We have now spent two months on the subject of ‘Possessives’, but we are still missing one thing which is how to ask the question “Whose is this?” or “Whose are these?”
Before we start on the Spanish I’m afraid I can’t resist putting my English teacher’s hat on for a second and pointing out the correct spelling of ‘whose’. It is very common these days to see it spelt ‘who’s’, which is only the abbreviation for ‘who is’.
In Spanish ‘whose’ is ‘de quién’ (literally ‘of whom’).
“Whose is this?” would be “¿De quién es esto?”
“Whose are these?” is “¿De quién son estos?”
“Whose is this pen?” is “¿De quién es este boli?” and so on.
The answer would then be, for example: “Es mío” (It’s mine) or perhaps “Es de Pablo” (It’s Pablo’s) and so on.
This question form ‘de quién’ leads to a general observation about question words, that is the usual ‘who, what, where, when’ equivalents and their combined forms in Spanish. When a word such as ‘of’, ‘with’, ‘at’, ‘to’ forms part of the question, the Spanish equivalent of these words goes at the beginning of the sentence; in front of the question word.
Another familiar example of what I mean is the question “What time?” which in Spanish is “¿A qué hora?” (that is, “At what time?”). Although it sounds a little stilted, we can translate these directly into English (“Of whom …, “At what time …) and make some sense of them, even though nowadays we allow for a different word order in English. This is why when we translate the correct Spanish word order directly into English it sounds very old-fashioned and pedantic, even though in Spanish it is the normal way of asking a whole multitude of questions.
Here are some more examples:
“¿Para qué estás haciendo eso?” – “What are you doing that for?”
“¿Adónde vas de vacaciones?” – “Where do you go on holiday?”
“¿En qué trabajas?” – “What do you work in?” (ie. What is your job?”)
“¿En qué aula estamos hoy?” – “What classroom are we in today?”
“¿De dónde eres?” – “Where are you from?”
Each of these sentences raises a whole lot of issues about the different ways we ask questions, but what I want to point out particularly is the word order. It is as though we are saying:
“For what are you doing that?”
“To where do you go on your holidays?”
“In what do you work?”
“In what classroom are we today?”
“From where are you?”
If you find this hard to take in, it is because it brings us back to our big problem with word order. Sometimes I have found students’ homework with sentences like “¿Qué estás hacienda eso para?”
This sentence is completely impossible and incorrect in Spanish, and in fact to the best of my knowledge we can never end sentences with the words “en, para, a, or de”. The student here has simply written the sentence in the exact order the words come to mind in English.
One final little thing to notice is that in the case of ‘adónde’ – the two words join together. This is in fact the equivalent of our very old-fashioned word ‘whither’, but even I don’t speak like that any more!
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.