Easy Learning French

How to ask a question in French - Easy Learning Grammar French

1 The basic rules

  • There are four ways of asking questions in French:
  • by making your voice go up at the end of the sentence
  • by using the phrase est-ce que
  • by changing round the order of words in a sentence
  • by using a question word

2 Asking a question by making your voice go up

  • If you are expecting the answer yes or no, there is a very straightforward way of asking a question. You can keep word order just as it would be in a normal sentence (subject then verb), but turn it into a question by making your voice go up at the end of the sentence. So to turn the sentence Vous aimez la France (meaning You like France) into a question, all you need to do is to add a question mark and make your voice go up at the end.
Vous (subject) aimez (verb) la France?Do you like France?
On part tout de suite.We’re leaving right away.
On part tout de suite?Are we leaving right away?
C’est vrai.That’s true.
C’est vrai?Is that true?
Tes parents sont en vacances.Your parents on holiday.
Tes parents sont en vacances?Are your parents on holiday?
TipFrench speakers use this way of asking a question in ordinary, everyday conversations.

3 Asking a question by using 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.
Est-ce que tu (subject) connais (verb) Marie?Do you know Marie?
Est-ce que vous allez en ville?Are you going into town?
Est-ce que ta sœur est vraiment heureuse?Is your sister really happy?

4 Asking a question by changing word order

  • In ordinary sentences, the verb comes AFTER its subject. In this type of question, the verb is put BEFORE the subject. This change to normal word order is called inversion. You can do this when the subject is a pronoun such as vous or il. When you change the word order (or invert) in this way, you add a hyphen (-) between the verb and the pronoun.
Vous (subject) aimez (verb) la France.You like France.
Aimez (verb)-vous (subject) la France?Do you like France?
Il écrit bien.He writes well.
Écrit-il bien?Does he write well?
On part tout de suite.We’re leaving right away.
Partez-vous tout de suite?Are you leaving right away?
  • For more information on Pronouns, see Pronouns.
TipThis is quite a formal way of asking a question.
  • In the perfect tense and other tenses that consist of two or more words such as the pluperfect, the part of the verb that comes from avoir or être is the one that goes before the pronoun.
As-tu vu mon sac?Have you seen my bag?
Est-elle restée longtemps?Did she stay long?
  • When the verb ends in a vowel in the il/elle form, -t- is inserted before the pronoun to make the words easier to say.
Aime-t-il les chiens?Does he like dogs?
A-t-elle assez d’argent?Does she have enough money?
TipUnlike English there are two ways in French of answering yes to a question or statement. oui is the word you use to reply to an ordinary question.
‘Tu l’as fait?’ – ‘Oui.’‘Have you done it?’ – ‘Yes.’
‘Elle est belle, n’est-ce pas?’ – ‘Oui.’‘She’s beautiful, isn’t she?’ – ‘Yes.’
si is the word you use to reply to a question or statement that contains a negative expression like ne … pas.
‘Tu ne l’as pas fait?’ – ‘Si.’‘Haven’t you done it?’ – ‘Yes (I have).’
‘Elle n’est pas très belle.’ – ‘Mais si!’‘She isn’t very beautiful.’ – ‘Yes, she is!’
Grammar Extra!You can also form a question in this way with a noun or a person’s name. If you do this, the noun or name comes first, then you add an extra pronoun after the verb and link them with a hyphen.
Jean-Pierre (subject) est(verb)-il (pronoun) là?Is Jean-Pierre there?
La pièce dure-t-elle longtemps?Does the play last long?
In less formal French, the pronoun may come before the verb, and the noun or name may come at the end of the sentence.
Il est là, Jean-Pierre?Is Jean-Pierre there?
Elle dure longtemps, la pièce?Does the play last long?

5 Asking a question by using a question word

  • A question word is a word like when or how that is used to ask for information. The most common French question words are listed on Question words-150.
  • You can use a question word with one of the methods described above:
  • you can make your voice go up at the end of the sentence. If you do this, the question word goes at the END of the sentence.
  • you can use est-ce que. If you do this, the question word goes at the START of the sentence.
  • you can change word order so that the verb comes before the subject. If you do this, the question word goes at the START of the sentence.
Vous arrivez quand? 
Quand est-ce que vous arrivez?When do you arrive?
Quand arrivez-vous? 
Tu prends quel train? 
Quel train est-ce que tu prends?What train are you getting?
Quel train prends-tu? 
Ils vont ? 
est-ce qu’ils vont?Where are they going?
vont-ils? 
  • For more information on Negatives, see Negatives.
Key points
  • You ask a question in French by making your voice go up at the end of the sentence, by using est-ce que, by changing normal word order, or by using a question word.
  • When you put the verb in front of the subject, you join the two words with a hyphen. A -t- is used in the il/elle form if the verb ends in a vowel.
  • You use oui to answer yes to an ordinary question, but si if there is a negative in the question or statement.

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