Forming questions in French - forms and structures (2023)

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You are here: FranceFrenchgrammar › the interrogative - 1


Interrogatives- How to ask questions in French

1. Questions without any question word

The forming of questions in French is fundamentally similar to the wayweform questions in English. The basic principal is that the verbis placed before the subject, i.e. there is a subject/ verb inversion.
In written French, questions are usually formed byinverting subjectand verb; but how this is done depends on the type of verb (with orwithout an auxiliary) and on whether the subject is a pronoun or anoun.

Note: in cases ofinversion wherethepronouns il(s) elle(s) or on follow a verb form ending in a vowel,French adds a linking-t-between the verb and the pronoun; for example va-t-il,not va-il, or pense-t-elle,not pense-elle.

Particularly in spoken French,any question (all the typesbelow) can alteratively beexpressed by adding "Est-ce que"to the front of a statement. See Part3 below.

► For questions withquestion words ( such as qui, quand,où ),continue to


1.1. Verbs with no auxiliary (single word verbs)

1.1.1. When the subject is a pronoun - with the verbêtre

In the simplest statements, and when the subject is a pronoun, Englishand Frenchquestions are formed in just the same way, as in this example :

StatementQuestion
Structure
subj > verb > complement
verb > subj. > complement
EnglishShe is your sister Is she your sister?
FrenchElle est votre soeur.Est-elle votre soeur?

However that is where the direct similarities end.... notably becausein English the verb tobe is the only verb with which we can just invert subjectand verb to form a question.

1.1.2. When the subject is a pronoun - Other verbs

To make a question using any other Englishverb, we always need to use an auxiliary (as in do you like).Here French is a bit simpler than English, and simple inversion ispossible with all verbs whenthey are used with a pronoun subject and single-element tenses, i.e.tenses that do not require anauxiliary – which means most tenses in French (present,simple past, imperfect, future, etc).

StatementQuestion
subj > verb > complement
verb > subj. > complement
Ilaime votre soeurAime-t-il votre soeur ?
Ils vivent à Londres.Vivent-ils à Londres
Vous voyez la voiture rouge.Voyez-vous la voiture rouge?
Vousirez à Paris demain.Irez-vous à Paris demain

and in the negative - note how the ne and pasare placed.

(Video) French Grammar - The Sentence Structure

Il ne vient pas.Ne vient-il pas?
Ilne parlera pas en premier.Neparlera-t-il pas en premier ?

In other words , and as long as thesubject is a pronoun, in French we can ask Vivent-ils àLondres, though in English wecan't ask Live they in London ? (You could inShakespeare's time, butnot in modern English!)

1.1.3. When the subject is anoun -with êtreand otherverbs

Here there are some importantdifferences between English and French.

English:

It makes no difference whether the subject is a pronoun or anoun. The same structure verb to be> subj. > complement is possible inEnglish.
We can say Is she your sister?, butwe canalso ask Is Mary your sister? ,or Is this girl your sister ?, oreven Is this girl I'm showing you a photoof your sister? This is not possible inFrench.

French:

French uses a different structure if the subject is a noun. Instead of placing the noun subject between the verb and thecomplement, French repeats the subject- firstly as a noun, then as apronoun, on the structure:
subject noun > verb to be > subjectpronoun > complement

StatementQuestion
Subj noun > verb > complement
Subj. noun > verb > pron.> complement
Jacquesaime votre soeurJacquesaime-t-il votre soeur ?
Les Dupont vivent à Londres.Les Dupont vivent-ils à Londres ?
Le médecin a une voiture rouge.Le médecin a-t-il une voiture rouge?
Lechat dort dans un panier.Lechat dort-il dans un panier ?
Lechat dormira dans un panier.Lechat dormira-t-il dans un panier ?

or to translate the last example given above for English, Is this girl I'm showing you a photoof your sister?, we will need to say in French
Cette fille dont je vous montre unephoto,est-ce votre soeur?

