Asking Other Questions in French

Learn French: How to Ask Questions in French

Once you’ve understood the ways of asking simple yes or no questions, asking for more information becomes much easier.  This is because these more complex questions follow patterns similar to those of their simpler cousins:

1. Inversion of verb and subject order

2. Est-ce que (is it that)

3. Rising intonation at the end of a normal sentence

Note, though, that you can no longer use n’est-ce pas or c’est ça since these two expressions merely seek confirmation or negation of a straightforward statement.

But isn’t that what we said about est-ce que in “Asking Yes or No Questions“?  Yes, it is. When a question is built around est-ce que alone, the appropriate answers are yes or no.  However, when you combine est-ce que with interrogative adjectives, adverbs or pronouns, you allow the person to whom you’re asking the question to provide a fuller answer. The addition of these interrogative particles also applies to the other two ways of asking more complex questions in French.

When asking complex questions, inversion and est-ce que are equally “correct” ways to ask a question both written and spoken French. These are the forms you should use in more formal settings (e.g. talking to a superior, a police officer or any civil servant, etc…).  As before, the rising-intonation questions are better suited to the more informal conversations with family and friends.

Let’s have a look at the particles you need to add for more complex questions:

1.      Interrogative Adjectives (adjectifs interrogatifs) modify a noun or noun phrase and as such they must agree in gender and number with said noun or noun phrase. These adjectives may be combined with prepositions à and de to further specify the question being asked.

Singular

Plural

Translation

Masculine

quel

quels

which or what

Feminine

quelle

quelles

(A) Inversion: the correct usage is to place the adjective at the beginning of the sentence:

Quelle est ta ville préférée? / Which is your favorite town?

ta ville:  singular, feminine  =>  quelle

Quel fruit mange-t-il ? / What fruit is he eating?

fruit:  singular, masculine  =>  quel

À quels niveaux du jeu as-tu des problèmes? / With which levels of the game do you have trouble?

niveaux:  plural, masculine  =>  à quels

De quelles vedettes rêve-t-elle? / Which stars does she dream about?

vedettes: plural, feminine  =>  de quelles

(B)  Est-ce que:  the correct usage is (de or à) quel(les) + noun + est-ce que at the beginning of the sentence

Quel sandwich est-ce que tu veux? / Which sandwich do you want?

sandwich: singular, masculine  => quel

Quelles fleurs est-ce que vous choisiriez? / Which flowers would you choose?
fleurs:  plural, feminine =>  quelles

À quels poêmes est-ce que vous songez? / Which poems are you thinking of?
poêmes:  plural, masculine  =>  à quels

De quel bord est-ce qu’il est? / Which side is he on?
bord:  singular, masculine  =>  de quel

(C)   Normal sentence with rising intonation and the interrogative particle appended at the end: the correct usage is (de or à) quel(les) + noun at the end of the sentence.

Tu veux quel sandwich? / Which sandwich do you want?

Vous choisiriez quelles fleurs? / Which flowers would you choose?

Vous songez  à quels poêmes? / Which poems are you thinking of?

Il est de quel bord? / Which side is he on?

2.      Interrogative Adverbs (adverbes interrogatifs) modify a verb to make the question about the verb action.

Adverbes Interrogatifs

Interrogative Adverbs

quand

When

comment

How

Where

d’où

from where

combien

how much/how many

pourquoi

Why

A.   Inversion: the correct usage is to place the adverb at the beginning of the sentence:

#  Quand viendrez-vous me voir? / When will you come to see me?

#  Comment allez-vous? / How do you do?

#  Où est-il? / Where is he?

#  D’où sortez-vous cela? / Where do you get that from?

#  Combien de fois dois-je te le dire? / How many times must I tell you?

#  Pourquoi as-tu fais ça? Why did you do this?

B.   Est-ce que: the correct usage is to place the adverb + est-ce que at the beginning of the sentence:

#  Quand est-ce que vous viendrez me voir? / When will you come to see me?

#  Comment est-ce que vous vous sentez? / How do you feel?

#  Où est-ce qu’il est? / Where is he?

#  D’où est-ce que vous sortez cela? / Where do you get that from?

#  Combien est-ce que cela fait? / How much does that come to?

#  Pourquoi est-ce que tu as fais ça? Why did you do this?

C.   Normal sentence with rising intonation and the interrogative particle appended at the end: the correct usage is to have the adverb follow the verb:

