Qual x Que x O Que

When to use "qual" and when to use "o que"?

In short:

  • Qual = Which one
  • Qual + noun = which/what + noun
  • Que + noun = which/what + noun
  • O que = asks for definitions/explanations


Qual is fairly translated by "which" or "which one".
In English, "which" is often substituted by "what". So, in all questions you could use "which" instead of "what", you would use "qual".

There might be some exceptions, but in general, you would use "qual" for questions where you are asking which one from a group of available options

See: what is daddy's profession??
You could, without any loss, ask: "which is daddy's profession?".
In that case, you would ask in Portuguese: Qual é a profissão do papai?

(Unless you are trying to ask an explanation about what that profession is. In that case you couldn't use "which", and you would use "o que", as you will see below)

Qual can point to a noun, like "qual carro", "qual cor". Or it can be pointing to an implied noun, meaning "which one" in this case.

Examples on "qual" usage:

  • Qual cor? Which color. What color (this accepts "que cor?", see "que" below)
  • Qual é o teu carro - which one is your car, from all available models, or from two available parked cars.
  • Qual é a mais bonita? - Which one is the most beautiful?
  • Qual é sua profissão - Which/what is your profession (notice that this is using an implied noun: qual profissão é a sua = which profession is yours)

An "advanced" example of a different usage, still meaning "which":

  • Eu tenho um carro, o qual é vermelho = I have a car, which is red.
    (this kind of usage can almost in every case take "que" instead of "o qual": "Eu tenho um carro que é vermelho")


Que has many different functions, one of them is to work like "qual" does, as in these examples:

  • Que roupas você usará (what clothes will you use) - Very similar to "quais roupas", but quais would suggest better identification of "each part", "one by one".
  • Que carro é o teu? (what/which car is yours) = Qual carro é o teu??

Please notice that in this function, "que" doesn't stand for itself. It's always pointing to a noun: "que carro", "que roupas", "que cor". It's a little different from "qual", because "qual" can also stand alone pointing to an implied noun.

O que:

O que, in questions, is used mainly to ask explanations or definitions about something that is unknown.

  • O que é isto??? What is it? (Please explain what it is).
  • O que você faz?? What do you do?? (Please explain what you do)

If one asks "qual você faz?", it would only make sense in a case like this:
There are two cakes on a table and you know each one is made by different persons. So the question would mean "which one do you make"?

The difference from "que" above and "o que", is that "o que" is necessarily a stand-alone subject or object.

You can differentiate it from just "que/qual" checking if the word "what" in the English sentence could stand for itself:

  • What car (que/qual carro)
  • What do you want (stand alone: o que você quer)
  • What questions do you have (que/quais perguntas)
  • He needs what? (Ele precisa de/do que?)

General examples and comparisons:

  • O que você quer? = What do you want? (you might hear "que você quer?" informally)
  • Qual você quer? = Which one do you want?
  • O que é um pássaro? = What is a bird? (Please explain what a bird is)
  • Qual é um pássaro? = Which one is a bird?
  • Que carro você usa? = What/which car do you use?
  • Qual carro você usa? = What/which car do you use?
  • O que carro você usa? -- This is just a mistake

Go back to the Portuguese Help Index:

September 13, 2013


Your explanations are so good you should be teaching this stuff for a living. I guess you probably do. Thank you.

October 24, 2013

Haha....I'm mechanical engineer....

October 24, 2013

You are absolutely right. An easier way for me to remember it is to use 'o que' when you don't know (as referenced in your 'O que é isto?' example). If we do know what it is, we can use 'qual'.

Let's look at your example: "Qual é a profissão do papai?" The way I understand it is we use 'Qual' since we know what a profession/job is. If the question was "O que é a profissão do papai?" then the asker has no idea what a profession or 'dad's profession' is.

February 5, 2014

Interesting....."o que" has a "definition" meaning.....

February 5, 2014

But if we know what the profession of the dad is, why do we ask then? sorry dont get it.

February 5, 2014

I was just sharing what I learned from native speakers. Ideally we wouldn't ask what the dad's profession is if we already knew it, unless we like hearing ourselves talk. In this case the matter is of the uses of "O qué" and "Qual" so the dad's profession is irrelevant. I'm sorry this confused you.

February 5, 2014

There are two "levels" of knowing....

One is to know "which" is the profession (among all possible professions) (qual).

The other is to know what is the profession about, what does this professional do. A detailed explanation/definition of what is that profession.