1.2. Verbs with two elements (auxiliary / verb)

1.2.1. When English and French are alike

When the subject of the sentence is a pronoun,and in contexts where inboth French and English the verb tense is formed with the use of anauxiliary (notably in theperfect or passécomposé tense, or with modals) English and Frenchquestions are formed in just the same way, as in these examples :

StatementQuestion
Structure
Subj > v1 > v2 > object
V1 > subj.> v2 >complement
EnglishYou have eaten an egg Have you eaten an egg ?
FrenchVous avez mangé un oeuf.Avez-vous mangé un oeuf ?
EnglishThey have seen the film Have they seen the film ?
FrenchIls ont vu le film.Ont-ils vu le film ?
EnglishYou should read this book Should you read this book ?
FrenchVous devriez lire ce livre.Devriez-vous lire ce livre ?

1.2.2. Cases when English and French are NOTalike

However if there is a direct or indirect pronoun object in thestatement, such as lui or leur in French, this comes beforethe initialauxiliary – which is not the same as in English

FrenchEnglish
(IO) > v1 > pron.> v2> objectv1 > subj. >v2 (v3)> (InOb) > object.
Luiavez-vous donné de l'argent?Have you given him somemoney ?
Vous a-t-il raconté sa vie?Did he tell you his lifestory?

Unfortunately for students, in many other cases the question structuresinEnglish and in French will be different, for two reasons:

  • a) Unlike English, French does not allow simple inversionwhen thesubject of a sentence is a noun,and
  • b) Most tenses in French are formed withoutan auxiliary, whereas in English we always use an auxiliary(do, did, has, was etc.) to create the interrogativeform of a verb.

As in 1.2.1 above, instead of placing the noun subjectbetweenthe verb and thecomplement, French doubles the subject - firstlyas a noun, then as apronoun, on the structure:
subject noun > v1 > subjectpronoun> v2 > object
In which v1 is an auxiliary or modal, and v2 the mainverb(infinitive or past participle)

StatementQuestion
Subj noun > v1 > v2 > object
Subj. noun > v1 > pron. > v2> object
Jacquesa vu votre soeurJacquesa-t-il vu votre soeur ?
Les Dupont ont vécu àLondres.Les Dupont ont-ils vécu àLondres
Le médecin a eu une voiture rouge.Le médecin a-t-il eu une voiture rouge?
Lechat veut dormir dans un panier.Lechat veut-il dormir dans un panier ?
Lechat devra dormir dans un panier.Lechat devra-t-il dormir dans un panier ?

Compare these structures with English

FrenchEnglish
Subj. noun > v1 > pron. > v2> objectv1 > subj. >v2 (v3)> object.
Jacquesa-t-il vu votre soeur ?Has Jacques seen your sister?
Les Dupont ont-ils vécu àLondresDid the Duponts live inLondon?
Le médecin a-t-il eu une voiture rouge?Does the doctor have a redcar?
Lechat veut-il dormir dans un panier ?Does the cat want to sleepin a basket?
Lechat devra-t-il dormir dans un panier ?Will the cat have to sleepin a basket

A few more examples

Examples:

1. Avez-vous fini demanger?

Have you finished eating ?

2. Voulez-vous danser avec moi ? ?

Would you like to dance with me?.

3. Dois-je mettre tous les sacsdans lavoiture ?

Must I put all the bags in the car?

4. Est-il nécessaired'aller à Londres ?

Is it necessary to go to London ?

5. Savez-vous combien de tempscela vaprendre?

Do you know how long it will take ?

6. Lui avez-vous dit tout ce quevoussavez ?

Have you told himeverything you know?

7. Les gendarmes vous ont-ils dittoutce qu'ils savent ?

(Video) BUMPER FRENCH MASTERCLASS - all the sneaky structural ways to ask questions! do you know them all?

Have the policemen told you everything they knowknow?

8. Les gendarmesont-ilsdit à linspecteur tout ce qu'ils savent ?

Have the policemen told the inspector everythingthey know know?

(Video) BUMPER FRENCH MASTER CLASS on QUESTION STRUCTURE - examples and test your knowledge!

1.3. Questions using Est-ceque....

Fortunately for students, French has another less complicated way offorming questions, which is the same in virtually all cases. It is justto add "Est-ce que" to the frontof a statement. With"Est-ce que"in front of it, any statement becomes a question. Here again are theexamples above, but this time instead of the English translation you'llfind the French alternative using est-ceque.

