Question marks

Is It the Spanish Inquisition? How to Make Questions in Spanish

Maria Claudia Alvarado Published on November 3, 2023

Whether you want to learn Spanish or are planning a trip to a Spanish-speaking country, you need to be able to ask the right questions to communicate without problems. However, learning how to tell each interrogative word (like quién, qué, cómo, cuándo y por qué) apart can be confusing. In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know to make common Spanish questions in an easy and effective way. 

What are Spanish Interrogatives?

Interrogatives are words that are placed at the beginning of a sentence to prompt a direct answer. They are essential for forming questions and to communicate in daily life. Just like in English, the Spanish language has specific words to ask what, which, when, who, where, why, how, and how much. This way, we can ask for specific information and get clear answers.

Man thinking with questions marks in the background

Common Question Words in Spanish

Spanish question words have the same purpose as interrogatives do in English: help us make questions and gather information. They all have English equivalents, so you won’t have trouble knowing when to use them. These are the essential question words we use in Spanish:

  • Cómo (How)
  • Qué (What)
  • Por qué (Why)
  • Quién/Quiénes (Who)
  • Cuál/Cuáles (Which or What)
  • Cuándo (When)
  • Dónde (Where)
  • Cuánto/Cuántos (How many/much)

The first thing you need to notice about Spanish interrogatives is that they all use accent marks. This is because these words can also be applied without an accent to give an answer. For example, you can ask, “¿Por qué la puerta está abierta?” (Why is the door open?) and answer like this, “Porque el perro salió al jardín” (Because the dog went out to the garden).

This is an easy way to distinguish the purpose of these words in a sentence, so don’t forget to include an accent if you want to ask a question. Also, don’t forget that you must start all your questions with an inverted question mark “¿” when you write in Spanish.

Differences Between English and Spanish Question Words

One of the main differences between English and Spanish interrogatives is the existence of plural question words in Spanish. In English, interrogatives only have one singular form and don’t change when a plural noun is placed after them. In Spanish, however, we need to include the plural form when there’s a plural noun following to ensure our questions make sense.

For example:

  • ¿Cuántos patos hay en el lago? / How many ducks are in the lake?
  • ¿Quiénes son ellos? / Who are they?
  • ¿Cuáles son tus libros favoritos? / What are your favorite books?

Only cuánto, quién, and cuál have plural forms, so you don’t need to worry about making the rest of the Spanish interrogative words singular or plural. Remember that the plural forms are only necessary if you’re going to ask about multiple things at once. 

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Questions in Spanish: Verb Placement

There are different ways to structure a question in Spanish. Sometimes, switching the order for the pronouns, nouns, verbs, and interrogative words can change our tone or prompt for different answers. These are some of the different question structures you can find in Spanish.

Question Word First, Verb Second

The easiest way to build a question in Spanish is to place the verb after the interrogative word. If you’ve ever been around Spanish speakers, you’ve probably heard them ask, “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?). If we take a closer look at this question, we can see that the verb estar is following the word cómo to connect the action of being with how. 

Here are some other examples:

  • ¿Cómo son sus padres? / What are his parents like?
  • ¿Quiénes hacen galletas? / Who is making cookies?
  • ¿Cuándo vienen los abuelos? / When are the grandparents coming?

Subject First, Verb Second (No Question Word)

When we place the subject before the verb, we focus on the subject. You can use this question structure to bring emphasis to the idea of a subject performing a specific action. Spanish speakers usually build questions this way when they’re surprised about a statement made in the same context. For example, if someone said, “Lucas leyó el menú en español” (Lucas read the Spanish menu), one could ask, “¿Lucas sabe Español?” (Lucas knows Spanish?). This way, we’re asking for additional information to complete our knowledge about the subject. 

Here are some examples:

  • ¿El cartero vino el Lunes? / Did the postman come on Monday?
  • ¿Elena sabe cómo hornear un pastel? / Does Elena know how to bake a cake?
  • ¿Ella pidió ayuda? / She asked for help?

Verb First, Interrogative Word Second

In the case of this type of questions, we place the verb at the beginning of the sentence to involve the receptor of the question. Using this type of sentence structure can help the interrogative word stand out, and prompt for a direct answer. In Spanish, we use this question structure when we’re in a hurry because most of these questions can be answered with a quick yes or no.

For example:

  • ¿Sabes quién es el presidente? / Do you know who’s the president?

While one could easily rephrase this question to “¿Quién es el presidente?” placing the verb saber before quién makes our sentence sound more conversational and less interrogatory. Here are a couple more examples:

  • ¿Sientes cómo sopla el viento? / Do you feel the wind blowing?
  • ¿Viste dónde se fue el ratón? / Did you see where the mouse go?

