Words of Power
Interrogative words are words that we use to ask questions. There aren’t a lot of them, but they are powerful words. They are placed at the beginning of a question, as if to raise one’s hand verbally. Some interrogative words are pronouns, others are adverbs, but we shall be dealing with them in terms of their communicative function based on their meanings, not their classification.
The best way to learn them is as vocabulary items, but on a separate list, because these are very important words. They enable you to engage in conversation on either the asking or answering side, as well as to get information.
In English, the famous journalistic formula for writing a news article is a good place to start. Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? The corresponding Spanish interrogatives are ¿Quién? ¿Qué? ¿Cuándo? ¿Dónde? ¿Por qué? and ¿Cómo? The interrogative ¿quién? is pluralized ¿quiénes? if the person asking the question anticipates a plural answer.
Notice that when they are written, they have an accent mark? Also remember that when you write a question in Spanish, an upside down question mark is placed where the question begins. This basic list can be expanded by adding prepositions to them, creating a compound interrogative. By doing so, we can obtain still more information. One oddity is that the Spanish word for because is porque, written as one word and without an accent mark.
Other interrogative words include cuál (which) and cuánto (how much). These too have plurals. ¿Cuáles? is used if the person asking anticipates a plural answer. ¿Cuántos? and ¿cuántas? mean how many?
This is a good time to bring up a rule you can count on 100% of the time. In Spanish, prepositions can never be placed at the end of a sentence as they can be in English. Thus, in order to say, I have no one I can play with, you must say, No tengo nadie con quien puedo jugar. This is important, because if you want to ask a question like Where are you from?, the word from has to precede the interrogative thus: ¿De dónde es Ud.? Here are the most common compound interrogatives in Spanish: ¿De dónde? (From where?) ¿Adónde? (To where?) ¿Con quién? (With whom?) ¿Para quién? (For whom?) ¿A quién? (To whom?)
Learning to give and take in a conversation requires more than passive familiarity with these words. Commit them to memory, use them to create questions with other vocabulary you know and you will become a conversationalist in Spanish.