Interrogative qué and cuál

Interrogative qué and cuál

We're going to talk about which one of these you have to use in questions. Is it "¿qué hora es?" or "¿cuál hora es?", let's find out:

In general, I'd say qué means "what" and cuál means "which one", but let's understand it a bit more:

What do ...? What does...?

Questions that start like that are formed with
QUÉ + VERB

What do you think? - ¿Qué piensas (tú)?
What does she want? - ¿Qué quiere (ella)?

This is asking what someone thinks, wants, etc in general, considering all options possible.
So the answer could go like this:

  • Pienso que es mala idea / Pienso que tengo hambre
    I think it's bad idea / I think I'm hungry

  • Ella quiere un trabajo mejor / Ella quiere una barra de pan
    She wants a better job / she wants a bread loaf

Which one do...? / Which one does ...?

CUÁL + VERB

In the moment when we want to ask for a more specific thing, we use "cuál".
The options here are limited.

That's why I CAN'T ever ask ¿Cuál piensas? - which one do you think?

(If I ask that in English I'd be adding something like "which one do you think ...you'll want tomorrow")

but I can ask ¿Cuál quieres? - which one do you want?

Choosing from a selection or a limited number of options.

If the thing is plural you'll say cuáles

¿Cuáles quieres? - which oneS do you want?

What thing do...?/does...?

Always use qué before a noun.

This is, if our sentence is like the previous but we use a noun:

¿Qué casa te gusta? - What house do you like?
¿Qué naranjas quieres? - What oranges do you want?

You could translate "which house do you like" or "which oranges do you want"... maybe that's confusing?

Think that you can't say "which one house" or "which ones oranges", that's your tip to know it's not cuál.

Even if you're choosing from a limited group of houses or types of oranges, you use qué every time anyway.

We're already mentioning the "thing" so we don't need more help to know we're talking about something specific.

Asking for definition or meaning

In both of these cases the person asking asks for a meaning or definition out of all meanings and definitions out there...so we use qué:

Asking for a definition.
Qué + Ser

Usually the "ser" verb is in "it is" form:
¿Qué es? - what is it?

Asking for a meaning
¿Qué significa? - What does it mean?

Conclusion

Qué - What

  • Before a verb- asking about something out of all possible options
  • Always before a noun
  • In it's common phrases below

Cuál - which one (no just "which")

  • Before a verb - Asking about something out of a limited group of options
  • In it's common phrases below

Common phrases with "cuál"

¿Cuál es...

... tu ___ favorito/a? - your favourite...?
... la capital de...? - the capital of...?
... el problema? - the problem?
... la solución? - the solution?
... la palabra? - the word? ... tu dirección/teléfono? - your address/phone number?
... tu nombre? - your name?
... tu cumpleaños? - your birthday?
... la fecha de hoy? - the date of today?
... el código? - the code?
... la diferencia? - the difference?
...la primera impresión? - the first impression?

etc.

Common phrases with "qué"

¿Qué más? - what else?
¿Qué hora/día/mes/año es? - What time/day/month/year it is?
¿Qué tiempo hace? - What is the weather like?

Practice

Choose between "qué" and "cuál/cuáles" to fill in the gaps.
You won't have the translation of the gap.

1- ¿_____ perfume usas?
____ perfume do you use?

2- Hay muchos coches,¿ ____ es el tuyo?
There are a lot of cars, _ is yours?

3- ¿_____ es tu dirección?
_ is your address?

4- ¿_______ quieres para cenar?
_ do you want for dinner?

5- ¿_______ bolso te gusta más?
__ handbag do you like the most?

6- Tengo cajas grandes y pequeñas, _______ quieres?
I have big and small boxes, _____ do you want?

7- ¿A _____ hora es el cine?
At _____ time is the cinema?

8- ¿______ es tu animal favorito?
__ is your favourite animal?

9- Entre pasta y arroz, ¿_____ prefieres?
Between pasta and rice, ______ do you prefer?

10 -¿______ quieres aprender en esta clase?
_ do you want to learn in this lesson?


Sol:qué/cuál/cuál/qué/qué/cuáles/qué/cuál/cuál/qué

Hope that helped!

¡Hasta pronto! :)