Five Must-Know Words: How to Say Who, What, Where, When, and Why in Spanish

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Five Must-Know Words: How to Say Who, What, Where, When, and Why in Spanish

Some aspects of communication remain constant across languages. For instance, when you want to find an answer, interrogative words are necessary for an adequate and comprehensive inquiry.

The words who, what, where, when, and why are the key to solving any mystery or dilemma. In Spanish, the words translate as quién, qué, dónde, cuándo, por qué, respectively.

Spanish Dictionaries with Most Used Words

Have you ever thought that learning new vocabulary was boring? Our Spanish Frequency Dictionaries are a great source of information if you want to learn Spanish effectively. You’ll get 10,000 most used words in Spanish listed by frequency and alphabet. Every entry also has an example sentence translated into English, which shows you word usage in context.


How to Say Who, What, Where, When, and Why in Spanish


We’ll look at the main Spanish question words and their usage. Whenever you travel in a Spanish speaking country, you probably have tons of questions to ask the natives. Knowing how to translate and use the basic question words will come in handy!


When to Use Quién in Spanish


The word “who” appears in everyday conversations since we always talk about other people. There are different ways in which it is used; below are the most common areas you are likely to use it in.

It’s pronounced [ˈkjen]. Unlike in English, it also has a plural form quiénes.


  1. This is used when you are asking questions about people; these range from inquiries on who is responsible for something, or who is going somewhere.
  • Quién me llamó? – Who called me?


  1. Sometimes, when you want to add stress to your statements, you use "who" as an emphatic question. These can be used to express any emotion, from excitement to surprise.
  • Quien en la tierra caminó sobre mi piso limpio con barro?Who on earth walked over my clean floor with mud?


  1. It is also used when you are asking indirect questions or making statements. Most of these can be interpreted as prompts to get the correct answer. You can use it when you are unsure of something in both formal and casual situations.
  • No estoy seguro con quien debería hablar. – I am not sure who I should be talking to.
  • Please note that when used as a relative pronoun, quien does not have an accent mark.


  1. When you want to be specific about the person you are talking about, “who” is used to add the defining information. This distinguishes the person responsible over others like them.
  • El chico alto que cruzó la arena es mi alumno.The tall boy who walked across the arena is my student.
  • Please note that in restrictive relative clauses que is used in the meaning of “who.”


How to Translate “What” into Spanish


The translation of “what” is qué. It’s pronounced [ˈke] in the IPA transcription.

Although most appearances of the word “what” in everyday conversation are in questions, there are some usages that can be viewed as rude expressions. Below are several uses of the word.

It is used to ask questions, both direct and indirect ones, and make statements; when you wish to find out the actions and things done or those expected of yourself and others.


Like quien/quién, there is also a difference between qué and que. Que without an accent mark is used as a relative pronoun: No sé lo que quiere.I don’t know what you want.

  • Qué quiere decir?What do you mean?
  • No estoy seguro de lo que esperan de mí.I am not sure what they expect of me.


If you do not understand something that a friend or a relative said, saying "what" is interpreted as a request for them to repeat what they are saying. This should be reserved for informal situations.

  • Lo siento, qué?Sorry, what?


Emphatic statements are used to emphasize the impact of the sentiments shared. In most cases, these can be seen as rude and dismissive.

  • ¿Qué diablos está hacienda?What on earth is she doing?


It is also used to show deep emotions or react to something.

  • Qué hermoso día!What a lovely day!


Sometimes, when you want to figure out the reason for something, we use "what" to inquire about.

  • ¿Qué es todo ese ruido para?What is all that noise for?


How to Say “Where” in Spanish


The word is dónde (in questions and indirect questions) or donde when it is a relative pronoun. You can also use adónde/a dónde or adonde/a donde when it implies direction (to where).


It is used for both direct and indirect questions; when you have inquisitions about the location where you can find something or where a significant event happened.

  • A dónde vas?Where are you going?
  • Le pregunté dónde estaba.I asked her where she was.


When making strong statements, it is used in emphatic questions to express emotions. These can range from joy to sadness and frustration.

  • Dónde diablos está mi teléfono?Where on earth is my phone?


It can also be used as a conjunction to tell more about a place. It relates to a location or situation with an occurrence. In this case, donde doesn’t have an accent mark.

  • Donde tenga que pagar un depósito, asegúrese de obtener un recibo.Where you have to pay a deposit, be sure to get a receipt.


When you wish to be specific about a place, especially when there are many of its kind, you use where as a relative pronoun to give more information and distinguish it from the rest. When donde does not introduce a question, it doesn’t have an accent mark.

  • El cruce, donde le dispararon al ladrón ha sido cerrado por la policía. - The junction where the thief was shot has been closed down by the police.


When to Use “Cuándo”


“When” has different uses in sentences. It is used in questions, like conjunctions, and they introduce relative clauses. In all these, the word "when" is used to refer to the time when something happened. To understand how to use it appropriately, we have provided a breakdown of the different functions.


In (direct and indirect) questions – use this when you want to find out the exact time of occurrence. This applies to both direct and indirect questions.

  • Cuándo llegaste aquí?When did you get here?
  • Me pregunto cuándo llegarán. – I wonder when they’ll arrive.


Conjunction – it is used when referring to the time when something happened or will happen. It is applicable for past, present, and future events.

  • Todos se callaron cuando ella entró en la habitación.Everyone went silent when she walked into the room.

Relative clause
  • Fue entonces cuando se dio cuenta de que estaba condenada. – That is when she realized she was done.


Another use of the word when is in determining the period that something has been happening.

  • Desde cuándo? – Since when?


Most Common Words in Spanish 

Don’t forget to take a look at our Spanish Frequency Dictionaries. You’ll get 10,000 most common words in Spanish together with a translation, pronunciation, and basic grammar information. 10,000 example sentences are a great reading practice, too!


How to Say “Why” in Spanish


The word is por qué. It’s pronounced [porˈke] in the IPA transcription. It is used when probing for reasons and explanations for occurrences. It can also be used to express emotions and our standing towards specific issues.

  •  Reasons – it is ideal for asking for reasons.
      • ¿Por qué está ella aquí?Why is she here?


  • Rhetorical questions, emotions
      • ¿Por qué no te marchas?Why don’t you walk away?
      • ¿Por qué no la apoyaría?Why wouldn’t I support her? 


Don’t confuse por qué with porque, which means “because.”

  • Voy porque quiero. – I’m going because I want to.


You can see that learning how to use question words, such as who, what, where, when, and why in Spanish will help you ask a lot of very important questions. They really are some of the must-know words in any language. If you have any other questions, let us know in the comments below. We'll be more than happy to answer!

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