Let’s start by organizing these Spanish questions words or interrogatives into a number: 14
Qué/ Cuál/Cuáles/ Quién/Quiénes/Dónde/Cuándo/Cómo/Cuánta/Cuántas/Cuánto/Cuántos/
Por qué/Para qué
- Let’s continue by arranging them by gender: 2
- Let’s finish by separating them by number: 2
Singular: Cuál/ Quién/ Cuánta/Cuánto
- Let’s conclude that they are too many and easily confused
Are they a problem when translated? Well, it depends.
What’s the sound?
Did I hear “Cuánto” or “Cuándo”? The problem here is not the question word itself, but the speaker. Depending on the speaker’s accent a “t” may sound like a “d” or vice versa, but of course, the context will help you.
Sometimes both options are correct. For example, “¿Cuánto llega?” (How much will arrive?) or ¿Cuándo llega? (When will it arrive?). Well, you need to go deeper into the context, the speakers, the specific situation, and what came before these phrases and after. It is crucial to spend a little more time and be sure that you tried your hardest to do an accurate translation. What’s important here is not to jump into the first possible option.
It could be a dialect
Source: Homeschool Spanish Academy
“Cuánta” (How much) or “Cuántas” (How many). Pay attention to regional dialects, as in many areas of southern Spain and some provinces or states in Central or South America speakers tend to omit the “s“ sound at the end of a word or plural forms. You should trace the source of the written document, the script… to verify if any regional dialect is applicable or not.
Let’s get the right question!
“¿Por qué fuiste?” (Why did you go?).
“Porque es mi obligación.” (Because it is my obligation).
“Para qué fuiste?” (What did you go for?).
“Porque es mi obligación.”
The key point here is to get the right question since the answer is the same, so, Is the question asking for a reason: Por qué (why), or a purpose: Para qué? (what for?). One must look carefully at question words. What may be a simple choice between “por” or “para” may end up with a completely different message.
We need rules
It is “el alma” (the soul/masculine-singular) but “las almas” (the souls/feminine-plural). Which is the correct interrogative word? ¿Cuántos almas o Cuántas almas? We must pay attention to the written accent rules: alma is a feminine word since it has a prosodic accent. (AL–ma) The one that is obtained after applying greater intensity of pronunciation to one of the syllables that make up a word. “La alma” does not sound right, that is why this word becomes masculine when single and remains feminine when plural. Read, learn, and remember the rules.
Qué vs. Cuál
Souce: Tell Me In Spanish
A simple explanation says that “Qué” is used to get a definition: ¿Qué es esto? (What’s this?) and “Cuál” is used to point or choose among a group: ¿Cuál es tu coche? (Which one is your car?) and we can also add that “Qué” focuses on one option and “Cuál” on different options:
¿Qué te dijo? (What did he say?) ¿Cuál es la respuesta correcta? (Which is the right answer?)
However, many many times we stumble across this next typical mistake:
What’s your name?
¿Qué es tu nombre? Intead of: ¿Cuál es tu nombre? The simple answer to this problem is a quick literal translation that comes to people’s heads without thinking about it. What could be a simple solution? Learn and translate the question as a “chunk” and not as individual words. Next time you need this question, the literal translation will not sound right!
All in all, Spanish question words could be as simple or as complicated as any other words when it comes to translations. We must bear in mind not one but quite a lot of key elements before choosing the most accurate option as I have stated above. If in doubt, take extra time to get it right!
In this video you can check the most frequently asked questions in Spanish:
August 31, 2022