How to build questions in Spanish?

A group of friends laughing and talking.

Interrogative sentences in Spanish are used for asking questions, and they are built differently than English. Plus, the format of your question will warrant a different type of answer: a yes/no answer, or an answer that requires more than that. 

Interrogative sentences can have different classifications, as follows:
  1. Yes/no interrogatives (For example: ¿Quieres comer? Do you want to eat?)
  2. Choice interrogatives (For example: ¿Qué quieres comer? What do you want to eat?)

In this post, we will go over how to build different types of interrogatives in Spanish. Are you ready to rock and roll? Let’s check out interrogative sentences in Spanish and how to build them!

If you want to know more about general Spanish word order, check out our post on the basics of Spanish sentence structure.

Table of Contents

For a review of grammar terms used in this post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end of the post.

How to form yes/no interrogatives in Spanish?

Yes/no interrogatives (AKA closed interrogatives) do not have an interrogative pronoun or adverb. In Spanish, they usually have the same structure as a declarative sentence (subject verb object). What’s most important with these interrogatives is that in order to distinguish them from statements, in speech you’ll need to raise your intonation at the end of the question. And, in writing, you’ll need to use the interrogation signs (¿ and ?) at the beginning and end of your question!

Check out this example of a yes/no interrogative:

Estela come papas fritas con malteadas de vainilla. 
Estela eats french fries with vanilla milkshakes.
↳ add interrogation signs!
                     
¿Estela come papas fritas con malteadas de vainilla? → Intonation rises at the end!
Does Estela eat french fries with vanilla milkshakes?

IMPORTANT

In Spanish there is no need for a helping word like English “does” or “do,” as these are already embedded in the conjugated verb and the intonation.

There are two more ways of building yes/no interrogatives:

  • Subjectverb inversion

    With this method, the conjugated verb goes at the beginning of the question, followed by the subject, and then the rest of the question.
    Examples:

    ¿Ana llega mañana? → invert the subject and the verb!
    ¿Llega Ana mañana? → don’t forget your intonation!
    Does Ana arrive tomorrow?

    ¿Tu amiga te pagó los boletos? → invert the subject and the verb!
    ¿Te pagó tu amiga los boletos? → don’t forget your intonation!
    Did your friend pay you for the tickets?

⤷TIP: Don’t forget that Spanish tends to drop the subject pronoun. If the subject isn’t present, then this method won’t work.

Subject – verb inversion is the preferred method to ask yes/no questions in Spanish, because the inversion tells you it is a question and not a statement. Without inversion, the listener has to rely on the speaker’s intonation to know that it’s a question, or on the question marks when writing.

  • Question tag

    A question tag is used when the speaker is asking for confirmation or denial of a statement. The expectation is that the listener will be in agreement with the speaker. To build these, you will need to create a basic statement, then end it with the question tag, surrounded by the interrogation signs.
    Some useful question tag words are the following:
¿Cierto?
Right?
¿No es cierto?
Isn’t that so?
¿No?
No?
¿Verdad?
Right? 

Examples:

Tú no comes comida con gluten, ¿verdad?
You do not eat food with gluten, right?
Estela va al cine con nosotros, ¿no?
Estela is going to the movies with us, no?

How to form choice interrogatives in Spanish?

Choice interrogatives are formed using interrogative words such as qué (what) or dónde (where). In writing, do not forget to use interrogation signs (¿ and ?) at the beginning and end of your question and add the accent on the question word! There are two types of choice interrogatives (AKA open interrogatives): direct questions, which are your basic run of the mill questions, and indirect questions. For both types, the rule of thumb is to invert the subject and the verb. Let’s take a look at this in detail.

  • Direct questions​

    These questions place an interrogative pronoun (quién (who), qué (what), cuál (which), etc) at the beginning of the question. Direct questions can’t be answered with a yes or no. They require more information.

    The structure of direct questions in Spanish is as follows:

    Interrogative Verb Subject
    ¿Qué hizo Juan?
    What did Juan do?
    ¿Adónde fuiste?
    Where did you go?

