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Qué vs Cuál - The Difference Between Qué and Cuál

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Qué vs Cuál - The Difference Between Cuál and Qué

If you put Qué vs Cuál into a Spanish translator it will tell you that Qué means what and that Cuál means which.

But there’s a problem…

Qué can also mean which and cúal can also mean what.

For example…

If I ask you ¿Qué libro prefieres?”, that means “Which book do you prefer?”

Or if I ask you ¿Cuál es tu problema? – that means “What is your problem?”

So as you can see…

In those two examples, the word qué meant “which” and cuál meant “what.”

So what is the difference between the two? 

And how can you know when to use one rather than the other?

Don’t worry because that’s what we will be talking about in today’s article and then we will have a little quiz for you to help you master this topic. 

What’s the Difference Between Qué and Cuál?

I remember when I was growing up in school they used to simply teach me that cuál meant “which” and qué meant “what.”

But as you have already seen… 

The difference between cuál and qué can only be realized when looking at the context that they are in. 

That’s because they both can mean “what” or “which” and for that reason you need to understand a few rules so that you can know when to use each of them. 

The image below can help you get a basic understanding of the basic difference between the two but we will be diving even deeper into each situation here in this article. 

Qué vs Cuál explanation

One thing to keep in mind is that Native Spanish speakers make mistakes and mix the two words just as we make mistakes in our native languages. 

So don’t get too bent out of shape if you mix them up because you may hear Natives do the same.

Qué used for definitions and explanations

Here are a few examples of how qué is used when asking for a definition or seeking an explanation.

Español: ¿Qué es una tesis
English: What is a thesis?

Español: ¿Qué te pasa?
English: What is wrong? 

Español: ¿Qué estás haciendo
English: What are you doing?

Español: ¿Qué es un verbo
English: What is a verb?

Español: ¿Qué quieres de mí
English: What do you want from me?

Qué Used Before Nouns

You will also see qué is used before a noun in a question. 

Here are some examples in Spanish: 

Español: ¿Qué número es
English: What number is it?

Español: ¿Qué comida prefieres
English: Which food do you prefer?

Español: ¿Qué camisa quieres
English: Which shirt do you want?

Español: ¿Qué carro tienes
English: Which car do you have

Español: ¿Qué tipo de comida te gusta?
English: Which type of food do you like?

Qué Used For Expressions!

Anytime you want to show emphasis on something you want to use qué. In other words, you will also see qué used for expressions.

Here are some examples in Spanish: 

Español: ¡Qué bella es mi mujer!
English: “How pretty is my woman!” 

Español: ¡Qué lástima!
English: What a pity!

Español: ¡Qué bueno!
English: How great!

Español: ¡Qué malo!
English: How bad!

Español: ¡Qué bueno!
English: How great!

Español: ¡Qué pena!
English: What a shame!

Qué Used For Telling Time

When telling time in Spanish you always will use qué.

So you would never say ¿Cuál es la hora? 

You always say, ¿Qué hora es?

Español: ¿Qué hora es? — Son las tres.
English: What time is it? — It is three o’clock.

Cuál should be used before forms of “Ser” when you are not seeking a definition.

Cuál is used before the conjugated form of ser when asking a question that isn’t seeking a definition.

For example:

Español: ¿Cuál es tu problema
English: What is your problem?

Español: ¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono?
English: What is your phone number?

Español: ¿Cuál es tu nombre
English: What is your name? (Most of the time you will use the verb llamarse for names)

When using cuál remember there are two tenses for it. 

Cuál is the singular tense and cualés is the plural tense. 

So if you say, “What is your plan?”,  the word plan is singular so in Spanish you would say, Cuál es tu plan? 

But if you say, “What are your plans?”, referring to plural “plans” then you would say, Cuáles son tus planes?

Here are a few more examples of cuáles:

Español: En tu opinión, ¿cuáles son las causas de este comportamiento? 
English: In your opinion, what are the causes behind this behavior?