Examples:

1. Avez-vous fini demanger?

Est-ce que vous avez fini de manger ?

2. Voulez-vous danser avec moi?

Est-ce que vous voulez danser avec moi?.

3. Dois-je mettre tous les sacsdans lavoiture ?

Est-ce que je dois mettre tous les sacs dans lavoiture?

4. Est-il nécessaired'aller à Londres ?

Est-ce qu'il est nécessaire d'allerà Londres ?

(Video) How to build a sentence in French easily - French sentence structure & French word order tips

5. Savez-vous combien de tempscela vaprendre?

Est-ce que vous savez combien de temps cela vaprendre?

6. Lui avez-vous dit tout ce quevoussavez ?

Est-ce que vous lui avez dit tout ce que voussavez ?

7. Les gendarmes vous ont-ils dittoutce qu'ils savent ?

Est-ce que les gendarmes vous ont dit tout cequ'ils savent ?

8. Les gendarmesont-ilsdit à linspecteur tout ce qu'ils savent ?

Est-ce que les gendarmes ont dità linspecteur tout ce qu'ils savent?

A question of style.

Question-forming with Est-ce queis very common in colloquial spokenFrench, less common in written French

► For questions withquestion words ( such as qui, quand,où ),continue to
►Return to Frenchgrammar index

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FAQs

What's the easiest way to form a question from a sentence in French? ›

One of the most common ways to ask a question in French is to invert the subject and the verb in a sentence. Those questions can usually only be answered with yes or no. Manges-tu une pomme?

What are 10 examples of interrogative in French? ›

How to form an interrogative sentence in French ?
  • est-ce que ? (did/do ?)
  • qui ? (who ?)
  • pourquoi ? (why ?)
  • quand (when ?)
  • où ? (where ?)
  • comment ? (how ?)
  • quel/quelle ? (Which ?)
  • à qui ? (whom ?)

What are the two types of asking a question in French? ›

“Qu'est-ce que” and “Est-ce que” are frequently used in French to ask questions.

What are the 3 forms of questions in French? ›

Asking questions
  • There are 3 main ways to ask a question in French: • Formal: (question word quand, où, etc) + verb + subject + ? ...
  • • Neutral: (question word) + est-ce que + subject + verb + ? Est-ce que vous connaissez Victor Hugo ? ...
  • • More informal: subject + verb (+ question word) + ? Elle travaille chez vous ?

What is the structure of French sentences? ›

Basic French Sentence Structure

The primary parts of the French sentence are the subject, the verb and the object(s). For the most part, French grammar follows the subject-verb-object word order as English does.

How do you improve sentence structure in French? ›

Adding question words to the beginning of a sentence is a simple way of creating a sentence in French. The most common is the phrase “Est-ce que” at the beginning of a sentence with a verb, or “Est-ce” with only a noun.

How do you teach French question words? ›

Here is how I recommend teaching the French question words.
  1. Present the question words with corresponding notes. ...
  2. Provide student-friendly notes and activities. ...
  3. Reinforce with visuals. ...
  4. Incorporate technology so students can have fun while practicing.
5 Mar 2019

How many ways are there to ask a question in French? ›

There are three main interrogative pronouns in French, and they are qui (who or whom), que (what) and lequel (which one). Qui and que are fairly simple to use. Primarily, qui is used when the answer is going to be a person, and que is used when the answer is going to be an object or idea: Qui es-tu ? (Who are you?)

What are the 7 tenses in French? ›

French Indicative Verb Tenses
  • Présent (present) ...
  • Imparfait (imperfect) ...
  • Passé simple (simple past) ...
  • Passé composé (past perfect) ...
  • Futur simple (future simple) ...
  • Plus-que-parfait (pluperfect) ...
  • Passé antérieur (past anterior)
  • Futur antérieur (future anterior)
18 Sept 2020

What are some basic French questions? ›

Common French Questions: 19 Big Ones for Everyday Use
  • Comment vous appelez-vous ? / Comment tu t'appelles ? ...
  • Comment allez-vous ? / Comment ça va ? / Ça va ? ...
  • Comment ça s'écrit ? ...
  • D'où venez-vous ? / D'où viens-tu ? ...
  • Quel âge avez-vous ? / Quel âge as-tu ? ...
  • Qu'est-ce que vous étudiez ? / Qu'est-ce que tu étudies ?
19 Jun 2022

How do you form questions in French GCSE? ›

In French, you can ask a question in several different ways.
  1. You can simply raise your voice in a questioning way: tu as faim ? - are you hungry? ...
  2. You can use est-ce que at the start of a phrase: est-ce que tu as faim ? - are you hungry? ...
  3. You can change the order of the subject and verb:

What are the 2 types of question? ›

There are two main types of question: those that can be answered yes or no, and those that have to be answered with a specific piece of information or a sentence such as I don't know.

