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 The interrogative - 2

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 Interrogative pronouns, interrogative adverbs, interrogative adjectives

 How to ask questions in French : part 2

  Questions using a question word 

Question words are interrogative pronouns, adverbs or adjectives which are usually placed at the start of a question. In English they are words like what, why, how, who  or how many . In French they are words like que, qui, pourquoi or expressions like qu'est-ce que or qu'est-ce que c'est que.
Even when a question word indicates that a question is being asked, as for questions without question words, the principal indicator that shows that a question is being asked is a subject / verb inversion.
   French organises questions differently depending on whether the subject is a pronoun or a noun.  
   There are two types of  questions using question words in French.
  • Short-form questions using simple question words such as qui or quand, which are found in written or spoken French. See section 1 below
  • Longer forms using expressions such as  qu'est-ce que  or où est-ce que  or quand est-ce que  which are commonly used in spoken French. See section 2 below.
For questions without question words ( as in  Êtes-vous sûr? ), return to Interrogatives 1.

1. Short-form questions with a single question word

Question structures:
1. When the question word Qui is the subject of the question, the question word introduces the question, and is followed by the verb (the auxiliary if there is one, otherwise the main verb), and then by any other parts of the sentence.
2. In all other cases, the question word introduces the question, and is followed by the verb (the auxiliary if there is one, otherwise the main verb), which is followed directly or indirectly by the subject  .
The basic structures are thus the same in both cases:
Simple examples: Qui êtes-vous ?  or Que faites-vous ?

1.1.1. Interrogative pronouns Qui, que, à qui, à quoi
Qui refers to people, and means  who or whom - i.e. it can be subject or object (examples 1 and 2)
Que refers to objects (everything except people), and means  what, almost always as the object of a sentence (examples 3 and 4)
Just occasionally que can be the subject of a question (example 5)
A qui (examples 6 and 7) refers to people, and means  whose
A quoi (examples 8 and 9) refers to people, and means "of what" 
French English
1. Qui mange au resto ce soir? Who's eating at the restaurant this evening?
2. Qui voyez-vous Who(m) do you see ?
3. Que pense-t-il ? What does he think ?
4. Qu'avez-vous dit ? What did you say ?
5. Que se passe-t-il ? What is happening
6. A qui est ce téléphone ? Whose is this telephone ?
7. Qui est déjà allé à Montréal ? Who's already been to Montreal ?
8. A quoi appartient cette pièce ? What does this part belong to ?
9. A quoi pense-t-il? What is he thinking about?
Qui is often replaced, specially in spoken French, with the expressions Qui est-ce qui (subject) or Qui est-ce que (object).
Que is often replaced, specially in spoken French, with the expressions Qu'est-ce qui (subject) or Qu'est-ce que (object). See long-form questions below.

1.1.2. Interrogative pronouns Lequel, laquelle
Lequel, laquelle etc. refer back to people or objects that have been previously mentioned or implied, or are designated in the question. They correspond to the English which (which ones, which of them, which people)
French English
1. Voici deux tableaux; lequel préfères-tu? Here are two paintings; which do you prefer ?
2. "Emballez les cadeaux!" 
   "Lesquels dois-je emballer?"
Wrap up the presents !
  Which ones must I wrap?
3. Laquelle de ces dix fleurs est la plus belle Which of these ten flowers is the most beautiful ?
4. Je dois choisir un téléphone, mais je ne sais pas lequel (choisir) . I have to choose a phone, but I don't know which one (to choose).

1.1.3. Interrogative adverbs Où, quand, pourquoi, comment
refers to place, and means  where (examples 1 and 2)
Quand refers to time, and means  when.
   Quand is frequently expanded to Quand est-ce que
Pourquoi  refers to cause or reason, and means  why.
Comment refers to method or means, and means  how.
Combien (de) refers to quantity, and means  how much or how many
French English
1. Où va ce train ? Where is this train going ?
2. Où sont les toilettes, s'il vous plaît ? Where are the toilets, please ?
3. Quand pensez-vous venir? When do you think you'll come?
4. Quand est-ce qu'il va pleuvoir ? When's it going to rain ?
5. Pourquoi pleure-t-il tant, l'enfant ? Why is the child crying so much ?
6. Pourquoi dis tu cela ? Why do you say that ?
7. Comment allez-vous? How do you do?
6. Comment va-t-elle s'expliquer ? How will she explain herself ?
9. Combien pèse ce paquet ? How much does this packet weigh ?
10. Combien d'argent avons nous ? How much money do we have ?

1.1.4. Interrogative adjectives Quel / Quelle / -s
Quel, in all its forms, implies a choice between or among the noun(s) that it qualifies; it means which or sometimes what.
   Being an adjective, Quel qualifies a noun, unlike the interrogative pronouns of the group Lequel (see above).  It is normally used attributively (before the noun - examples 1 - 3 ), but sometimes can be used predicatively with the verb être (as an introductory complement - examples 4 - 6 )
French English
1. Quel route devons nous prendre? Which road must we take ?
2. Quelle heure est-il ? What's the time ? (litterally Which hour is it?)
3. Mais quelle idée lui est passée par la tête? But what's got into his head ?
4. Quel est votre avis ? What is your opinion ?
5. Quelles sont  les bonnes réponses ? Which are the right answers ?
6. Quelle était sa réaction ? How did he/she react ?

