This post looks at French question words. It also gives you some examples to help you to understand their use.
I also explain inversion and the relevance of it when you want to ask questions in French.
Main French Question Words
The most used question words are as follows:
- Quand? = When? (e.g. Quand arrives-tu? = When do you arrive?)
- Qu’est-ce que? = What? (e.g. Qu’est-ce-que tu fais? = What are you doing?)
- Que? = What? (e.g. Que fais tu? = What do you do?)
- Pourquoi? = Why? (e.g. Pourquoi aimes-tu Paris? = Why do you like Paris?)
- Où? = Where? (e.g. Où est la banque? = Where is the bank?)
- D’où? = Where from? (e.g. D’où viens-tu? = Where do you come from?)
- Comment? = How? (e.g. Comment ça va? = How is it going? i.e. How are you?)
- Combien? = How much? (e.g. C’est combien? = How much is it?)
- Combien? = How many? (e.g. Combien de lives veux-tu? = How many books do you want?)
- Qui? = Who? (e.g. Qui habite ici? = Who lives here?)
- Quel? = Which (one) = Masculine and Singular (e.g. Quel livre veux-tu? = Which book do you want?)
- Quelle? = Which (one)? = Feminine and Singular (e.g. Quelle table veux-tu? = Which table do you want?)
- Quels? = Which (ones)? = Masculine and Plural (e.g. Quels livres veux-tu? = Which books do you want?)
- Quelles? = Which (ones)? = Feminine and Plural (e.g. Quelle tables veux-tu? = Which tables do you want?)
You may have noticed that with all the question ones (except one ‘Qu’est-ce que’, explained below) we invert the verb. Let’s compare the following:
Statement: Tu arrives demain = You arrive tomorrow.
- Question: Quand arrives-tu? = When do you arrive? (literally: When arrive you?)
Essentially the verb and the subject usually swap places when a question is made in French.
Remember that in French, unlike English, we normally invert all verbs for questions (e.g. Où habites-tu? = Literally: Where live you?).
One important point is we insert ‘t’ between the verb and the subject when the verb ends in a vowel and the subject starts with a vowel, for example:
- Quand arrive-t-il? = When does he arrive?/When is he arriving?
- The ‘t’ has been inserted here, because of the clash of the vowel sounds (i.e. the ‘e‘ on ‘arrive‘ and the ‘i‘ on ‘il’)
Sometimes in French we do not always worry about inverting where there several words to invert, for example:
- Il y a…. = There is/There are
- Il y a….? = Is there….?/Are there?
In this situation you just change your tone, so that it sounds like a question. I may discuss this further in a future post. (In the meantime feel free to contact me with any questions).
Qu’est-ce que? v Que?
You will see that I have listed both ‘Qu’est-ce que’ and ‘Que’ for the word ‘What?’. There are a couple of main differences between them, namely:
- You invert the verb when you use ‘Que’, but not with ‘Qu’est-ce que?‘, for example:
- Que fais-tu? (What do you do?/What are you doing?) – Literally this is ‘What do you?’
- Qu’est-ce que tu fais? (What do you do?/What are you doing?) – Literally this is (more or less) ‘What is it that you do?’
In theory ‘Que’ is less formal than ‘Qu’est-ce que’. For me personally, ‘Qu’est-ce que’ feels more subtle and elegant.
As well as meaning ‘How?’, the word ‘Comment?’ is also used commonly to ask people to repeat something.
Quel/Quelle/Quels/Quelles? = Which?
- ‘Quel?’ is the masculine singular version of ‘Which?’ and is used to refer to a masculine singular noun (e.g. Quel jour? = Which day?)
- Quels?’ is the masculine plural version of ‘Which?’ and is used to refer to masculine plural nouns (e.g. Quel jours? = Which days?)
- ‘Quelle?’ is the feminine singular version of ‘Which?’ and is used to refer to a feminine singular noun (e.g. Quelle maison? = Which house?)
- ‘Quelles?’ is the feminine plural version of ‘Which?’ and is used to refer to feminine plural nouns (e.g. Quelles maisons? = Which houses?)
Combien? = How many?
- ‘Combien?’ means both ‘How much?’ and ‘How many?’
- When you want to know how many of something there is, you should use ‘Combien de?’, for example:
- ‘Combien de jours?’ (How many days?)
I hope that the above post has helped you to understand the main French question words.
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Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you wish to book French tuition with me. (To see more information about my foreign language tuition services, please click here).