16 Asking questions
Yes / No question formation
A “yes / no question” is simply a question that elicits a yes or no response. There are several ways to ask “yes / no questions” in Spanish:
When a speaker makes a statement (a declarative sentence), it is natural for the voice to fall, or trail off, at the end of the sentence.
|Statement||Julia estudia en casa. ↓||Julia studies at home. ↓|
|Statement||Tú bailas con tus amigos. ↓||You dance with your friends. ↓|
A declarative sentence in Spanish can be made into question without changing the word order simply by using a rising intonation of the voice at the end of the sentence. OJO: Remember, Spanish doesn’t use auxiliaries (do/does) for question formation.
|Question||¿Julia estudia en casa? ↑||Does Julia study at home? ↑|
|Question||¿Tú bailas con tus amigos? ↑||Do you dance with your friends? ↑|
For written Spanish, a question begins with an upside-down question mark (¿) and ends with a regular one at the end of the question.
Subject / verb inversion
Another way to form a “yes / no question” is to invert the subject (s) and verb (v) word order of a declarative sentence. Look again at the statement “Julia studies at home”:
The subject can appear at the very end of the question as well:
|s at end||Verb||Subject|
Adding tag questions
A third way of asking a “yes / no question” is to add at tag at the end of a statement. Tags are simple phrases that attempt to confirm what was just stated. Examples in English include: don’t you? / isn’t he? / right?, among others.
|Julia estudia en casa, ¿verdad?||Julia studies at home, right?|
|Tú bailas con tus amigos, ¿no?||You dance with your friends, don’t you?|
OJO: To answer a “yes / no question” in the negative in Spanish, the word “no” is typically used twice because there is no equivalent for the word “not” in English. The first “no” answers the question and the second is the equivalent of “not”:
|¿Estudia Julia en casa?||Does Julia study at home?|
|No, no estudia en casa.||No, she does not study at home.|
Of course, it’s not always necessary to respond fully as in the previous example—one could simply respond with “no”.
Forming information questions
Questions that elicit specific information differ from “yes / no questions” in that there is no rise in voice at the end of the question. To form information questions, we need some new vocabulary:
|¿Cuál?||Which? Which one?||¿De dónde?||Where from?|
|¿Cuáles?||Which ones?||¿Por qué?||Why?|
|¿Cuánto/a?||How much?||¿A qué hora?||At what time?|
To make questions, begin with the interrogative word and then form a statement by conjugating the verb. Again, Spanish does not have an equivalent of the auxiliaries “do/does” and “am/is/are”; it is sufficient to conjugate the verb ending that corresponds to the subject. As we saw previously, subjects can follow conjugated verbs when forming questions. Compare the examples that follow.
|¿Cuándo estudian Javier y Daniela?||When do Javier and Daniela study?|
|¿Adónde viajas tú?||Where do you travel (to)?|
|¿Por qué trabajamos con ellos?||Why are we working with them?|
|¿Cuántas horas trabaja Eduardo?||How many hours does Eduardo work?|
|¿Quién es ella?||Who is she?|
|¿Cuál de los dos te gusta?||Which of the two do you like?|
|¿Qué necesitan los niños?||What do the kids need?|
|¿Cuánto es?||How much is it?|
|¿Cómo es?||How is it?|
OJO: For written Spanish, all interrogative words have a written accent over one of the vowels. These written accents are a visual indicator to the reader that a question is coming. The accented vowels for question words will always be “á / é / ó”, and not “í / ú” (although other words can have an accented “í / ú”). For two syllable question words (¿cuán-do?) the accented vowel always occurs in the first syllable.
¿Cómo se dice…?:
Let’s practice making questions: use the interrogative words from the above and -ar ending verbs to translate the sentences below. Ojo: Remember, don’t be thrown off by auxiliaries (do/does) and the -ing form of verbs; just conjugate the main verb needed according to the subject of each question. Some vocabulary you might need:
Por = per / tiempo = time / matemáticas = math / you guys = Uds.
- Where does Marta work?
- How many hours do they study per day?
- What time do you have breakfast (tú)?
- Who teaches the math class?
- Why do you guys ask?
- What is he looking for?
- Who are you guys?
- How much time do we need?
- ¿Dónde trabaja Marta?
- ¿Cuántas horas estudian ellos por día?
- ¿A qué hora desayunas tú?
- ¿Quién enseña la clase de matemáticas?
- ¿Por qué preguntan Uds.?
- ¿Qué busca él?
- ¿Quiénes son Uds.?
- ¿Cuánto tiempo necesitamos?