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I’ve checked several sources, including Wiktionary and SpanishDict, and understand the basic construction, which was obvious to me prior: cual + quiera. Why was that particular form of “querer” chosen? Quiera is the present tense in subjunctive mood (unlikely that it was the imperative form, correct?), for the first, second formal, and third person. When the word was originally conceived, what was the specific form that was chosen and why? Was it “which[ever] you [may] want”, “which[ever] he/she (abstract singular ‘they’) may want”?

Was “which[ever] it [may] be (that would be something like ‘cualsea’, innit?)” ever considered? And I see that there already exists phrasal ‘cual sea’, so is it a synonym and how widely is it used?

Obviously, I use “may” here very loosely to make English variant translations sound better, but my grasp of Spanish subjunctive is next to non-existent, so, forgive me, por favor, for the lack of understanding on that part.

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    It's not easy. The common forms are cualquiera, cualquier, cualesquiera and cualesquier. In some cases cualquiera or cualquier are not related by gender. Namely, Esto terminará en cualquier momento (momento is masculine), however Esto terminará en cualquier situación. (situación is feminine.) – Alejandro Feb 16 '16 at 1:50
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    @Ustanak, well, the reference tells us that cualquiera is the full form with no gender distinction and cualquier is the short version (with the usage depending on relative position). Same with plural forms (cuales instead of cual). So the variance has no bearing on original etymology of cual + quiera. – theUg Feb 16 '16 at 2:17
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In the Middle Ages the original whichever, wherever, whoever... were deprecated (I don't know if because they were too complex: qualiscumque), and they began putting the verb querer (want, from Latin quaerere) after the already existing qual, do, quien: qualquier, doquier, quienquier.

At first you could break it into qual cosa quier, but what has reached us is a unity: cualquier cosa.

It's not strange to refer to what is wanted in other Romance languages:

All of them use a 3rd person singular of want. In the case of Catalan and Italian, the want part comes from a different Latin verb: volere, with the same meaning. Why was one verb or the other chosen to convey the same meaning in Romance, is a whole story by itself.

Edit. Sometimes you do find the solution that sounds more intuitive to you: Italian qualsiasi (whatever it is), for example.

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  • Really nice and detailed answer – Ferran Buireu Feb 18 '16 at 8:12

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