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If you’ve taken any any basic Spanish course (including ours), you will have learned that aside from ¿Cómo te llamas? (how do you call yourself?) another way to ask for someone’s name is ¿Cuál es tu nombre? (Which is your name?)

Hmm… “which” is your name. That’s a little weird.

 

So when do we use cuál (which) or qué (what)?

The main difference is how much you already know.

 

Cuál and Cuáles implies you are asking someone to choose between a set amount of options that you have already identified.

e.g.

  • ¿Cuál lápiz es el tuyo? – Which pencil is yours? (we have a group of pencils and I’m asking you to identify which of them is yours)
  • ¿Cuáles chuches quieres? – Which candies do you want? (we have some candies and I’m asking you to identify which ones you want)
  • ¿Cuál te gusta? – Which one do you like?
  • ¿Cuáles te gustan? – Which ones do you like?
  • ¿Cuál es? – Which is it?
  • ¿Cuáles son? – Which are they?

 

Qué implies you are not choosing between a set amount of options that you have already identified .

e.g.

  • ¿Qué quieres comer? – What do you want to eat? (You can choose anything)
  • ¿Qué es? – What is it? (I have no idea, so you have to tell me.)

 

You might be thinking that yeah, this part makes sense, but what about ¿Cuál es tu nombre? and that part’s a little harder to explain. You would use cuál with many basic personal information questions:

  • ¿Cuál es tu nombre? – What’s your name?
  • ¿Cuál es tu apellido? – What’s your last name?
  • ¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono? – What’s your phone number?
  • ¿Cuál es tu dirección? – What’s your address?

 

My best explanation is that you know (or at least you’re assuming) that the person has a first name, last name, phone number, address, etc. You’re asking them to identify their specific name/number/address for you.

 

Hope this helps!

¡Buena suerte con todo!