Questions

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Les questions

Knowing how to ask questions is essential for making plans, shopping, traveling, getting to know people, and any other activity that requires obtaining information. There are two different types of questions, and different ways to ask each type.

  "To ask" = demander, but "to ask a question" = poser une question.
You cannot say demander une question.

Closed Questions / Yes-No Questions / Simple Questions

Questions fermées / Questions totales

Questions which allow a limited selection of answers – a simple "yes" or "no" – are called closed questions. In English, closed questions always start with "do," "be," or "have," while in French they typically start either with the phrase est-ce que or with inversion.

Est-ce que

The phrase est-ce que (literally, "is it that") is the inversion of c’est que ("this is that"). In reality, est-ce que has no meaning at all – it simply goes in front of a statement to turn it into a question. This is the most common way to ask questions.

Par exemple…

Est-ce que vous aimez voyager ?   Do you like traveling?
Est-ce qu’il est prêt ?   Is he ready?
Est-ce qu’elles ont mangé ?   Have they eaten?

  Note that a space is required in front of the question mark in French.

Inversion

In formal situations, inversion is more common: the subject pronoun and verb are inverted and joined with a hyphen:

Par exemple…

Aimez-vous voyager ?   Do you like traveling?
Est-il prêt ?   Is he ready?
Ont-elles mangé ?   Have they eaten?

Informal Questions

In an informal situation, when you expect the answer to your question to be yes, you can ask by simply making a statement and raising your pitch at the end, just like in English.

Par exemple…

Vous aimez voyager ?   You like traveling?
Il est prêt ?   He’s ready?
Elles ont mangé ?   They’ve eaten?

You can also use a tag question like n’est-ce pas ? for emphasis:

Par exemple…

Vous aimez voyager, n’est-ce pas ?   You like traveling, right?
Il est prêt, n’est-ce pas ?   He’s ready, isn’t he?
Elles ont mangé, n’est-ce pas ?   They’ve eaten, haven’t they?

Negative Questions

On the other hand, when you expect the answer to be no, you can have two options:

  • Formal: use inversion with a negative adverb
  • Informal: make a negative statement and raise your pitch at the end

Par exemple…

Formal Informal    
N’aimez-vous pas voyager ? Vous n’aimez pas voyager ?   Don’t you like traveling? You don’t like traveling?
N’est-il pas prêt ? Il n’est pas prêt ?   Isn’t he ready? He isn’t ready?
N’ont-elles pas mangé ? Elles n’ont pas mangé ?   Haven’t they eaten? They haven’t eaten?

To respond to the above, see Answering questions

Open Questions / WH– Questions / Information Questions

Questions ouvertes / Questions partielles

When you ask for information about who, what, when, etc., you’re asking an open question. In French, just place the question word* in front of est-ce que or inversion.

Par exemple…

Informal Formal    
Où est-ce que vous aimez voyager ? Où aimez-vous voyager?   Where do you like to travel?
Quand est-ce qu’il sera prêt ? Quand sera-t-il prêt ?**   When will he be ready?
Pourquoi est-ce qu’elles n’ont pas mangé ? Pourquoi n’ont-elles pas mangé ?   Why haven’t they eaten?

* The question word(s) may be any of the following:

** When an inverted verb ending in a vowel is followed by a pronoun beginning with a vowel, t- must be placed between them for euphony.

   
Quiz: Questions

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2 Responses

  1. Shahana Jamal 10 January 2018 / 10:02

    I am super grateful for your work and thank you so much for this. it has helped me in many ways and the fact that you are doing this for free is totally amazing. indeed, not all heroes wear capes