IMPORTANT

Remember that Spanish subject pronouns are normally dropped, in which case you won’t have an explicit subject (like in the second example ⇧). However, if you wanted to use the pronoun for emphasis, you would still place it after the verb.

¿Adónde fuiste ?
Where did you go?

⤷ TIP In many Caribbean dialects, the tendency is not only to use the subject pronouns, but also to place them before the verb. 

¿Con quién hablas?
Who are you talking to?

IMPORTANT
  • When the interrogative is combined with a preposition, the preposition always goes before the interrogative: con quién (with whom), a cuál (to which), por qué (why), etc.

¿Con quién fuiste al cine?
Who did you go to the movies with?

  • If you want to use “no,” place it before the verb.

¿Quién no fue?
Who didn’t go?

  • Questions with objects​

    So far we’ve seen short questions, but what if you want to ask a question with a verb that has an object? Building interrogatives with objects can vary in Spanish. The order for the question can be:

    Interrogative Verb Object Subject or it can be Interrogative Verb Subject Object 

    How do you choose what order is best? It’s based on the length of the object. If the object is shorter than the subject, place it before the subject.

    For example:

    ¿Por qué compró los aguacates la compañera de cuarto de tu hermano?
    Why did your brother’s roommate buy the avocados?

    However, if the object is longer than the subject, place it at the end of the question.

    For example:

¿Dónde consiguieron tus papás los ingredientes para el pozole?
Where did your parents find the ingredients for the pozole?

ingredients
  • Indirect questions

    Another way of asking questions is by using indirect or reported speech. Indirect questions are found in subordinate clauses following expressions like: me pregunto… (I wonder), no sé… (I don’t know), no entiendo…(I don’t understand). Indirect questions also use interrogative words (don’t forget the accent!), but don’t require question marks. The word order for indirect questions is as follows (remember this happens in the subordinate clause):

    Main clauseInterrogative Verb Subject 
    Me pregunto por qué no vino Juan.
    I wonder why Juan didn’t come.

    If the subordinate clause contains a complement, simply place it at the end.

    No sabemos dónde puso Luis las llaves. 
    We don’t know where Luis put the keys.

    Me pregunto con quién fue Ana al cine. 
    I wonder with whom Ana went to the movies.

IMPORTANT

In indirect questions, English tends to put the verb at the end: “I don’t know what the best option is.” However, this does not work in Spanish: Yo no sé cuál es la mejor opción.

IMPORTANT
Indirect questions can also be used as yes/no interrogatives. In this case, instead of a question word, use the word “si” (if) at the beginning of the subordinate clause. Unlike typical yes/no questions, this type of indirect questions do not use rising intonation. And, because there is no question word, the word order in the subordinate clause remains Subject + Verb.

El director pregunta si los estudiantes van a llegar temprano.
The principal is asking if the students are going to arrive early.

To sum it up

In Spanish and in English we have very similar types of questions: yes/no, direct, and indirect questions. However, there are some notable differences: the lack of helping words like “do/does” and the inversion between the subject and verb. To summarize:

  1. For yes/no questions, rising intonation is crucial. While you can continue the subject verb pattern, you can also add variety by inverting the subject/verb or by using a tag question at the end of a statement.
  2. Direct questions normally place the interrogative at the beginning followed by verb subject (object). However, depending on the length of the object, you can move it before the subject if it’s short or keep it after the subject if it’s longer than the subject.
  3. Indirect questions live in subordinate clauses, and they still keep the same order of direct questions: Interrogative + Verb + Subject  (Object). However, they do not need question marks, as they follow expressions that imply a question follows.

If you want to practice word order for interrogatives and sentences, check our activities out!

Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar
A subordinate clause is a complement to a sentence’s main clause. It doesn’t express a complete thought, for which it is considered a dependent clause.
Meet The Author:
Author-Britt Marie Solis
Brittmarie Solís
Spanish Teacher
Brittmarie is an experienced Spanish Teacher with an MA in Foreign Language Teaching.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

Extra Resources:

Spanish sentence structure

Activities:

Word order activity

Activities:

Word order activity

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