Inverted Subject and Verb

This sentence structure is less common than others, but you can still find it when talking with Spanish speakers or reading texts. You can place the verb at the very beginning of the sentence to highlight the action you’re inquiring about. This is an easy way to turn declarative sentences into questions. Spanish speakers normally do this to add a hint of disbelief, concern, or surprise to their questions. 

For instance:

  • ¿Irán los vecinos a la fiesta? / Will the neighbors go to the party?
  • ¿Crees tú que la historia sea cierta? / Do you think the story is true?
  • ¿Podrán ellos cargar las cajas solos? / Will they be able to carry the boxes alone?

Using Question Words

Using question words in Spanish is an easier task than you might think. Qué, dónde, cúando, cuál, cómo, cuánto, quién, and por qué help us ask about condition, location, identity, quantity, purpose, timing, and more with precision. The most common way to structure questions in Spanish is to place interrogative words at the beginning of the sentence, but it’s also possible to play with the word order to adjust your tone or focus on a subject or action.

Here are some examples:

  • ¿Quién es esa mujer? / Who is that woman?
  • ¿Sabes qué hora es en Beijing? / Do you know what time it is in Beijing?
  •  ¿Crees que tu hermano sepa cómo arreglar el piano? / Do you think your brother knows how to fix the piano?
  • ¿Él sabe dónde es la fiesta? / Does he know where the party is at?

Types of Spanish Interrogatives

All Spanish interrogatives have an English equivalent, so you probably won’t struggle much to remember or tell them apart. However, you need to remember that each of these words serves a different purpose and fits a specific context. 

Qué (What)

The interrogative word qué helps us inquire about an unidentified item, action, quality, and more. Qué translates to “what” in English and allows you to ask for information of different kinds. This is the most common interrogative word in the Spanish language. For example:

  • ¿Qué quieres hacer mañana? / What do you want to do tomorrow?
  • ¿Qué piensas sobre la música? / What do you think about the music?
  • ¿Qué es eso sobre la mesa? / What is that on the table? 

Dónde (Where)

Dónde is the interrogative word you use to ask about location in Spanish. It translates to “where” and works in exactly the same way as its English counterpart. You can use dónde to ask where something happened, is happening, or is going to happen. For example:

  • ¿Dónde está Bea? / Where is Bea?
  • ¿Dónde vas a ir por tu cumpleaños? / Where are you going for your birthday?
  • ¿Dónde viste el perro perdido? / Where did you see the lost dog?

Cuándo (When)

Cuándo translates to “when” and is the simplest way to ask about the time for an event. With cuándo, you can ask when something is taking or took place. For example, if someone tells you they went to the market, you can ask “¿Cuándo?” to get a clear timeframe of when that happened. Here are some other examples:

  • ¿Cuándo es la misa? / When is the mass?
  • ¿Cuándo vas a limpiar el cuarto? / When are you going to clean the room?
  • ¿Cuándo regresas a la escuela? / When are you going back to school?

Cuál (Which/What)

With cuál, you can ask about preferences or choices. Unlike other interrogative words, cuál has two English translations: which and what. In Spanish,  you can use cuál to distinguish one object from others (which) or to ask about an object that isn’t in the scene (what). You can also apply the plural form of cuál, cuáles, to talk about multiple objects or preferences. This way, Spanish speakers can point out what they like or own without problems. Here are some examples:

  • ¿Cuál de estas mochilas es tuya? / Which of these backpacks is yours?
  • ¿Cuál es tu película de terror favorita? / What’s your favorite scary movie?
  • ¿Cuáles son tus perros? / Which dogs are yours?

Cómo (How)

This word is the Spanish equivalent of “how” and holds the same purpose it does in English. With cómo, you can ask about the way an event or action took place. You can also use cómo to ask about the state of something in the past or present. For example:

  • ¿Cómo está la tía Luisa? / How is Aunt Luisa?
  • ¿Cómo vas a viajar a Bolivia? / How are you traveling to Bolivia?
  • ¿Cómo estuvo la reunión? / How was the meeting?

Cuánto (How Much/Many)

The interrogative word cuánto helps us ask about quantity. The literal translation for this word can be “how much” or “how many.” Depending on the context, you might need to use the plural form cuántos to ask about multiple quantities or objects. Let’s see some examples:

  • ¿Cuántas personas están en el teatro? / How many people are in the theater?
  • ¿Cuánto pesa el librero? / How much does the bookshelf weight?
  • ¿Cuántos platanos necesitas? / How  many bananas do you need?

