.What did you see? —A rainbow.
  • —¿Qué libro has comprado? —Don Quijote. Which book did you buy? —Don Quixote.
en qué
de qué
sobre qué
  • what
  • of what
  • with what
  • about what
  • topic
  • after a preposition in questions about an inanimate object
  • ¿En qué piensas?What are you thinking of?
  • ¿De qué hablas?What are you talking about?
  • ¿Con qué clavas los clavos?What are you hammering the nails with?
  • ¿Sobre qué va a escribir usted su tesis?What are you going to write your thesis about?
con qué
  • with what
  • how
  • means, manner
  • —¿Con qué clavas los clavos? —Con un martillo.How do you fix the nails? —With a hammer.
por qué
  • why
  • how come
  • cause, reason
  • Por qué llegas tan tarde? —Porque el tren se retrasó.Why are you late? —Because the train was delayed.
para qué
  • why
  • for what reason
  • intention, purpose
  • —¿Para qué aprendes kárate? —Para defenderme.Why are you learning karate? —To defend myself.
dónde
  • where
  • place – position
  • —¿Dónde está la estación? —En frente del cine.Where is the train station? —In front of the cinema.
adónde
  • (to) where
  • place – direction, intention, destination
  • —¿Adónde vais? - Vamos a la estación.Where are you going? —We’re going to the station.
de dónde
  • from where
  • place – origin, source
  • —¿De dónde vienes? —Vengo de España.Where do you come from? —I come from Spain.
cuándo
  • when
  • point in time
  • —¿Cuándo has desayunado? —A las 7.When did you eat breakfast? —At 7 o’clock.
para cuándo
  • by when
  • deadline
  • —¿Para cuándo necesitas el pastel? —Para el viernes que viene.By when do you need the cake? —By next Friday.
desde cuándo
  • since when
  • how long
  • time point – beginning
  • —¿Desde cuándo vives en Bilbao? —Desde 2009.How long have you been living in Bilbao? —Since 2009.
hasta cuándo
  • until when
  • how long
  • time point – ending
  • —¿Hasta cuándo estáis de vacaciones? —Hasta el día 14.Until when are you on holiday? —Until the 14th.
cómo
  • how
  • manner
  • —¿Cómo estás? —Bien.How are you? —Good.
  • —¿Cómo se abre la botella? —Girando el tapón.How do you open the bottle? —By turning the lid.
cuál/cuáles
  • which
  • —¿Cuál te gusta más de los dos? —El rojo. Which of the two do you like better? —The red one.
cuánto/cuánta/ cuántos/cuantas
  • how much, how many
  • number, amount
  • —¿Cuántas velas hay en tu pastel? —Hay veintinueve velas.How many candles are there on your cake? —There are 29 candles.
cada cuánto
  • how often
  • frequency
  • —¿Cada cuánto pasa el autobús? —Cada 20 minutos.How often does the bus come? —Every 20 minutes.
cuántas veces
  • how many times
  • frequency – repetition
  • —¿Cuántas veces has estado en Tenerife? —Tres veces.How many times have you been to Tenerife? —Three times.

Qué/Cuál

Cuál refers to a choice made between different options and is variable in number (cuál/cuáles).

Example:
¿Cuál es el título de la película?What’s the title of the film?
¿Cuáles son los personajes principales?Who are the main characters?

There is a regional difference when the question words are used before a noun: cuál/cuáles is common in Latin America, while the Spaniards use qué.

Example:
¿Qué tipo de cine te gusta más? (Spain)Which type of films do you like the best?
¿Cuál tipo de cine te gusta más? (Latin America)

To learn more about the difference between qué and cuál go to Lingolia’s page on interrogative pronouns.

Quién

The question word quién (who) has a singular and a plural form in Spanish: quién/quiénes. The form you choose depends on whether you refer to one person or multiple people. If we don’t know the number of people, we use the singular form.

Example:
¿Quién protagoniza la película?Who is stars in the film?
¿Quiénes mueren al final?Which characters die in the end?

Cuánto

The word cuánto (how many/how much) is used to ask about quantity, amount or number. When cuánto refers to a noun, it agrees in number and gender with this noun (cuánto/cuánta/cuántos/cuántas).

Example:
¿Cuánto (dinero) cuesta la entrada del cine?How much does the cinema ticket cost?
¿Cuántas entradas necesitamos?How many tickets do we need?

When cuánto refers to a verb it remains unchanged.

Example:
¿Cuánto dura la película?How long does the film last?

Por qué

The question word por qué (why) is always written with a space in both direct and indirect questions. This distinguishes it from the answer porque (because), which is always written without a space and without an accent.

Example:
¿Por qué no te ha gustado la película?Why didn’t you like the film?
Porque era muy aburrida.Because it was really boring.

To Note

  • Unlike English, Spanish does not have the form how + adjective. A similar construction can be formed using qué + noun or cuánto + verb.
Example:
How wide is the river? → ¿Qué anchura tiene el río?/¿Cuánto mide el río de ancho?What width does the river have?/How much does the river measure in width?
How expensive is the t-shirt? → ¿Qué precio tiene la camiseta?/¿Cuánto cuesta la camiseta?What price does the t-shirt have?/How much does the t-shirt cost?
  • With the exception of cuál, all other interrogative pronouns can also be used in exclamations.
    Example:
    ¡Qué calor hace!What heat!
    ¡Cuánto tiempo!What a long time!

Direct/Indirect Questions

Direct questions are simply normal questions.

Example:
¿Por qué lloras en las películas románticas?Why do you cry during romantic films? (direct question)

Indirect questions are included in another sentence as a subordinate clause. Their structure is the same as a direct question but:

  • they are introduced by a question word with an accent or the conjunction si
  • we don’t usually use question marks
Example:
No entiendo por qué lloras en las películas románticas.I don’t understand why you cry during romantic films. (indirect question)
No estoy seguro si recomendaría la película.I’m not sure if I would recommend the film. (indirect question)