How do I ask a question in French ?

 

In French, there are two types of questions: closed questions and open questions.

 

Closed questions :

Closed questions are questions that can only be answered with "oui", "non" or "je ne sais pas". They cover the whole question.

There are three specific structures for asking partial questions. These three structures each depend on a specific language register.

 

  • Question closed to the formal register ⇢ reversal of subject :

A closed question in formal language is constructed by inverting the subject and the verb. It is constructed in this way : verb + subject + complement ? 

⚠️ Remember to mark the inversion with a hyphen (-) between the verb and the subject : Avez - vous .... ?

⚠️ If the verb ends with a vowel and the personal pronoun also ends with a vowel, a 't' must be added in between.

This structure can be used in both affirmative and negative forms

- Peut-on voir les photos de ton voyage ?
- Oui, bien sûr.

- N'avez-vous pas pensé à leur dire ?
- Non, je n'y ai pas pensé.

- Pense-t-il venir ?
- Oui, il y pense.

 

  • Question closed to current register ⇢ Is this ... ?

A closed question in common parlance is constructed with "Est-ce que" It is constructed this way : est-ce que + subject + verb + complement ?

This structure cannot be used in the negative form.

- Est-ce que tu viens ce soir ?
- Oui, avec plaisir.

- Est-ce qu'elle se rappelle de moi ?
- Je ne sais pas.

- Est-ce que vous avez vu son dernier film? 
- Oui, il était génial.

 

  • Closed question to the familiar ⇢ intonation :

A closed question in colloquial language is constructed as an affirmative sentence : subject + verb + complement ?

What makes it a question is the intonation we give it.

Indeed, in an affirmative sentence the intonation of the voice is descending at the end of the sentence.

On the contrary, in an interrogative sentence the voice rises at the end of the sentence.

 

How do you get a rising or falling intonation ?

L'intonation - phrase affirmative
                We insist on the last syllable "ris".                                                                        
                         The voice goes down.                                                                                                   

L'intonation - phrase interrogative
               We insist on the last syllable "ris".
                         The voice goes up.

 

This structure can be used in negative form

- On se rejoint à 13 heures ?
- Oui, parfait.

- Tu n'as pas peur ?
- Non, jamais.

- Ça va ?
- Oui, très bien.

 

 

Open questions :

Open-ended questions follow the same structure as closed-ended questions EXCEPT that they also consist of an interrogative word (which may be an adverb, a pronoun or a determinant).

The most commonly used interrogative words are : pourquoi - comment - quand - où - combien; combien de - lequel; lesquels; laquelle; lesquelles - qui - quoi - quel; quels; quelle; quelles.

⚠️ The interrogative word "quoi" does not have the same form depending on the language register :

 ▫︎ Formal register = que ⇢ Que manges-tu ?
 ▫︎ Current register = qu'est-ce que 
Qu'est-ce que tu manges ?
 ▫︎ Familiar register = quoi 
Tu manges quoi ?

 

  • Question open to the formal register ⇢ reversal of the subject :

An open question in formal language is constructed this way : interrogative word + verb + subject + complement ?

The hyphen is always mandatory between the verb and the subject.

This structure can also be used in negative form.

- Laquelle préférez-vous ?
- Je préfère la rose.

- Pourquoi ne viens-tu pas ?
- Parce que je suis malade.

- pense-t-elle aller en vacances ?
- Sûrement aux États-Unis.

 

  • Question open to the current register ⇢ Est-ce que ... ?

An open question in everyday language is constructed as follows: interrogative word  + est-ce que subject verb + complement ?

This structure can be used in the negative form.

-  Qu'est-ce que nous allons faire ?
- Nous allons nous préparer avant son arrivée.

-  Quand est-ce que tu pars au Mexique ?
- Je pars demain matin.

 Combien de chats est-ce qu'elle a?
- Elle a trois chats.

 

  • Open question to the familiar register ⇢ intonation :

An open question in the familiar register is constructed like this : mot interrogatif + sujet + verbe + complément ?

A descending intonation is necessary to achieve an open question in the familiar register.

This structure can also be used in negative form.

Comment elle va aujourd'hui ?
- Elle ne se sent pas très bien.

- Quelle chemise tu ne veux pas garder ?
- Non, jamais.

- Où vous allez cet après-midi ?
- Nous allons au cinéma.

 

You are now totally ready to ask lots of questions in French!

To be sure, test below
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See you soon for new adventures, in French of course! 🇫🇷