Cuánto Adjective and Adverb in Spanish LanguageCuánto: ¿adjetivo o adverbio?

When travelling across Spanish-speaking countries, it is unthinkable not to end up wandering, at some point or another, through vibrantly rowdy street markets, meeting with bric-a-brac merchants, local artisans and hawkers selling regional food specialties. Before such vastness of wonders of all kinds for each and every one of the five senses, it is prerequisite to know how to enquiry about precios y cantidades (prices and quantities) in Spanish. Although the two questions are posed by using the term cuánto, this pocket-sized word serves two different functions, both grammatically and semantically.

Preguntando por el precio

¿Cuánto cuesta/n…?
¿Cuánto cuesta un trozo de jamón serrano? How much is a piece of serrano ham?
¿Cuánto cuesta una entrada para la Sagrada Familia? How much is a single ticket to visit the Sagrada Familia?
¿Cuánto cuestan los abanicos azules? How much are the blue fans?
¿Cuánto cuestan las castañuelas amarillas? How much are the yellow castanets?

As can be seen from the above table, when asking for price, cuánto is invariable since it is used as an interrogative adverb, regardless of number and gender of the item we want to find out the monetary value of. Instead, what actually changes is the verb form, cuesta or cuestan, depending on whether we are interested in purchasing one thing or many.


Preguntando por la cantidad

On the other hand, when asking about quantity, cúanto acts as an interrogative adjective and, as such, agrees in gender and number with the noun that it qualifies. Therefore, we will be using cuánto/cuánta for uncountable nouns, whilst cuántos/cuántas are employed in all other instances, as it happens in English, with the only extra caution concerning the notion of gender that applies to Spanish nouns.

¿Cuánto arroz vas a comprar para la paella de esta noche? How much rice are you buying to prepare this evening’s paella?
¿Cuánta leche necesitas? How much milk do you need?
¿Cuántos toros hay en una corrida? How many bulls are there in a bullfight?
¿Cuántas patatas sirven para hacer una tortilla? How many potatoes are needed to make a tortilla?

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