Español: Así pues,¿cuáles son las medidas concretas que podríamos adoptar? 
English: So, what are the specific measures that we could take

Español: ¿Cuáles son algunas de las cosas que les gustan?
English: What are some of the things they like?

Cuál is also used when you are making a choice or have the ability to make a choice.

Cuál is also used when you are asking to make a choice from a group. 

For example:

Español: ¿Cuál de estos animales es un gato?
English: Which of these animals is a cat?

Español: ¿Cuál es tu color favorito?
English: What is your favorite color?”

Español: ¿Cuál es la fecha de hoy?
English: What is today’s date?

Qué vs Cuál Quiz

Now I want you to grab a pen and paper and take the following quiz. All you have to do is choose whether each sentence should be using Cuál or Qué. (Answers will be found at the bottom of the page. But don’t cheat 😉

  1. ¿___ significa “hombre” en Español?
  2. ¿___ es tu apellido?
  3. Vamos a la discoteca, ¿___ te vas a poner?
  4. ¿___ es tu comida favorita?
  5. ¿___ estás haciendo?
  6. ¿___ es un apellido?
  7. Me dijiste que tienes dos perros, ¿___ son los tuyos?
  8. ¿___ es la comida típica de tu país?
  9. ¿___ quieres cenar?
  10. ¿___ de estos es el mejor?

When Do You Not Use Accented Marks For Que and Cual?

Another common question we receive involves cual and que without the accent mark. 

Remember, in Spanish, whenever you see an accent over qué or cuál it usually means a question is being asked.

When you don’t see an accent that means you are usually dealing with a statement. 

Throughout this entire article we have been showing you both words in the form of questions. 

When there is no accent, both of the words could mean “which” or “that”.

Below are a few examples in Spanish of these words without accents.

Español: Tenga en cuenta que algunas de estas características son diferentes.
English: Note that some of these characteristics are different.

Español: Mi primo es más alto que yo.
English: My cousin is taller than me. 

Español: El libro que más ha influido en mí es este.
English: The book which has had the greatest influence on me is this one.

Español: El hotel en el cual pasé mis vacaciones de verano ha cerrado. 
English: The hotel in which I spent my summer holiday has been closed.

Español: Pero no respetas el juego, lo cual es mi problema.
English: But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem.

Español: No sé cual de mis enemigos está detrás de esto.
English: I don’t know which of my enemies is behind this.

The Best Way To Master Qué vs Cuál

If you came to this article it’s because you needed help with this topic.

But one of the things we always talk about on this website and in our videos is that the best way to actually learn Spanish grammar isn’t to study grammar but to consume a lot of Spanish.

We’ve done articles on how to learn Spanish through YouTube, or how to learn Spanish through Netflix, or how to learn Spanish through Amazon.

It’s best to start there and consume as much comprehensible input in Spanish as possible.

Think about when you learned your Native language…

You didn’t start learning grammar rules until you already know how to speak the language, right?

So use this article to help you… 

But remember that memorizing rules are only useful if you actually come into contact with them and put them into practice.

Conclusion

When it comes to asking questions in Spanish, choosing between qúe and cuál can be very difficult. 

That’s because they both can be translated as “what” or “which.”

But when you know the rules behind when to use each one, it will become easier for you.

Remember that qué is used in questions for definitions, before nouns, telling time, and expressions.

Then remember that cuál is used mostly when making a choice between different options. If you remember those simple rules then you will be fine.

If you are really looking to take your Spanish to the next level, then check out our FREE 3 Secrets To learn Spanish faster training, where I will show you my 3 most significant secrets to become fluent in Spanish faster. 

Answers to cuál vs qué quiz: 
1.Qué   2.Cúal   3.Qué   4.Cuál   5.Qué   6.Qué   7.Cuáles   8.Cuál   9.Qué   10.Cuál

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