As of writing this question, there are two questions here on the difference of those two words. The first one has a quite extensive answer and the second one, unfortunately, just a short answer that addresses only the example given there.

I'm quite confident I understood the difference, but I've noticed something that hasn't been explicitly mentioned and therefore I'd like to clarify whether my understanding is correct or not.

Какой seems to be the counterpart to the English interrogative pronoun what and German was.

What is your favorite color?
Was ist deine Lieblingsfarbe?
Какой твой любимый цвет?

Который seems to be the counterpart to the English interrogative pronoun which and German welcher.

Blue or red — Which color is more beautiful?
Blau oder Rot — Welche Farbe ist schöner?
Синий или кра́сный — Который цвет более красивый?

Am I right or would какой also be correct in the second sentence?

A few side notes:

  • Который is, of course, also a relative pronoun.
  • I'm aware that in a different context the English word what is translated as что.
    "What is it?" => "что это?"

4 Answers 4


Который means "which one (of the few)" and assumes an exhaustive list of possibilities. In Proto-Slavic it used to mean "which one of the two" and is akin to English "whether".

You normally can replace который with какой when the former is used (or can be used) with the preposition из.

Your last question can be worded like this:

Который из цветов более красивый: красный или синий?

so какой can be used instead indeed:

Синий или красный — какой цвет более красивый?

As an interrogative, который can be also used to ask "which by order?", the expected answer to this being an ordinal numeral: второй, пятый, последний etc.

Который час?

Вы который в очереди?

In this sense, it cannot be replaced with какой.

  • your answer is a bit incorrect, because you said that Который means which. It also means who. I mean, that который is used both for humans and not, while in English which is used only for nun-humans. This is important, I think.
    – d.k
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 13:33
  • @user907860: the op said they were aware of the pronominal meaning, that's why I didn't include it in my answer (of course anticipating comments like this).
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 16:04
  • Вы который в очереди? sounds really weird to me.
    – UVV
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 17:09
  • In fact, I missed to point out that I'm aware that который also means "who", but I'm absolutely fine that this is not addressed as it really doesn't relate to my actual question.
    – Em1
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 19:37

You wrote:

Синий или кра́сный — Который цвет более красивый?

Какой would be correct in this sentence, while the word который is unusual at best. (Besides, the word который (or какой) starts with a small letter, and более красивый, while grammatically correct, is considered a poor style. Use comparative degree instead of более whenever possible.) You should ask:

Синий или красный — какой цвет красивее?

Generally, as an interrogative word you should use какой, unless you ask about ordinal number (который день вы больны? etc.), or in an idiom который час?.

As a relative pronoun, you should almost always use который rather than какой. Examples:

  • "The Ticket That Exploded" — «Билет, который лопнул»
  • "The Man Who Was Thursday" — «Человек, который был Четвергом»
  • "A Moveable Feast" — «Праздник, который всегда с тобой» (lit. A feast which is always with you)

(Note also differences in capitalization and punctuation.)

The word какой is used as a relative pronoun only in expressions like какой не жалко, какой поплоше etc.


The word "который" in a question is usually applied to items with very slight differences in their qualities (e.g., colour). For example, if there are just 3 balloons (white, blue and red), you're much more likely to hear the question "тебе какой шарик купить?" a question that prompts the person asked to choose a colour of balloon and assumes that no other distinguishing characteristic is more evident. In other words, each balloon is exactly the same except for the colour. If all 3 balloons are, for example, red, the similar question "тебе который шарик?" is quite likely to be heard and it means "which one" (which prompts the other person to point at the item's position, (e.g., 1st, 2nd, 3rd) because when all balloons are red, color no longer distinguishes between them).

So, along with the use of "который" in selecting one item among a small group of items, the usage of "который" in a question as the question word, is also limited to items of similar type. This explains why this version of a question is so rare compared to the version with "какой" because how often in real life does one ask about items that are exactly the same except for one single characteristic? Not very often.

"Какой" is OK to use in both examples above, the only difference will be the answer in response. For example:


Тебе какой шарик купить?
What kind of balloon do you want to buy?

enter image description here

The red one.



Тебе который шарик купить?
Which balloon (of similar type) do you want to buy?

enter image description here

The first one.


Синий или кра́сный — Который цвет более красивый?

Well, actually you may say any of "какой", "который" or "который из", but "который" here seems to be the least used of three. Also note that pronouncing interrogative pronoun "который" requires some stress on it. Otherwise it may be confused with pronoun "that" or indefinite "some".

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