Have you noticed that all question words in Spanish have accent marks? Those little lines are very important symbols that help us understand written questions. You may have noticed that some of these words can also be used without accent marks, but they mean different things. We’ll show you the question words’ meanings, both with and without accents.
Why do these words need accent marks?
In Spanish, accent marks actually serve a few different purposes. First, accent marks show you where to put stress on a word that breaks the rules of accent marks. For example, most words have the stress on the second to last syllable. Words that have their stress on a different syllable, like miércoles, need an accent mark to show you where to pronounce it.
In addition to this rule, accent marks also help guide you in other ways. To clarify context, some words will have an accent mark if it could otherwise be confused with another word. For example, si and sí are both one syllable words, so the accent mark expresses a difference in meaning as opposed to a difference in syllabic stress. Si means if, and sí means yes. The accent mark helps you know which one is which!
Question words in direct and indirect questions
Just like si and sí, question words always have an accent mark in direct and indirect questions to clarify their meaning. Many interrogatives have a different meaning when used outside of a question, so it can get kind of tricky.
The important thing to keep in mind is that question words have accent marks when used in both direct and indirect questions. Here are some common question words and their meanings:
- Quién = who
- Qué = what
- Por qué = why
- Dónde = where
- Cuándo = when
- Cómo = how
- Cuánto = how much
- Cuál = which
Some of these words take on different meanings without their accent mark. For example, qué means what, but que translates to that. In addition, por qué means why, but as one word without an accent mark, it means because. Other question words like cuando when not used as a question simply state their meaning instead of asking a question, like when you want to say when something happened, you would just use cuando. As always, practice makes perfect!