Est-ce que

Est-ce qu'il l'aime ?
Elle l’aime, mais est-ce qu’il l’aime ?
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Essential French Expression

Meaning (turns a statement into a question)
Literally is it that
Register normal/informal
Pronunciation [ehs keu]
IPA   [ɛs kə]

Usage notes: Est-ce que is unique among French expressions in that it doesn’t actually mean anything – it’s just a way of turning a statement into a question, kind of like the word "do" in English. The difference is that the word order changes when asking a question with "do," whereas in French, it stays exactly the same, with est-ce que placed directly in front of the statement.

Est-ce que is the inversion of c’est que, literally, “it is that.” Hence the hyphen between est and ce: c’est = ce + est is inverted to est-ce.

Though est-ce que is widespread in spoken French, it’s much less common in writing because it’s slightly informal. Remember that if you’re in a formal situation, you should avoid it in favor of inversion.

Par exemple…

Tu es prêt.
   > Est-ce que tu es prêt ?
You are ready
   > Are you ready?
Michel l’a fait.
   > Est-ce que Michel l’a fait ?
Michel did it.
   > Did Michel do it?
Vous voulez danser.
   > Est-ce que vous voulez danser ?
You want to dance.
   > Do you want to dance?

  As always, que contracts to qu’ when it precedes a word that begins with a vowel.

Par exemple…

Elle est sympa.
   > Est-ce qu’elle est sympa ?
She’s nice.
   > Is she nice?
Il y a du pain.
   > Est-ce qu’il y a du pain ?
There’s bread.
   > Is there any bread?
Arnaud va nous accompagner.
   > Est-ce qu’Arnaud va nous accompagner ?
Arnaud is going to accompany us.
   > Is Arnaud going to accompany us?

So far, these have all been yes/no questions. WH questions (which ask for information like “who” and “how”) are a bit different: they need an interrogatory pronoun, adverb, or adjective before est-ce que:

Par exemple…

Qui est-ce que nous allons inviter ?    Whom are we going to invite?
Pourquoi est-ce que tu es parti ?   Why did you leave?
Quelle voiture est-ce qu’elle préfère ?   Which car does she prefer?

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