#  Vous viendrez me voir quand? / When will you come to see me?

#  Vous vous sentez comment? / How do you feel?

#  Il est où? / Where is he?

#  Vous sortez cela d’où? / Where do you get that from?

#  Cela fait combien? / How much does that come to?

#  Tu as fais ça pourquoi? Why did you do this?

3. Interrogative Pronouns (pronoms interrogatifs) substitute for a noun and come in 2 flavors: variable and invariable

Variable Interrogative Pronouns: these stand ins for nouns agree in gender and number with said nouns.

Masculine

Feminine

Translation

Singular

lequel

laquelle

which one

Plural

lesquels

lesquelles

which ones

These French pronouns may be combined with prepositions à and de to further specify the question being asked. Take note of the fact that, apart from the singular feminine, both prepositional expressions make use of contractions (see table below) to substitute for à lequel, à lesquels, à lesquelles on one hand, and de lequel, de lesquels, de lesquelles on the other.

Masculine

Feminine

Translation

Singular

auquel

à laquelle

to which one

duquel

de laquelle

of which one

Plural

auxquels

auxquelles

to which ones

desquels

desquelles

of which ones

A.   Inversion: the correct usage is to place the pronoun at the beginning of the sentence.

#  Lequel de ces desserts voulez-vous? / Which one of these desserts do you want?

=> Here, lequel stands for one dessert (singular, masculine)

# Auxquelles soirées voulez-vous aller?

=> / To which ones of these dinner parties do you want to go?

=> auxquelles stands for several dinner parties (plural, feminine)

#  Duquel de ces jeux vidéo avez-vous envie? / Which one of these video games do you want?

=> duquel stands for one video game (singular, masculine)

B.   Est-ce que: the correct usage is to place the pronoun + est-ce que at the beginning of the sentence.

Lequel de ces desserts est-ce que vous voulez? / Which one of these desserts do you want?

Auxquelles soirées est-ce que vous voulez aller? / To which ones of these dinner parties do you want to go ?

Duquel de ces jeux vidéo est-ce que vous avez envie? / Which one of these video games do you want?

C.   Normal sentence with rising intonation and the interrogative particle appended at the end: the correct usage is to have the pronoun end the sentence.

#  Voilà les desserts.  Vous voulez lequel? / Here are the desserts.  Which one do you want?

#  Il y a plusieurs fêtes ce soir.  Vous voulez aller auxquelles? / There are several parties this evening. To which ones do you want to go?

#  J’ai quelques jeux vidéo.  Vous avez envie duquel? / I have a couple of video games. Which one do you want?

** Note that this usage is only suitable if the noun or noun phrase the pronoun modifies has previously been introduced.  This is because the interrogative pronouns incorporate the definite articles: le and la.

Invariable Interrogative Pronouns:

qui stands in for people and means:

who when it serves as the subject of the verb

–  whom when it serves as a direct object of the verb or in a prepositional expression

que (contraction qu‘) or quoi stand in for things and mean what.

** Both can be combined with prépositions à and de: à qui / to whom or whose; de qui / whom or from whom; à quoi / what; de quoi / what.

A.   Inversion: the correct usage is to place the pronoun at the beginning of the sentence

#  Que manges-tu? / What are you eating?

#  À quoi rêves-tu? / What are you dreaming of?

#  Qui sont-ils? / Who are they?

#  De qui descendons-nous? / Whom are we descended from?

B.   Est-ce que : the correct usage is to place the pronoun + est-ce que at the beginning of the sentence:

#  Qu’est-ce que tu manges? / What are you eating?

#  À quoi est-ce que tu rêves? / What are you dreaming of?

#  Qui est-ce qu’ils respectent? / Whom do they respect?

#  De qui est-ce que nous descendons? / Whom are we descended from?

C.    Normal sentence with rising intonation and the interrogative particle appended at the end: the correct usage is to have the pronoun follow the verb.

#  Tu manges quoi? / What are you eating?

#  Tu rêves à quoi? / What are you dreaming of?

#  Ils respectent qui? / Whom do they respect?

#  Nous descendons de qui? / Whom are we descended from?

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