Asking Yes or No Questions

You can get a yes or no answer to a question in four ways, covered in each of the following sections.

Intonations

Questions are often asked by a noticeable change in intonation (modulation of the voice), typified by a rising inflection (change in the voice) at the end of the statement. This is the simplest and most colloquial way to ask a question: Tu veux sortir? (Do you want to go out?)

To make the question negative, put ne … pas around the conjugated verb:

  • Tu ne veux pas sortir? (Don't you want to go out?)
  • Tu n'es pas sorti? (Didn't you go out?)

N'est‐ce pas

The tag n'est‐ce pas has various meanings:

  • isn't that so?
  • right?
  • isn't (doesn't) he/she?
  • aren't (don't) they?
  • aren't (don't) we?
  • aren't (don't) you?

N'est‐ce pas is a negative expression, so use n'est‐ce pas at the end of an affirmative statement only when the expected answer is “yes”: Tu veux sortir, n'est‐ce pas? (You want to go out, don't you?)

To answer yes to a negative question, use si instead of oui: Si, je veux sortir. (Yes, I want to go out.)

Est-ce que

Turn a statement into a question by beginning with the expression est‐ce que, which is not translated literally, but indicates that a question will follow. This is a common conversational way to ask a question. Est‐ce que tu veux sortir? (Do you want to go out?)

To make the question negative, place ne … pas around the conjugated verb:

  • Est‐ce que tu ne veux pas sortir? (Don't you want to go out?)
  • Est‐ce que tu n'es pas sorti? (Didn't you go out?)

Inversion

Inversion is the reversal of the word order of the subject pronoun and the conjugated verb in order to form a question: You simply join the verb to its subject pronoun with a hyphen. Inversion is the most formal way to ask a question and is generally used more frequently in writing than in conversation.

The rules for inversion are as follows:

Avoid inverting with je, which is awkward and rarely used except for the following:

  • ai‐je … ? (do I have … ?)
  • suis‐je … ? (am I … ?)
  • dois‐je … ? (must I … ?
  • puis‐je … ? (may I … ?[permission])

Inversion occurs in all tenses but only with subject pronouns and conjugated verbs:

  • Sors‐tu? (Are you going out?)
  • Veux‐tu sortir? (Do you want to go out?)
  • Es‐tu sorti? (Did you go out?)
  • Sortais‐tu? (Were you going out?)
  • Sortirais‐tu? (Would you go out?)
  • Se lèvent‐ils? (Are they getting up?)
  • Se sont‐ils levés? (Did they get up?)

The preceding questions can be made negative by putting the first part of the negative phrase before the reflexive pronoun or conjugated verb, and the second part of the negative after the subject pronoun:

  • Ne sors‐tu jamais? (Don't you ever go out?)
  • Ne veux‐tu pas sortir? (Don't you want to go out?)
  • Ne se sont‐ils pas levés? (Didn't they get up?)

When the third person singular of the verb ( il, elle, on) ends in a vowel, a ‐ t‐ is inserted between the verb and the subject pronoun to prevent having two vowels sounds together:

  • Travaille‐t‐il? (Is he working?)
  • A‐t‐elle fini? (Did she finish?)

But, consider the following:

  • Obéit‐elle? (Does she obey?)
  • S'est‐il lavé? (Did he wash himself?)

With a noun subject, a double‐subject construction is used: noun + verb‐third person pronoun, for example: La fille estelle (xxx). The third person pronoun agrees in number and gender with the corresponding subject noun:

  • Jean est‐il blond? (Is John blond?)
  • Les films sont‐ils bons? (Are the films good?)
  • Cette machine marche‐t‐elle? (Is that machine working?)
  • Les filles se sont‐elles maquillées? (Did the girls put on make up?)

Follow the preceding rules to make these sentences negative:

  • Jean n'est‐il pas blond? (Isn't John bolnd?)
  • Les films ne sont‐ils pas bons? (Aren't the films good?)
  • Cette machine ne marche‐t‐elle pas? (Isn't this machine working?)
  • Les filles ne se sont‐elles pas maquillées? (Didn;t the girls put on makeup?)