I have seen the word "what" used as qué
, lo que
in the Spanish language. How does a person know when to use the correct version of "what"?
Answer: It depends on how the word is being used.
Qué as "what": Most of the time, in a variety of uses, qué is a good translation for "what." Here are a few examples:
Cuál for "which one":
- ¿Qué hora es? What time is it?
- ¡Qué mujer! What a woman!
- ¿Qué es la verdad? What is the truth?
- No sé qué hacer con mi vida. I don't know what to do with my life.
- ¿Qué es la ONU? What is the U.N.?
- ¿Qué pasa? What's happening?
As a pronoun, cuál
is used to say "what" when it means "which one" or "which ones."
- ¿Cuál prefieres? Which/what one do you prefer?
- ¿Cuáles prefieres? Which/what do you prefer?
- ¿Cuál vas a comprar? Which/what are you going to buy?
is used as a pronoun where a choice of some sort is implied, even though "which" wouldn't work in English. There's no clear rule on these, but as you learn the language the word choice will seem natural.
Qué or cuál as an adjective meaning "what":
- ¿Cuál es el problema? What is the problem? (Literal translation: Which is the problem?)
- ¿Cuál es su motivación? What is his motive? (Literal translation: Which is his motive?)
As an adjective (that is, before a noun) to mean "what," qué
is usually used, although cuál
is used in some regions or by some speakers. Qué
is almost always the safer choice; cuál
might be considered substandard in some areas.
Lo que meaning "that which": Lo que
- ¿Qué (cuál) manzana prefieres? Which/what apple do you prefer?
- ¿Qué (cuáles) camisas vas a comprar? Which/what shirts are you going to buy?
can be translated as "what" when it means "that which." This is especially common when "what" is the subject of a statement in English.
Cómo meaning "what": Cómo
- Lo que me dijo es una mentira. What (that which) he told me is a lie.
- Lo que me enoja es su actitud hacia mi madre. What (that which) makes me mad is his attitude toward my mother.
is seldom used to mean "what," except as an interjection expressing incredulity. In some areas, ¿cómo?
is used to ask someone to say something over again, although in some other areas it can be considered mildly rude .
- ¡Cómo! No lo creo. What! I don't believe it.
- ¡Cómo! No puede ser. What! It can't be.
- ¿Cómo? What did you say?