Often "qué" is translated to English as "what" and "cuál" is translated as "which." However, I know that this is not always the case. Here are some examples. (Please correct me if I am wrong.)

  • "Which book do you prefer?" / "¿Qué libro prefieres?"
  • "What is your favorite color?" / "¿Cuál es tu color favorito?" ("Qué" cannot be used here.)

Are there any principles that I could follow to determine when to use "qué" and when to use "cuál"?


A menudo "qué" se traduce al inglés como "what" y "cuál" se traduce como "which". Sin embargo, sé que esto no siempre es el caso. Aquí hay algunos ejemplos. (Por favor, corregidme si estoy equivocado).

  • "Which book do you prefer?" / "¿Qué libro prefieres?"
  • "What is your favorite color?" / "¿Cuál es tu color favorito?" ("Qué" no se puede usar aquí.)

¿Hay algún principio que pueda seguir para determinar cuándo usar "qué" y cuando usar "cuál"?

  • Actually, "¿Cuál libro prefieres?" would be ok too
    – juan
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 21:17
  • Isn't the basic guideline whether or not there are a finite number of choices? E.g. cuál is used when there is a group of things to choose from, such as colors Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 21:26
  • "cual es tu color favorito?" could be translated into "witch one is your favorite color?" Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 21:48
  • 1
    @pleasedontbelong, I think that is a good point, but in English, "Which one is your favorite color" is generally used only when there are certain colors in mind. (Or at least, this is how it feels to me.) For example, "Among red, green, and blue, which one is your favorite color?"
    – Alan C
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 21:52
  • 1
    «¿Cuál es el numero de tu cel?» (Not qué) Because there are only 10,000,000,000 possible numbers, I guess. -- Most usages are simply by convention and you have to memorize them.
    – Brian
    Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 2:59

4 Answers 4



The difference is not very clear and borders on the idiomatic, but I'd say that cuál implies that there is a known set of options from which to choose, while qué is more general. So ¿Cuál libro prefieres? implies that there are a couple of books in front of you and you need to choose from those.


La diferencia no está muy clara y ronda en lo idiomático, pero diría que "cuál" implica que hay un conjunto conocido de opciones de entre los que elegir, mientras que "qué" es más general. Entonces, "¿cuál libro prefieres?" implica que hay un par de libros delane de ti y necesitas escoger entre ellos.

  • 1
    I think "known set of options from which to choose" doesn't really explain why one should say "¿Cuál es tu problema?" instead of "¿Qué es tu problema?", since no one chooses a problem from some known set of problems.
    – Andy
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 19:44
  • @Andy: indeed, my answer is just a rule of thumb, not an absolute rule. The other answers mention that "cuál" goes in front of a verb, which sounds right to me, though I'm sure that with some thought one can find exceptions.
    – Javier
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 19:49

When it precedes a noun, the rule is simple: use "qué". "Cuál" is traditionally considered incorrect (though apparently common nonetheless) in this case.

Otherwise, it's probably being followed by a form of "ser". In this case, you want "cuál" unless you are seeking a definition.

"¿Qué es el color?" — "What is color?" (i.e., what sort of thing is color?)

"¿Cuál es el color?" — "What color is it?"

"¿Qué es un número de teléfono?" — What's a phone number?

"¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono?" — What's your phone number?

  • 2
    Cuál is considered fine, and most common, IIRC, in Caribbean Spanish. I'm not sure I've ever seen it mentioned as incorrect, just less common Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 13:18

As I understand, que is used commonly for definition, where cual refers to selecting or identifying.

¿Qué es el mate? Es una infusion que se bebe en Uruguay, en Paraguay y en Argentina.

¿Cuál es la moneda de México? El peso mexicano.

¿Qué es una galaxia? Un immenso conjunto de estrellas, gas, y polvo.

¿Cuál es la galaxia más cercana a la Vía Lactea? Andrómeda.

Things are not always so clear cut though it seems. My spanish notes refer to a mode of use 'Que + Noun' when referring to objects or things, with using Cual to omit the noun:

¿Qué biquini compro para Pedro?

No sé. ¿Cuál es el más barato?


The word que means "what", but can also be interposed for "which". The first example could easily be expressed as: "Cuál libro prefieres?" "De qué color es su carro?" So both words can be interposed but with delicacy though.

You would though have to examine the subject of the sentence to decide. However generally speaking, Que means "what" and Cuál means "which" so you do have to be careful of the sentence structure as the adjective comes before the subject in Spanish as opposed to the opposite in sentence structure in English where the noun precedes the adjective, verb, or adverb.

Sentence structure in Spanish generally is inverse to English so you first have to determine the nature of both the object and the subject of the sentence conjunctively in order to facilitate proper placement of complementary words which must be placed first in Spanish in order to either provide direction, or description. So, have at it and don't forget to think it out, before you whip it out.

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