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What is the difference between "¿Qué…?" and "¿De qué…? when asking a question? I am not asking about the differences between qué and que when making affirmations as I understand the use of 'that' and 'which'.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to respond to my question (:

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The answer to a "¿De qué...?" is a noun or noun phrase preceded by the preposition "de", and the answer to a "¿Qué...?" question is not preceded by the preposition "de".

Intuitively, "¿Qué...?" means "What...?" and "¿De qué...?" means "About what...?" or "Of what...?" or "From what...?". However, in English the preposition in questions usually comes at the end, so "¿De qué...?" is usually "What ... about?" or "What ... of?" or "What ... from?".

Examples

  • ¿Qué tienes ahí? -- Mis llaves.
    What do you have there? -- My keys.

  • ¿De qué estás hablando? -- (Estoy hablando) de tu trabajo
    What are you talking about? -- (I am talking about) Your work.

  • ¿De qué tienes miedo? -- (Tendo miedo) de su reacción
    What are you afraid of? -- (I am afraid of) her reaction.

Note how the answer to "¿De qué...?" has "de" before the actual noun or noun phrase that answers the question. The intuitive check that the English translation of the question has a preposition at the end may not always work, as there may be verbs that require the preposition de in Spanish but require no preposition in English. An example of this is "olvidarse de algo" (forget something):

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  • Good answer. Could you please provide an example of what you mention at the end, that is, a verb in English requiring no preposition but being translated into Spanish with a preposition "de" after it? I cannot come up with any example of my own and tend to think that a preposition will always be required (not necessarily "of" or "about", but perhaps "at": What are you laughing at? = ¿De qué te estás riendo?)
    – Gustavson
    Feb 15 at 0:17
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    @Gustavson I added that caveat mostly as a defensive move, as I could not come up with examples either. But I guess you can have "¿De qué te has olvidado esta vez?" : "What have you forgotten this time?"
    – wimi
    Feb 15 at 7:12
  • Excellent example!
    – Gustavson
    Feb 15 at 12:24

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