How to Ask Questions in French - Talk in French
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How to Ask Questions in French

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Reading time:  6 minutes Difficulty: Beginner

Questions are an essential part of any conversation, and being able to properly formulate a question in French is an extremely important part of your learning. In this article, we will look into the different ways that you can ask your questions using the French language.

There are five ways in which questions are phrased in French. These are the following:

  1. By turning a statement into a question
  2. By using est-ce que
  3. By changing the order of the words in the sentence
  4. By using n’est-ce pas or non; and
  5. By using question words

 

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I. TURNING A STATEMENT INTO A QUESTION

The easiest way to ask a question in French is simply to take any statement and make it a question by changing the pitch of your voice. In writing, this can be done by adding a question mark at the end of the sentence. This type of asking questions is deemed informal but is still widely acceptable in regular, everyday type of conversations. This method of asking questions is also commonly used in English, and like in French, the expected reply is either a yes or a no. For example, “You are a dancer?” “She told you I’m not interested?” “You saw the movie?” All of which are regular statements-turned-questions. Some examples in French: 

  • Il est arrivé. – He arrived.
  • Il est arrivé?   – He arrived?
  • C’est vrai. –  That’s true.
  • C’est vrai?  –  Is that true?
  • Vous aimez la France. –  You like France.
  •  Vous aimez la France?   –  Do you like France?

II. USING EST-CE QUE

Another simple way to ask a question in French is to add est-ce que in the beginning of a sentence. Est-ce que literally means “is it that” in English, and is inserted before a regular statement to turn it into a question. The rest of the sentence structure stays the same.

For example:

  • Tu connais Ingrid.  – You know Ingrid.
  • Est-ce que tu connais Ingrid?  – Do you know Ingrid?
  • Est-ce  qu’il est arrivé? – Has he arrived?

Extra tip in using est-ce que:

You can put any question words right before it in a sentence to further create an even more specific question (not just a yes or no question). 

Here is the structure:

Question word + est-ce que + regular statement.

More details and examples will be given on this when we discuss the question words later.

III. CHANGING THE ORDER OF THE WORDS TO FORM A QUESTION (INVERSION)

Inversion, or changing up the structure of a sentence, is the more formal way of asking questions in French. Normally, the subject is followed by the verb, but for the inverted questions, the verb is placed before the subject and then joined by a hyphen.

For example: 

  • Vous aimez la France.        You like France.
  • Kindly note that in this sentence, the subject precedes the verb.
  • Aimez-vous la France?       Do you like France?

The subject and verb switch places and are linked by the hyphen.

  • Just like in using est-ce que, you can also add a question word before the inverted question to further specify your query.
  • In cases where the tenses consist of two or more words, the part of the verb which comes from avoir or être is the one to be used in the inversion and placed before the pronoun.

Example:

As-tu vu mon sac?                          Have you seen my bag?

Est-elle restée longtemps?          Did she stay long?

  • For verbs that end with a vowel, when used beside the pronoun il or elle, t is inserted between the verb and pronoun, making it easier to say.

Example:Aime-t-il les chiens? (Does he like dogs?)

IV.  USING N’EST-CE PAS PAS  OR NON

In cases where you are very sure that the person you are talking to will agree with you, you can add ne c’est pas at the end of the sentence. It is just similar to the English usage of “isn’t it?” or “right?” at the end of a question.

Non works the same way. It literally means “no?” and is also added at the end of the sentence. Hein is also similar. It is used just like “eh?” in English, and is often used in informal conversations.

Some examples: 

Vous aimez la France, n’est-ce pas?         You like France, don’t you?

Il est arrivé, n’est-ce pas?                          He arrived, didn’t he?

Vous aimez la France, non?                       You like France, right?

Vous aimez la France, hein?                      You like France, eh?

V. USING QUESTION WORDS

The fifth and last method of asking questions is to use interrogative words. The question words may be placed in the beginning or at the end of the sentence. It can also appear right before est-ce que, or before the inverted subject and verb.

Examples: When did you arrive?

Quand est-ce que tu es arrivé?

Quand es-tu arrivé?

Quand t’es arrivé?

T’es arrivé quand

Here is a list of  the most commonly used question words in French.

A/ Combien

  • combien + verb?                how much?, how many?
  • combien de + noun?        how much?, how many? 

Examples:

combien coûte cet ordinateur?                 How much does this computer cost?