June 19, 2014

I know you said "que cor" is an exception, but can you give any hints about when the "o" of "o que" can be omitted?

March 1, 2014


"O que" is for definitions.
"O que" cannot mean "which", except if it is literally "the one that" (article + conjunction).

That color example has a "which" meaning, so it doesn't use an "o que".
And I believe that exception comes from "de que" = "of which", where "de" was dropped with time.

The common question is "(de) que cor é o seu carro".

March 1, 2014

So does that explain "que horas são?" as well?

March 1, 2014

.....hard one.....all I can say is that this case doesn't use "de" as the color case.

March 1, 2014

One of my books suggests that in interrogative sentences "que" before a noun translates "what" and gives three examples:

"Que horas são?" (What time is it?)
"Que ônibus temos que pegar?" (What bus do we have to take?)
"Você é de que cidade no Canadá?" (What town are you from in Canada?)

Does that ring true with you?

March 1, 2014

A question about using relative pronouns: que/o qual:

Isso é a resposta pela qual eu procurei.
Isso é a resposta (por) que eu procurei.

Can I use "que" in the above sentence?

July 3, 2016

Except for "por que", yes.

As a "relative pronoun" (referring back to something in the previous clause), "que" and "o/a qual // os/as quais" are the same. For humans "quem" applies, although a bit weird these days.

But it seems to me that "que" doesn't accept prepositions as a relative pronoun. (Perhaps a professional could prove me wrong, but it does sound really weird)

  • Essa é a resposta que eu procurava.
  • Essa é a resposta (pel)a qual eu procurava.

The two most natural options are:

  • Essa é a resposta que eu procurava (popular)
  • Essa é a resposta pela qual eu procurava (cult and great)

For humans:

  • Esse é o homem que me ajudou = this is the man who's helped me
  • Esse é o homem o qual me ajudou
  • Esse é o homem quem me ajudou

Versions using "por quem" and "pelo qual" are perfectly fine.

Many times we prefer using "a quem" for direct objects ("objeto direto preposicionado").


  • que alone = good and popular
  • preposition + que = don't!!!
  • o qual alone = weird, but correct
  • preposition + o qual = great
  • quem alone = weird, but correct
  • preposition + quem = great

None of them allow you to change or remove the prepositions. (The verb "procurar" in your example was responsible for that possibility)

"Quem" allows you to add "a" to create a direct object with preposition (sometimes called "personal prepositions").

About the adjustments I made in your sentence:

  • "Esse + linking verb" is the most natural option when the "subject/object" is specific and you don't want to sound like "this thing". ("A resposta" is specific).
  • "Procurava" because "I was looking for" is what I understand first, and it's continous.

Complements change procurava into "procurei":

  • Essa é a resposta pela qual eu procurei (durante) a minha vida inteira = This is the answer I have looked for during my entire life.
  • Essa é a resposta que eu tanto procurei = ... so much ...
July 3, 2016

Obrigadíssima, Dan.

July 4, 2016

Hey Davu, just figured out something about "o que" and "que". (Edited the main post).

"O que" works like a pronoun, while "que" works like an adjective.

April 5, 2014

That's really helpful and it makes a lot of sense. Thank you. This dictionary entry helped too:

April 5, 2014

Very comprehensive and yet succinct Dan. Very much appreciated - thank you!

November 30, 2017

As a Spanish teacher, the following rules work well. I'm thinking they will be the same in Portuguese.

With SER, use Qual/Quais unless you are: Identifying or asking for a definition Asking what is someone’s profession or nationality.

With any other verb/noun, use the one that makes sense. Qual/Quais refers to a more limited group of selections.

November 21, 2018

Thank you ! Good explanation : )

September 18, 2013


September 20, 2013


September 24, 2013

Awesome! Thank you for this.

December 5, 2013


August 1, 2014

Another explanation (from what I've observed learning and working with Brazilian language data) would be,

'Qual/Que' : Replaces a noun phrase - Pergunta: "QUAL é sua profissão?" Responda: "Eu sou UM MÉDICO" QUAL -> UM MÉDICO

'O que' : Replaces a verb phrase / sentence - Pergunta: "O QUE você faz?" Responda: "Eu CURTO AS PESSOAS" O QUE -> CURTO AS PESSOAS

If anyone has counter-examples I'd love to hear them; even as a syntactician, I'm still kind of fuzzy on how this particular part of the grammar works...

June 30, 2017
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