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¿Qué? vs. ¿Cuál?

The difference between que and cualThese two words can be confusing to students of Spanish whose native language is English because they are often translated as the same words into English.

When the two words do not carry a written accent are used as linking words (relative pronouns) translated 'that' or 'which'. With an accent they are used as interrogative words in questions to mean 'what' and 'which'.

Here, we are going to look at the differences between "¿Qué?" and "¿Cuál?"

Most of you were taught at school that “¿qué?” is closer to 'what?' and “¿cuál?” is closer to 'which?'. This notion is of some use, but can often be misleading.

"¿Qué?" and "¿Cuál?" can both mean 'what?' and "¿Cuál?" is also used to express 'which?'.

The main difference is that "¿qué?" can be followed by a noun or a verb but "¿cuál? can only be followed by a veb or the preposition "de". Let's see some examples:

1. "¿Cuál?" and "¿Qué?" to suggest a choice within a group

When the question implies a choice between two or more alternatives and conveys the idea of selection, ¿Cuál + verb/preposition? or ¿Qué + noun? can be used.

¿Cuál + verb/preposition?

a. ¿Cuál de las tres casas es más cara? (Which of the three houses is more expensive?)

b. ¿Cuál de las dos ciudades está en la costa? (Which of the two cities is on the coast?)

c. ¿Cuáles son las ciudades más grandes del mundo? (Which are the biggest cities in the world?)

Note: The plural of "cuál" is "cuáles". "Qué" is the same in the singular and plural forms.

¿Qué + noun?

d. ¿Qué casa es más cara? (Which house is more expensive?)

e. ¿Qué ciudad está en la costa? (Which city is on the coast?)

f. ¿Qué ciudades son las más grandes del mundo? (Which cities are the biggest in the world?)

Note: The sentence 'a' is equivalent to 'd', sentence 'b' to 'e' and 'c' to 'f'.

 

2. ¿Qué + verb...? to ask for definitions

¿Qué? is used when asking for definitions or general information.

g. ¿Qué es una libreta? (What is a notebook?)

h. ¿Qué hace un abogado? (What does a lawyer do?)

i. ¿Qué es esto? (What is this?)

k. ¿Qué dirá Pedro? (What will Pedro say?)

l. ¿Qué es más caro, la carne o el pescado? (What's more expensive, meat or fish?)

 

3. ¿Qué + verb...? / ¿Cuál + verb...? to inquire about preferences

¿Qué/Cuál + verb (preferir, querer, desear, gustar)...? is used when asking about preferences.

m. ¿Qué prefieres, la carne o el pescado? (What do you prefer; meat or fish?)

n. ¿Cúal prefieres, este o ese? (Which one do you prefer; this or that one?)

ñ. ¿Qué quieres comprar? (What do you want to buy?)

o. ¿Cuál quieres comprar? (Which one do you want to buy?)

Note: When asking about preferences both "qué" and "cuál" can be used. "Qué" is generally used when the items you are asking about are not on your sight and options are not given to you. And "cuál" when you have them in your hands or in front of you, or are specific items.

 

4. ¿Cuál + verb...? to ask for general information

¿Cuál + es...? when not seeking a definition.

p. ¿Cúal es tu nombre? (What is your name?)

q. ¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono? (What is your phone number?)

 

5. ¿Qué + verb in the conditional tense...? to ask for advice

¿Qué + verb in conditional...? is used to ask for advice.

r. Oye Pedro, mañana tengo una entrevista de trabajo y no sé qué ponerme. ¿Tú qué llevarías? (Look, Pedro, I've got an interview tomorrow and I don't know what to wear. What would you wear?)

KEY NOTE: Remember, "¿Cuál?" cannot be followed by a noun.

If you have any questions about this post, feel free to comment.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Marino GuerreroMARINO GUERRERO

Marino Guerrero is a tutor of Spanish as a foreign language, dedicated to providing one-to-one Spanish lessons all over London and worldwide through Skype.

 

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