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Asking Questions in French

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Want to know something? Whether you're working, traveling, learning, or just trying to learn more about someone, questions are an essential part of any conversation. This lesson will teach you four different ways to ask questions in French.

1. Est-ce que
Est-ce que, literally "is it that," can be placed at the beginning of any affirmative sentence to turn it into a question:

   Est-ce que vous dansez ?
   Do you dance?

   Est-ce que tu veux voir un film ?
   Do you want to see a movie?

   Est-ce qu'il est arrivé ?
   Has he arrived?

Place any question words* in front of est-ce que:

   Quand est-ce que tu veux partir ?
   When do you want to leave?

   Pourquoi est-ce qu'il a menti ?
   Why did he lie?

   Quel livre est-ce que vous cherchez ?
   Which book are you looking for?


2. Inversion
A more formal way to ask questions is with inversion: invert the conjugated verb and subject pronoun and join them with a hyphen:

   Dansez-vous ?
   Do you dance?

   Veux-tu voir un film ?
   Do you want to see a movie?

   Est-il arrivé ?
   Has he arrived?

Again, place any interrogative words at the beginning of the question:

   Quand veux-tu partir ?
   When do you want to leave?

   Pourquoi a-t-il menti ?**
   Why did he lie?

   Quel livre cherchez-vous ?
   Which book are you looking for?

You can use inversion to ask negative questions***

   Ne dansez-vous pas ?
   Don't you dance?

   N'est-il pas encore arrivé ?
   Hasn't he arrived yet?


3. Statement as question
A very simple but informal way to ask yes/no questions is to raise the pitch of your voice while pronouncing any sentence:

   Vous dansez ?
   You dance?

   Tu veux voir un film ?
   You want to see a movie?

   Il est arrivé ?
   He arrived?

You can also use this structure to ask negative questions:

   Tu ne danses pas ?
   You don't dance?

   Il n'est pas encore arrivé ?
   He hasn't arrived yet?


4. N'est-ce pas ?
If you're pretty sure the answer to your question is yes, you can just make an affirmative statement and then add the tag n'est-ce pas ? to the end. This is also informal:

   Tu danses, n'est-ce pas ?
   You dance, right?

   Tu veux voir un film, n'est-ce pas ?
   You want to see a movie, right?

   Il est arrivé, n'est-ce pas ?
   He arrived, right?


There are other informal ways to ask questions, which you can read about in my lesson on informal questions.


Notes

The French equivalent of the verb "to ask" is demander, but "to ask a question" is poser une question - learn more.


*There are two main types of questions:
  1. Yes/no questions, also known as polar questions or closed questions (questions fermées), ask for a simple yes or no answer.
     
  2. Information questions, also known as WH questions, constituent questions, or open questions (questions ouvertes), ask for information with question words, like who, what, when, where, why, which, how, how much/many. See links below for lessons on French question words.

**When using inversion with the third person singular (il, elle, or on) and a verb that ends in a vowel, you must add t- between the verb and subject pronoun (why?):

   Aime-t-il les films ? - Does he like movies?
   Écoute-t-elle la radio ? - Does she listen to the radio?
   A-t-on décidé ? - Have we decided?


***There is a special French word, si, that is used only when responding in the affirmative to a negative question. (I wish English had a word like this!)

Affirmative questions   Negative questions
- Vas-tu au ciné ? - Oui !
- Are you going to the movies? - Yes!
  - Ne vas-tu pas au ciné ? - Si !
- Aren't you going to the movies? - Yes (I am)!
- Est-ce que tu veux venir ? - Oui !
- Do you want to come? - Yes!
  - Tu ne veux pas venir ? - Si !
- You don't want to come? - Yes (I do)!
 
How are you doing? Try my French question quiz
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