How is question formation similar in French and English? ›

The forming of questions in French is fundamentally similar to the way we form questions in English. The basic principal is that the verb is placed before the subject, i.e. there is a subject / verb inversion.

What are the 5 tenses in French? ›

Five past forms, which are imparfait (imperfect), passé composé (compound past), passé simple (simple past), plus-que-parfait (pluperfect) and passé antérieur (anterior past). Two future forms, which are futur (future) and futur antérieur (future anterior).

What are the 3 forms? ›

Main verbs have three basic forms: the base form, the past form and the -ed form (sometimes called the '-ed participle'): base form: used as the infinitive form, with to or without to (Do you want to come with us?

What are the 4 main French verbs? ›

Big 4 French verbs
  • etre = to be.
  • avoir = to have.
  • aller = to go.
  • faire = to do.

How is French sentence structure different from English? ›

In English, a sentence is constructed according to a subject-verb-object word order: Sally (subject) eats (verb) croissants (object). French also has a subject-verb-object (or sujet-verbe-complément) structure in basic sentences, as you'll see here: Marie (sujet) mange (verbe) des croissants (complément).

What are the 17 verbs in French? ›

allé, arrivé, venu, revenu, entré, rentré, descendu, devenu, sorti, parti, resté, retourné, monté, tombé, né et mort.

What is the hardest part of French grammar? ›

The hardest things about learning French for advanced learners are the subjunctive and oral comprehension. The subjunctive is a verbal mood in French that expresses uncertainty, emotion, necessity, and doubt — in a word, it's used when the subject expresses an attitude.

What is the hardest sentence to say in French? ›

Cinq gros rats grillent dans la grosse graisse grasse.

Even in English this one is hard to say! We've abandoned the ss sound for one of the French sounds that's hardest for Anglophone learners to produce: r.

What is the best French grammar checker? ›

The 6 best free French grammar checkers
  • LanguageTool, the best French grammar checker on our list.
  • Scribens, a great tool to check French grammar.
  • Textgears, a context-less French grammar corrector.
  • Bon Patron, a dense French grammar checker.
  • Reverso, a potentially misleading French spell-check tool.
5 days ago

What are 3 strategies to read a text in French? ›

Here are a few pre-reading strategies that are helpful. Look at the pictures. Look at the title. Scan text for familiar words.

What is the difference between quoi and que? ›

Quoi means "what." Que is like "that." For example, J'espére QUE tu n'es pas trop fatigué. (I hope THAT you're not too tired) or Il m'a dit QUE je suis marrant (He told me THAT I'm hilarious) Que always follows a noun otherwise you use qui. Qui is followed by a verb. Il y a une fille qui mange.

What are the 4 rules for adjectives in French? ›

When you use an adjective it must agree with the noun it is describing in both gender – masculine or feminine – and number – singular or plural. This means that French adjectives can have up to four different forms: masculine singular; feminine singular; masculine plural; and feminine plural.

What are 10 examples of command sentences? ›

In the examples of imperative sentences here, you'll note that each line is issuing a command of some sort:
  • Pass the salt.
  • Move out of my way!
  • Shut the front door.
  • Find my leather jacket.
  • Be there at five.
  • Clean your room.
  • Complete these by tomorrow.
  • Consider the red dress.
5 Sept 2016

What are the 5 interrogative question words? ›

We use interrogative pronouns to ask questions. They are: who, which, whom, what and whose.

