What vs Which in Spanish: qué vs cuál + verb

To ask what or which in Spanish we use qué and cuál respectively. 

Learn about qué + verb in Spanish

We use qué followed by a verb when we are asking something "general". For example:

 
¿Qué quieres?What do you want?

Possible answers to this could be, for example:

Quiero tomar un café.
I want to have a coffee.

Quiero churros con chocolate.
I want churros with chocolate.

We also use qué with the verb ser or significar seeking a "definition". For example:

- ¿Qué es la "paella"? - La paella es un plato típico de Valencia.- What is "paella"? - Paella is a typical dish from Valencia.

¿Qué significa "guapo" en español? What does "guapo" mean in Spanish?

¿Qué son las "corridas de toros"?What are "corridas de toros"?

The answers to these questions imply some sort of definition. 

 

Learn about cuál + verb in Spanish

We use cuál followed by a verb when we select something from a pre-defined group. For example:

Two people talking about flowers:

Te gustan mucho las flores, ¿cuál es tu flor favorita?You really like flowers, which is your favourite flower?

Two people in front of a stall selling bracelets:

Voy a regalarte una pulsera, ¿cuál prefieres?I'm going to buy you a bracelet, which one do you prefer?

Two people choosing which film to watch (from a selection):

En el cine hay una película de miedo y una película romántica, ¿cuál vemos?At the cinema there's a horror film and a romantic film, which one shall we watch?

 

The plural of cuál 

The plural of cuál is cuáles. If we are selecting something that is a plural noun or selecting more than one thing out of a group, we use the plural cuáles and use the verb in plural:

Looking at different items in a shop:

Hay tomates rojos y tomates verdes, ¿cuáles son mejores para la ensalada?There are red tomatoes and green tomatoes, which ones are better for the salad?

Quiero comprar unas gafas de sol en esta tienda, ¿cuáles compro?I want to buy some sunglasses from this shop, which ones shall I buy?

We are selecting here something that is plural (tomates, gafas) out of a selection that we see in front of us.

The difference between asking with qué and asking with cuál/cuáles is that the latter is asking about something specific from a predetermined group of items. Qué is for general questions where there is no predefined selection. Here are two simple contrasting examples:

¿Qué necesitas?
What do you need? [in general]

¿Cuál necesitas?
Which one do you need? [specific, from a selection of predefined items]

Both qué and cuál are used here as interrogatives, so they always need the written accent: ¿qué...? ¿cuál...?

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Examples and resources

¿Qué son las "corridas de toros"?What are "corridas de toros"?
¿Qué pones normalmente en tu ensalada? What do you normally put in your salad?
En el cine hay una película de miedo y una película romántica, ¿cuál vemos?At the cinema there's a horror film and a romantic film, which one shall we watch?
¿Qué significa "guapo" en español? What does "guapo" mean in Spanish?
¿Qué quieres?What do you want?
Te gustan mucho las flores, ¿cuál es tu flor favorita?You really like flowers, which is your favourite flower?
- ¿Qué es la "paella"? - La paella es un plato típico de Valencia.- What is "paella"? - Paella is a typical dish from Valencia.
Hay tomates rojos y tomates verdes, ¿cuáles son mejores para la ensalada?There are red tomatoes and green tomatoes, which ones are better for the salad?
¿Qué vamos a cenar esta noche?What are we having for dinner tonight?
Voy a regalarte una pulsera, ¿cuál prefieres?I'm going to buy you a bracelet, which one do you prefer?
¿Qué estás haciendo?What are you doing?
Quiero comprar unas gafas de sol en esta tienda, ¿cuáles compro?I want to buy some sunglasses from this shop, which ones shall I buy?
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