2. Long-form questions in French

Long forms of the question.
In everyday spoken French, it is very common for people to stress that they are asking a question, by starting it with a consolidator like   Qu'est-ce que  or où est-ce que  or quand est-ce que  . Questions starting this way are unmistakably questions, while questions starting with a short question word, most notably que  or qu'  could be misheard.
  For example, it would be easy to confuse  Qu'avez-vous vu ?  with Avez-vous vu ?
  The solution is so simple. Just add Qu'est-ce que ... or a similar expression to the start of a declarative statement and it becomes a question.
IMPORTANT: when questions are formed using Qu'est-ce que ... or a similar expression, there is no inversion of subject and verb.
Example: Que pensez-vous ? but Qu'est-ce que vous pensez ?

2.1.  Qui est-ce qu..  / Qu'est-ce qu..  (...c'est que)
The precise expression used depends on whether the question refers to a human or an inanimate, and whether the question concerns the subject or the object of the statement.
Qui est ce qui
is the human subject of a question.
Qui est ce que is the human object of a question
Qu'est ce qui is the inanimate subject of a question.
Qu'est ce que is the inanimate object of a question .

Long form questions can also be formed with lequel etc.

Long question form Short equivalent
No inversion
Inversion when appropriate
1. Qui est-ce qui aime le chocolat ? Qui aime le chocolat ? *
2. Qui est-ce qu'il a épousée ?. Qui a-t-il épousée ?
3. Qu'est-ce qui vous surprend ? Que vous surprend-il ?
4. Qu'est-ce qui va se passer ? Que va-t-il se passer ?
5. Qu'est-ce que vous en pensez ? Qu'en pensez-vous ?
6. Lesquelles est-ce que tu préfères ?Lesquelles préfères-tu ?
Example 1.  There is no inversion when qui is the subject of a question. See qui above.
Example 3.  Que as subject of a verb. In this example, and in modern French, to render the perfectly acceptable English question "What surprises you?"  one cannot say "Que vous surprend ?"  And certainly not "Que surprend vous ?". A short form can be formed by repeating the subject (que ... il), but this is clumsy and is a structure that is not much used. The long form is most common.
Example 4. Se passer is an existential verb, and one of only a few such verbs that can be commonly used in a short-form question starting with Que as a subject. Other such verbs include arriver, exister, survivre, suivre,

2.2. The even longer form: Qu'est-ce que c'est qu..
This even longer alternative is only found in spoken French, and is quite common in colloquial French. Of particular importance is example 6, which is a very normal way of saying "What's that ?"
Long question form Even longer form
1. Qui est-ce qui aime le chocolat ? Qui est-ce que c'est  qui aime le chocolat ?
2. Qui est-ce qu'il a épousée ?. Qui est-ce c'est qu'il a épousée ?.
3. Qu'est-ce qui vous surprend ? Qu'est-ce que c'est qui vous surprend ?
4. Qu'est-ce qui va se passer ? Qu'est-ce c'est qui va se passer ?
5. Qu'est-ce que vous en pensez ? Qu'est-ce c'est que vous en pensez ?
6.  (none) Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça ?

2.3. Long forms with interrogative adverbs: quand est-ce que, Où est-ce que, etc
All of the interrogative adverbs in French can, and often are, consolidated at the start of questions by the addition of est-ce qu.., and when necessary with the addition of il est.
Short question form Long equivalent
1. Où est le chocolat ? Où est-ce qu'il est le chocolat ? 
2. Où as-tu mis le chocolat ? Où est-ce que tu as mis le chocolat ?
3. Quand avez vous vu le chat ? Quand est-ce que vous avez vu le chat?
4. Quand l'avez vous vu ? Quand est-ce que vous l'avez vu ?
5. Pouquoi s'arrête-t-il ? Pourquoi est-ce qu'il s'arrête ?
6. Pourquoi mange-t-il un oeuf? Pourquoi est-ce qu'il mange un oeuf ?
7. Comment allez-vous ? Comment est-ce que vous allez ?
8. Comment le chat est-il rentré là-dedans? Comment est-ce que le chat est rentré là-dedans ?
9. Combien ça coûte? Combien est-ce que ça coûte?
10. Combien en as-tu mangé? Combien est-ce que tu en as mangé?
Il est. is added in example 1 because the question uses the verb être.
In such cases, a second verb must be added, otherwise the dependent clause starting qu.. would have no verb.
Here are some more examples:  Où est-ce qu'il est  mon téléphone ? / Comment est-ce qu'elle est votre maman ?  / Pourquoi est-ce qu'il est là

► For questions without question words ( as in  Êtes-vous sûr? ), return to Interrogatives 1.
►Return to French grammar index

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