C’est combien, ce pantalon?                      How much are these trousers?

Tu en veux combien?                                 How many do you want?

Combien de personnes vas-tu inviter?      How many people are you going to invite?

B/ Comment?  (  How? )

Examples:

Comment allez-vous? or comment vas-tu?           How are you?

Comment tu t’appelles?                                            What is your name?

C/ Où? Where?

Some French learners often confuse ou (no accent) and où (with accent). The first one means ‘or’ while the second means ‘where’.

Example: Où allez-vous? (where are you going?)

D/ Pourquoi? Why?

Example: Pourquoi est-ce qu’il ne vient pas avec nous? Why isn’t he coming with us?

E/ Quand? When?

Example: Quand est-ce que tu pars en vacances? When are you going on holiday?

F/ Qui? Que? and Quoi? 

These are pronouns which could mean who, whom, what and whose depending on how you use them: to refer to a person or thing, the subject or object, or if it follows a preposition. This is by far the most complicated of all question words, and it would be advisable if you could learn pronouns as well to get a better grasp of this topic.

Here are the basic rules:

  1. Qui – can be used when talking about people, and is similar to “who” (subject) or “whom” (object) in English.
Who?
Whom?
Referring to people
MeaningExamplesMeaning
Subjectqui?
qui est-ce qui?
Who?Qui vient?
Qui est-ce qui vient?
Who's coming?
Objectqui?
qui est-ce que?
who?
whom?
Qui vois-tu?
Qui est-ce que tu vois?
Who/Whom
can you see?
After prepositionqui?
qui est-ce que?
who?
whom?
De qui est-ce
qu'il parle?
Pour qui est ce
livre?
À qui avez-vous
écrit?
Who's he
talking about?
Who's this
book for?
Who did you write
to?, To whom did
you write?

Table source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar

2. À qui is used to mean “whose?” Example:  À qui est ce sac? (Whose is this bag?)

3. Que and quoi are used when talking about things and could mean “what?” The difference is, you use quoi when it follows a preposition.

WhatReferring to thingsMeaningExamplesMeaning
Subjectqu'est-ce qui?whatQu'est-ce qui se
passe?
Qu'est-ce qui
t'inquiète?
What's
happening?
What's worrying
you?
Objectqu'est-ce que?whatQu'est-ce que
vous faites?
Que faites-vous?
What are you
doing?
After prepositionquoi?whatÀ quoi penses-tu?
De quoi parlez-vous
What are you
thinking about?
What are you
talking about?

Table source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar

4.Quel, quels, quelle, or quelles?

Quel can mean who? Which? Or what? It can be used together with a noun, or as a noun substitute (pronoun). On the other hand, que and quoi can never be used together with a noun. 

The forms of quel are the following:

quel (masculine singular)

quels (masculine plural)

quelle (feminine singular)

quelles (feminine plural)

Examples:

Quel est ton chanteur préféré?Who's your favorite singer?
Quel vin recommandez-vous?Which wine do you recommend?
Quelle est ta couleur préféré? What's your favorite color?
Quelle heure est-il? What time is it?
Quels sont tes chanteurs préférées?Who are your favorite singers?
Vous jouez de quels instruments?What instruments do you play?
Quelles sont tes couleurs préférées?What are your favorite colors?
Quelles chaussures te plaisent le plus?Which shoes do you like best?

Examples source: Collins Easy Learning French Grammar  

G/ lequel? laquelle? lesquels? and lesquelles? 

Lequel is used to mean “which one?”and here are its different forms:

lequel (masculine singular)          which one?

lequels (masculine plural)             which one?

laquelle (feminine singular)         which ones?

lesquelles (feminine plural)          which ones?

Example:

Laquelle de ces valises est à Fred?  Which of these cases is Fred’s?

ADDITIONAL TIPS: 

  • There are two ways of answering yes to a question in French: You say oui as a response to an ordinary question, or you say si if the question has a negative expression in it, such as ne… pas.
  • Just like in English, pardon? is used to ask a person to repeat what he or she just said. You can also use comment? or quoi? to ask “what?” but same as in English, this is considered very informal.

If you need clarification on this topic, do not hesitate to contact us in the comment section.

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About the Author Frederic

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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  • Angelina Courtney says:

    Comment dite-vous “Where are we meeting?”. I struggled with putting together this question…especially since “to meet” has many translations!

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