Spanish Interrogatives - Words We Use to Ask Questions
Interrogatives are words that we use to ask questions. How would we say the following in Spanish?
- Who has the money?
In Spanish the correct form of the question would be "¿Quién tiene el dinero?" Notice that we are asking who is doing something. In this case, there is no real action involved, just possession, but we are dealing with the identity of the subject of the verb "has".
Now let's look at another question.
- Who (whom) did you see?
We would have to take into consideration that we are not asking who is doing the seeing, but rather, who is the person that was seen. We want to know the identity of the direct object of the verb "see".
If I say "I saw the movie", I would say in Spanish, "Yo vi la película".
If I say "I saw the girl", in Spanish I would have to say, "Yo vi a la chica". We use the preposition "a" before a noun which is the direct object of the verb if it is PERSONAL (has a personal identity).
The same thing happens when we ask the question. In the example given above, we would have to say,...
"¿A quién viste?" We have to place the preposition "a" before the interrogative word "quién" to show that it is the direct object in the sentence. Let's practice making the distinction by doing the following examples. Would we use "quién" or "a quién" in each of the following questions?
- Who is the smartest boy in the class?
- Who is going to the party with Mary?
- Who helped you with your math assignment?
- Who did you help with the math assignment?
Now let's look at the use of the word "who" or "whom" when we use prepositions. Just like the case of the direct object, most Americans don't really use "whom" with prepositions, although this is considered the proper form since it is an object.
In English many people would ask, "Who did you buy the gift for?" The English teacher would tell you that the proper form of the question should be, "For whom did you buy the gift?" This is exactly the pattern that we would follow in Spanish. Notice the following translation.
"¿Para quién compraste el regalo?"
Let's look at another example. Modern English speaking American young people would probably ask this question in the following way. "Who did you go to the party with?" Again, the "proper" (old traditional) pattern for the question in English would be, "With whom did you go to the party?" "¿Con quién fuiste a la fiesta?"
In Spanish the word "what" is "qué". In Spanish the question "what" is somewhat more limited than in English. In Spanish when we ask "what" we have not yet identified the nature of the person or thing. For example, if I ask, "What do you have in the box?", I don't know if it's a coin, a piece of chewing gum, or a rock. I don't really have a particular NOUN in mind when I ask the question. The same kind of question can be asked in Spanish. "¿Qué tienes en la caja?" I am not thinking about any particular kind of thing. I am asking you for an explanation of the nature of the item that you have in the box. This is the important idea. Now, let's look at some other examples where we might use "what" in English, but which would NOT use "qué" in Spanish.
- "What is your social security number?"
- "What is your phone number?"
- "What is your address?"
- "What is the date?"
Have you caught the idea? I'm not asking you to explain to me what your social security number is. I know WHAT it is. What I really want to know is WHICH ONE is yours? The same thing is true with the phone number question. If I asked "qué", it really sounds odd in Spanish - I don't want an explanation. How about the following question.......
What is your favorite color?
Would you use "qué" or "cuál"? The question would be asked using "cuál".
Now we come to the question of "where?". The basic word "where" in Spanish is "dónde". Let's see an example of how it's used.
"Where is the church?"
"¿Dónde está la iglesia?"
Let's take a look at another question.
"Where are you going?"
It would seem that we could just follow the same pattern, but if we did so, we would be making a mistake. When there is a verb which expresses movement from one place to another, in Spanish we have to include the preposition "to" which is "a" in the question. In this case, we may find that the current habit that many native English speakers have of saying, "Where are you going to?" might be helpful.
"Adónde vas?" Notice that the preposition "a" is added to the word "dónde" much the same as a prefix, that is it is connected to the front of the word. This is not true with all prepositions. Take a look at the following example, noticing that in English you would use "from" but most people would put it at the end of the sentence.
"Where are you coming from?"
"¿De dónde vienes?" You may be getting the idea that in Spanish we really DON'T end sentences with a preposition, and for the most part that is correct. Here is another example.
"¿Por dónde fuiste?", translates to, "Through where did you go?" In other words, what route did you take to get there?