Qué, cuál and other variations

Spanish might not be the hardest language in the world, yet it has many confusing words. Well, to be honest, the words themselves are not that confusing, but they can often be used incorrectly. Why? Take for example, “qué” and “cuál”, the words that I will talk about in this post. When translated into English, both words mean “what”. So, how can we avoid these confusions? Read on and you will definitely find out how to use qué in Spanish.

Before we talk about what each word means and how it can be used, it is important to mention that both “qué” and “cuál” can be found in two forms. The first form is with a graphic accent and they are used as interrogative words in questions. When they are written with no accent (“que”, “cual”), the two are used as linking words (relative pronouns).

Let’s start out with an easy tip. Even though this might not always work, you can start out by asking yourself whether you want to say “what” or “which”. Usually, the word “qué” is closer in meaning to the word “what”, while “cuál” can be translated as “which”.

When asking questions, if you want to ask for an explanation, like for example “what is that?”, you will use the word “qué”. If however, you want to ask for a certain object/ person from a group, you use the word “cuál”. For example, if you want to ask about someone’s favorite book: “¿Cuál es tu libro preferido?”.

One main difference between the two words is the fact that cuál usually suggests a choice, selecting something from a group. For example, you can say “¿Cuál te gusta ?” if you want to say “which one do you like?”, meanwhile asking “¿Qué te gusta?” means “What do you like?” and it is used for more general aspects.

A final difference between “qué” and “cuál” is the fact that “qué” is used before nouns, meanwhile the word “cuál” is used before the verb ser (to be). For example: you can say: “¿Qué color te gusta más?” ( What color do you like the most?) or you can say: “¿ Cuál es tu color preferido?” (What is your favorite color).

Even though trying not to mix up these two words might not be easy in at first, in time, they will come more naturally. I would also suggest learning the main differences between ser, estar, and haber, other commonly confused words.


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