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 :

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).

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.


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 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

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 :

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

(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)

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

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


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.


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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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.

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Asking questions
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  • • 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 ?

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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.

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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.

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How do you form questions in French GCSE? ›

In French, you can ask a question in several different ways.
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  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:

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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 ...

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: what is it? : what's that?

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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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