The difference between Qué and Cuál in Spanish is usually an issue of concern to students of Spanish whose native language is English and who can’t do a literal translation into their own language. In this lesson we will take a look at the differences between the two words.

Firstly, let´s see what happens with the verb SER.

Qué es: this form implies the question for a definition.

¿Qué es un gato?/ What is a cat?

Un gato es un animal felino y pequeño, que suele tenerse como mascota. / A cat is a feline and small animal, usually taken as a pet.

Cuál es: This is a question for an election. From a homogeneous group, you have a choice. You want to know a name.

¿Cuál es tu película favorita? (from all the possible films)/ What is your favorite movie?

Mi película favorita es Terminator./ My favorite movie is Terminator.

¿Cuál es la capital de Argentina? (from all the possible capitals)/ What is the capital of Argentina?

La capital de Argentina es Buenos Aires./ The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires

¿Cuál es tu nombre? (from a long list of possible names)/ Which is your name?

Mi nombre es Anna./ My name is Anna.

When the question is “cuál es” you should only respond with an option, but this question has a version in plural, where you can respond with more than one option.

¿Cuáles son tus libros favoritos?/ What are your favorite books?

Mis libros favoritos son “Cien años de Soledad” y “13,99 euros”. My favorites books are “Cien años de Soledad” and “13,99 euros”.

¿Cuáles son los colores que más te gustan?/ What are the colors you like the most?

Los colores que más me gustan son el rojo y el azul./ The colors I like the most are the red and blue.

Qué + Verb

When I ask: ¿Qué quieres tomar?/ What do you want to drink?, I am not giving you options, you can answer anything from an heterogeneous group: café (coffe), leche (milk), agua (water), cerveza (beer), licuado de frutilla (strawberry smoothie), etc.

Or: ¿Qué cocinamos, pizza o empanadas?/ What should we cook, pizza or empanadas?

Cuál + Verb

When I ask you: ¿Cuál prefieres?/ Which do you prefer?, I have some options for you, and I´m showing these from a table or I have them in my hands: ¿Cuál prefieres, ésta o ésta?/ Which do you prefer, this or this?

We can ask the same using Qué + the noun + Verb.

¿Qué bebida prefieres?/ What drink do you prefer?

¿Qué color te gusta más?/ What color do you like more?