Quién (Who)

Quién is the question word we use to ask about people. When we use this to ask for names or identification. We use the singular form quién when the interrogative is followed by a singular noun, and the plural form quiénes when we want to ask about plural nouns. Note that it’s also possible to use the singular form quién to ask about an open number of people. For example, if you want to invite a group of people to hang out but you’re not sure who wants to come, you can ask “¿Quién quiere venir conmigo?” which literally translates to “Who wants to come with me?” Here are some other examples:

  • ¿Quiénes son los encargados del zoológico? / Who is in charge of the zoo?
  • ¿Quién quiere comer helado? / Who wants to eat ice cream?
  • ¿Quién es tu mejor amigo? / Who is your best friend?

Por qué (Why)

Por qué is the trickiest of the interrogative words because it has two similar variations that can change the meaning of your sentence: porque and por que. While por qué (note the accent mark) helps us ask the purpose for an action, porque and por que fulfill other tasks. Porque is used to answer questions or explain a reason, and por que emphasizes a cause. If you want to be grammatically correct and build your sentences like a native Spanish speaker, you need to make sure to use accents on interrogative words. Here are some examples:

  • ¿Por qué no contestas el teléfono? / Why don’t you answer the phone?
  • ¿Por qué sabes la letra de esa canción? / Why do you know the lyrics of that song?
  • ¿Por qué quieres mudarte a otro país? / Why do you want to move to another country?

Common Questions in Spanish

Asking Simple Questions

In Spanish, simple questions begin with an interrogative word. They are often followed by a subject or a verb and help you obtain direct answers. For example:

  • ¿Qué haces? / What are you doing?
  • ¿Quién está afuera?/ Who is outside?
  • ¿Cuál quieres? / Which one do you want?

Asking for Directions

The easiest way to ask for directions is to place dónde at the beginning of the sentence. In Spanish, we do this when we don’t know where is a specific location. For example, you can ask, “¿Dónde está el hospital?” (Where is the hospital?) and get an answer like, “El hospital está en…” (The hospital is…). However, you can also place the verbs saber or poder to ask where somewhere is in a conversational manner.

These are some examples of common ways to ask for directions:

  • ¿Dónde está la tienda? / Where is the store?
  • ¿Sabes dónde está el baño? / Do you know where the restroom is?
  • ¿Podrías decirme dónde está el edificio principal? / Could you tell me where the main building is?

Asking About Time

Like in English, in Spanish, we ask “What time is it?” when we want to know the time. In this case, we place qué at the beginning of the sentence, but it’s also possible to begin the question with the verbs saber or poder

Here are some examples of how to ask for the time:

  • ¿Qué hora es? / What time is it?
  • ¿Sabes qué hora es? / Do you know what time is it?
  • ¿Podrías decirme qué hora es? / Could you tell me what time is it?

Asking for Opinions

In Spanish, we use qué when we want to ask for an opinion. Because qué translates to “what,” we place it at the beginning of our questions to indicate that we want to know what someone thinks about something. To do this, we place verbs like pensar, parecer, or creer after qué.

For example: 

  • ¿Qué piensas sobre este color? / What do you think about this color?
  • ¿Qué te parece esta camisa? / What do you think about this shirt?
  • ¿Qué crees que pasó con el programa de televisión? / What do you think happened with the TV show?

How to Practice Asking Questions in Spanish

Asking questions is a vital part of communication, and knowing how to build and structure them in Spanish can help you navigate all kinds of situations. If you like interactive exercises you can use a Spanish app to learn the basics of the language. Spanish textbooks are good options if you’re looking for more extensive grammar explanations and are convenient reference tools. You can also take an online Spanish course or hire a Spanish native-speaker tutor to practice specific skills or aspects of the language.

Questions in Spanish: Final Thoughts

There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind when you use question words in Spanish. The first thing you need to remember is that these words need to have an accent to help others distinguish them with ease. Then, you make sure that the interrogative word you choose fits the context and purpose of the question you’re trying to build. And don’t forget the upside-down question mark at the beginning of the question. There are many ways to structure questions in Spanish, so you need to be patient and constant with your practice. If you’re consistent, you’ll soon start asking questions without effort.

Maria Claudia Alvarado

Maria Alvarado is a content writer and translator from Lima, Peru. She graduated from the Savannah College of Arts and Design in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in Writing. She is fluent in Spanish and English, has intermediate knowledge of French and German, and is learning Japanese. She hopes to bring consciousness about the importance of language learning through her articles and aspires to learn as many languages as possible.

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