Asking Questions

Ways to ask questions

Yes or no questions can be posed in one of four ways:

Simply raise your voice at the end of the sentence and you have the most colloquial way of asking this type of question. This is called intonation:

  • Tu viens? (Are you coming?)

Use the tag n'est‐ce pas (isn't that so? right?) at the end of the sentence:

  • Tu viens, n'est‐ce pas? (You're coming, right?)

Use est‐ce que (which has no literal translation) at the beginning of the thought. This is the common conversational way to ask a question:

  • Est‐ce que tu viens? (Are you coming?)

Change the word order of the subject pronoun and the conjugated verb and join them with a hyphen. This is called inversion. Inversion is generally used more formally, in writing rather than in conversation:

  • Viens‐tu? (Are you coming?)

Using inversion

Inversion is the most complicated way to ask a question. The rules for inversion are as follows:

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

  • 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:

  • Ont‐ils préparé le repas? (Did they prepare the meal?)
  • Travaillez‐vous? (Do you work?)
  • Ont‐ils préparé le repas?(Did they prepare the meal?)
  • L'as‐tu fini? (Did you finish it?)

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

  • Ne travaillez‐vous jamais? (Don't you ever work?)

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?)

With a noun subject, a double‐subject construction is used: noun + verb + third person pronoun (with the verb and pronoun joined by a hyphen). The third person pronoun agrees in number and gender with the corresponding subject noun:

  • Jeanne est‐elle brune? (Is Jeanne a brunette?)
  • Les livres ne sont‐ils pas bons? (Aren't the books good?)

Interrogative adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns

Use interrogative adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns to ask for information.

The interrogative adjective quel (which? what?), shown in Table 1, agrees in number and gender with the noun it modifies.

 

Quel may be followed by est‐ce que or inversion:

  • Quel genre de film est‐ce qu'il préfère? (Which type of film does he prefer?)
  • Quel genre de film préfère‐t‐il? (Which type of film does he prefer?)

In colloquial French, quel + a noun may be placed at the end of the phrase to form the question: Tu préfères quel genre de film? (Which type of film do you prefer?)

Quel may also be preceded by a preposition:

  • De quel film est‐ce qu'il parle? (Which film is he talking about?)

Être is the only verb that may separate quel from its noun:

  • Quel est ton nom? (What's your name?)
  • Quelles sont tes coordonnées? (What's your name and address?)

The interrogative adverbs comment (how?), combien (how much/how many?), quand (when?), (where?), d'où (from where?), and pourquoi (why?) can be used before est‐ce que or inversion to ask questions. In colloquial spoken French, however, they are often placed after the verb:

  • Combien est‐ce que cette jupe coûte?
  • Combien cette jupe coûte‐t‐elle?

  • Cette jupe coûte combien?

The three examples above all ask, “How much does this skirt cost?”

With combien, comment, où, d'où, and quand (but not with pourquoi), a question may be formed by inverting a noun subject with a verb that has no object:

  • Combien coûte cette jupe?

Qui is used for people, while qu'est‐ce qui (the subject of the sentence), and que/quoi (the object of the sentence) are used for things. The i from qui is never dropped, whereas que becomes qu' before a vowel or vowel sound:

  • Qui est tombé? (Who fell?)
  • Qu'est‐ce qui est tombé? (What fell?)
  • Qui aimes‐tu? (Whom do you love?)
  • Qu'aimes‐tu? (What do you love?)
  • Tu aimes quoi? (What do you love?)

The variable interrogative pronoun lequel ( laquelle, lesquels, lesquelles) must agree in number and gender with the noun to which it is referring:

  • Laquelle de ces jupes achète‐t‐elle? (Which of these skirts is she buying?)

Contractions are used with the prepositions à (to) and de (of, from):

  • Auxquelles de ces pièces es‐tu allé? (To which of these plays have you gone?)
  • Duquel de ces hommes parle‐t‐elle? (About which of those men is she speaking?)