Spanish Language Hacking: A Brief Explanation on Qué vs. Cuál

Want to ask about someone's preference. Use "¿Qué color de zapatos prefieres?" for "What color shoes do you prefer?"

Learning Spanish? Perhaps you have been taught that qué means what and cuál means which. Yes, that’s right. It’s also wrong. That explains why you still have the two confused. No more. Here’s to simplicity on your language journey

Uses of qué & cuál with a noun

  • Options and preferences, qué + noun. When asking to choose between options and the noun is mentioned, use qué. ¿Qué color de zapatos prefieres, el negro o el marrón? – What color shoes do you prefer, black or brown? ¿Qué vinos te gustan? – Which wines do you like? 
  • Cuál is not used with a noun. 

Uses of qué & cuál with verb ser

  • Definition, qué + verb ser. Don’t know what bachata is? A ranchera? Use qué. ¿Qué es la bachata? – What is bachata. ¿Qué son las rancheras? – What are rancheras. Qué + verb ser is only used to define.
  • When not asking for a definition, cuál + ser. If you are asking “what is…” something but you are NOT asking for a definition of it, use cuál. This applies to asking someone’s name, profession, favorite travel destination, or even the capital of a country. ¿Cuál es tu nombre? – What is your name?; ¿Cuál es tu profesión? – What is your profession?; ¿Cuál es la capital de Paraguay? – What is the capital of Paraguay


Uses of qué & cuál with other verbs

  • With options, implied noun, cuál + any other verb. When asking to choose between options and the noun is implied, but not mentioned, use cuál. ¿Cuál quieres? – Which do you want? We can assume that the speaker is either looking at the object he is referring to or that the object has been mentioned in the context of the conversation. Another example: ¿Cuál necesitas? – Which do you need? If we look at the above examples under qué, when asking for the color of shoes, we can ask “¿Cuál prefieres?” and not mention the shoes. When asking about the wines, we could ask “¿Cuáles te gustan? and not mention the wines.
  • Without options, qué + any other verb. If you are referring to something more generalized, use qué and the verb. ¿Qué necesitas? – What do you need?; ¿Qué quieres? – What do you want? – ¿Qué estás cantando? – What are you singing?


Exercises with qué and cuál

Now that you know the differences, try these examples. First try to do them without looking at the translation. 

  1. Yo sé que te gusta la comida peruana. ¿__________ es tu plato favorito? – I know you like Peruvian food. What’s your favorite dish?
  2. ¿__________ haces en tu tiempo libre? – What do you do in your free time?
  3. ¿__________ es tu motivación para aprender español? – What’s your motivation for learning Spanish?
  4. ¿__________ te motiva a aprender español? – What motivates you to learn Spanish?
  5. ¿Es el nuevo jefe? ¿__________ es su nombre? – He’s the new boss? What is his name?
  6. ¿__________ es tu libro preferido? – What is your favorite book?
  7. ¿__________ libro prefieres? – What book do you prefer? 
  8. ¿__________ te gusta más, trabajar o bailar? – What do you enjoy more, working or dancing? 😉
  9. ¿__________ son las sevillanas? ¿Son como el flamenco? – What are the sevillanas? Are they like flamenco?
  10. ¿__________ quieres decir? – What do you mean?/What do you want to say?

Answers: 1. cuál; 2. qué; 3. cuál; 4. qué; 5. cuál; 6. cuál; 7. qué; 8. qué; 9. qué; 10. qué


Don’t miss out on my articles on por vs. para and ser vs. estar.

Share this article with your network :

Learn a new language with Diáfano

Tell us a little bit about what you're looking for with this quick form. We will be in touch soon.

* indicates required
expert linguist and language teacher irma cedeno
Irma Cedeno



(48 Reviews)

About Instructor

Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.


For those with no prior experience with Spanish. 9-week course.

For those who can hold a minimal conversation in Spanish, ask for directions, etc.

For those who are conversational and can express emotions in Spanish

For those who are conversational and can express emotions in Spanish. The course is designed to get you to full fluency.

Upcoming Courses

May 1st - May 30th
Advanced Beginner
May 1st - May 30th
May 1st - May 30th
May 1st - May 30th