Interrogative Pronouns

French interrogative pronouns
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Pronoms interrogatifs

Who, what, which one? Use interrogative pronouns to ask these questions, which are a little more complicated in French than in English.

Characteristics of interrogative pronouns

  1. Ask who(m), what, or which one(s)
  2. Can be subjects, direct objects, or objects of a preposition
  3. May be used with est-ce que/qui or with inversion

Qui vs Que

When it comes to interrogative pronouns,* qui means "who" or "whom" and que means "what."

Qui as subject

When "who" is the subject of the question, you can translate it by either qui or, less commonly, qui est-ce qui, plus a verb in the third person singular.

Par exemple…

Qui va au marché ? Qui est-ce qui va au marché ?   Who’s going to the market?
Qui a acheté le pain ? Qui est-ce qui a acheté le pain ?   Who bought the bread?

Qui as object

As the direct object of a question, "whom" is translated by either qui est-ce que or qui + inversion.

Par exemple…

Qui est-ce que tu connais ici ? Qui connais-tu ici ?   Whom do you know here?
Qui est-ce qu’elle a vu ? Qui a-t-elle vu ?   Whom did she see?

Likewise when "whom" is the object of a preposition:

Par exemple…

De qui est-ce qu’ils parlent ? De qui parlent-ils ?   Whom are they talking about?
À qui est-ce que tu as envoyé la lettre ? À qui as-tu envoyé la lettre ?   Whom did you send the letter to?

Que as subject

When "what" is the subject of the question, it is equivalent to qu’est-ce qui plus a verb in the third person singular.

Par exemple…

Qu’est-ce qui se passe ?   What’s happening? What’s wrong?
Qu’est-ce qui manque ?   What is missing?

  Inversion is rare, and requires the addition of the neuter subject pronoun il.

Que se passe-t-il ?   What’s happening? What’s wrong?
Que manque-t-il ?   What is missing?

Que as object

As the object of a question, "what" is translated by either qu’est-ce que or que + inversion.

Par exemple…

Qu’est-ce que vous faites ? Que faites-vous ?   What are you doing?
Qu’est-ce que tu vas étudier ? Que vas-tu étudier ?   What are you going to study?

 When "what" is the object of a preposition, the French equivalent is quoi + est-ce que or inversion.

Par exemple…

À quoi est-ce que vous le comparez ? À quoi le comparez-vous ?   What are you comparing it to?
De quoi est-ce qu’il écrit ? De quoi écrit-il ?   What does he write about?

Qui vs que summary

 Subject Direct object Object of preposition
Who(m)  qui est-ce qui
 
 qui est-ce que
qui
+ inversion
 qui est-ce que
qui
+ inversion
What qu’est-ce qui
(que + inversion)
 qu’est-ce que
que
+ inversion
 quoi est-ce que
quoi
+ inversion

  Qui vs Que + est-ce + qui vs que

As summarized in the above table, there are four possible combinations when asking questions without inversion. Just remember that the first word (the interrogative pronoun) determines whether you’re asking who (qui) or what (que), and the last word (which is a relative pronoun) determines whether the interrogative is a subject (qui) or object (que).

  Notes

* This is not always the case for qui and que as relative pronouns.

The third interrogative pronoun is lequel.

Interrogative pronouns can also be used in indirect questions.

Par exemple…

Sais-tu qui va au marché ?   Do you know who is going to the market?
Je me demande de quoi il écrit.   I wonder what he writes about.

Interrogative Pronouns Quiz

Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on the difference between qui and que with this fill-in-the-blank exercise: Une petite sœur très curieuse

Note: You must be logged into your Progress with Lawless French account to take this test. If you don’t have one, sign up – it’s free!

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French interrogative pronouns

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