What are the 20 most used verbs in French? ›

Master French conjugation: 20 Most widely used French verbs and their conjugation
  • Être (to be)
  • Avoir (to have)
  • Aller (to go)
  • Parler (to speak/talk)
  • Faire (to do)
  • Prendre (to take)
  • Vouloir (to want)
  • Savoir (to know)
12 Sept 2022

What are the 17 Vandertramp verbs? ›

They are the Mrs Vandertramp verbs, and they are these:
  • Monter (elle est montée)
  • Retourner (elle est retournée)
  • Sortir (elle est sortie)
  • Venir (elle est venue)
  • Aller (elle est allée)
  • Naître (elle est née)
  • Descendre (elle est descendue)
  • Entrer (elle est entrée)
6 May 2015

Is French SVO or SOV? ›

Rule #1: French is SVO

Like many other languages throughout the world, French is what we call an SVO language. This means that the default word order is: Subject – Verb – Object.

How do you answer simple questions in French? ›

– Est-ce que vous parlez anglais?
...
QuestionsAnswers
How are you? – Comment allez-vous?I'm doing well, and you? – Je vais bien, et vous?
How are you? (shorter version) – Ça va?Fine, thanks, and you? – Bien, merci. Et vous?
Good, thanks. – Bien, merci
Not bad – Pas trop mal
23 Sept 2018

How do I learn French oral questions? ›

5 Tips to Help You Prepare for the French Oral Exam
  1. Practice, practice, practice. The best preparation you can do is to practice speaking French as much as possible. ...
  2. Lead the conversation. ...
  3. Know your verbs. ...
  4. Know what the examiner will ask. ...
  5. Check you know your question words. ...
  6. Bonus. ...
  7. Finally!

Is Class 11 French easy? ›

It's hard or not, depends upon your leaning and grasping ability, some people find this easy while some people find this very hard to learn French.

How are question marks used in French? ›

- question mark ? Rule in French: One space before, one space after except for the semicolon where the space is optional.

How do you write a French question for beginners? ›

The most basic way of asking a question in French is simply to use the intonation of your voice to change a statement into a question. For example: tu veux une bière (you want a beer) tu veux une bière ? (you want a beer?)

How do you use est-ce que? ›

The phrase est-ce que is used to ask a question. Word order stays just the same as it would in an ordinary sentence. Est-ce que comes before the subject, and the verb comes after the subject. So to turn the sentence Tu connais Marie (meaning You know Marie) into a question, all you need to do is to add est-ce que.

Is GCSE French difficult? ›

French (or any language) is a great subject to take at GCSE because 60% of the marks are based on your Speaking and Writing assessments which you can easily get A* or full marks on if you spend time learning them. Then you only have to get a grade C/B on the written paper to get a good grade overall like an A or B.

Is French hard at GCSE? ›

Is GCSE French hard? How hard you find it depends on many factors, like the learning method you choose, how much you enjoy the process, and your motivations. French is a pretty tough language to learn for several reasons!

Why do French people put a space before a question mark? ›

The prevailing theory around the origins of French spacing is that it's a holdover from old printing standards, as evidenced by its use in old books. It most likely started with the question mark, because it takes up much more space than other punctuation marks.

Does French have a space before a question mark? ›

French. Yes, the whole language. In French, exclamation points, question marks, colons, and semi-colons (all forms of "high" punctuation) should always have a space preceding them.

How do you do well on a French writing test? ›

Top Tips for Advanced French Tests
  1. Translate any French text or audio into English.
  2. Read it precisely and wait a day or so.
  3. Now write that text or audio into your own French words and phrases.
  4. Translate your written text into French by a tool.
  5. Now compare your text with the original text.
14 Feb 2019

What is the difference between Qu est ce que and Quelle? ›

When it is in a question: It may help to think of "qu'est ce que" as what, where you really don't know the answer , and "quel" (quelle) as "which one", where you know you are asking about something, but you only know a part: you are asking about a book, an age, a car, and you need an answer specific to that: which book ...

What is the meaning of Qu est ce qu? ›

: what is it? : what's that?

Whats the difference between quoi and Qu est ce que? ›

you start a question with "qu'est-ce que"; in order words, "qu'est-ce que" only appears at the start of a question. However, you end a question with "quoi"; in order words, "quoi" only appears at appears at the end of a question. Qu'est-ce que tu fais?

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