French Lesson: How to "Poser une question" in French!
Hello everyone, I hope you're having a great day, full of language learning! A few months ago, I made a lesson about how to use direct and indirect object pronouns in French and I got a lot of great feedback, so now I have finally returned with another lesson, this time focusing on how to ask questions in French, and what type of form you should use based on the type of situation you are in. Without further ado, let's get started ^^
In French, there are three widely accepted ways to ask a question. Each of these methods have a different connotation, and the ability to easily choose one based off of your relationship to others can be very useful. Here are the three ways to Ask a question:
Inversion - Being the most formal way to ask a question, sentences using inversion are most commonly used in writing, but can be used in real-life settings as well. The name itself indicates how you form the question, by inverting the positions of the verb and the subject. In an inversion clause, negative adverbs like ne pas, jamais, etc. go around the verb and the subject. Here is an example of a declarative statement transformed into a question using inversion:
You have my schedule. --- Do you have my schedule? Vous avez mes horaires. --- Avez-vous mes horaires ?
Est-ce que - "Neutral." Est-ce que, or literally translated, "Is it that..." is a general way for asking questions that does not necessarily represent formality or informality. Because of the neutral meaning, make sure that you use the right pronoun when using "est-ce que" (Vous/formal and Tu/informal). Here is an example of a declarative statement transformed into a question using inversion:
You want to see a play. --- Do you want to see a play? Tu veux voir un spectacle. --- Est-ce que tu veux voir un spectacle ?
Intonation - Informal. Unlike in English, you can form any question in French using intonation, or, in other words, by changing the tone of your voice. This is most commonly done by raising the pitch of your voice near the end of a sentence. For this type of question, no examples are necessary simply because the original declarative sentence doesn't experience any change; the change is explicitly vocal.
So, with all that being said, here are some general rules to follow when using these types of questions:
Never use "tu" with inversion, as inversion is solely for formal contexts.
Use either "vous," or "tu" with "est-ce que," but make sure that you're using the correct one.
Never use "vous" with intonation. Since intonation is informal and "vous" is formal, using these two things together is paradoxical and contradictory.
All that being said, I'll now move on to how to use question determiners such as: Who, What, When Where, Etc. Take note that all of these determiners are placed before the question type (Inversion and "Est-ce que") unless you are using intonation. I'll talk about intonation later on, but for now, let's just focus on "Est-ce que" and inversion.
What/Que - Que is used to ask "what" in a question. It is the only interrogative determiner that changes form based on its position in a sentence (Que-->Quoi when it is not right before Inversion or "Est-ce que).
What do you want? Qu'est-ce que tu veux (Que is reduced to Qu' if a vowel sound follows it unless it is behind and h aspiré)
What do you have? Qu'avez-vous ?
When/Quand - Quand is used to ask "when" in a question.
When will you want us to leave? Quand voudrez-vous que nous partions ?
When did you do your job? Quand est-ce que vous avez fait votre boulot ?
Who/Qui - Qui is used to ask "who" in a question.
Who do you like? Qui est-ce que tu aimes ?
Who are we meeting? Qui rencontrerons-nous ?
Where/Où - Où is used to ask "where" in a question.
Where are you going? Où sortez-vous ?
Where are you going to take your friend? Où est-ce que tu vas emmener ta copine ?
Why/Pourquoi - Pourquoi is used to ask "why" in a question.
Why are you hungry? Pourquoi avez-vous faim ?
Why did he leave? Pourquoi est-ce qu'il est sorti ?
How/Comment - Comment is used to ask "how" in a question.
How are you going to finance yourself? Comment pourrez-vous vous financer ?
How are you? Comment est-ce que ça va (more commonly reduced to "comment ça va") ?
How Many & How Much/Combien - Combien is used to ask about a quantity in a question.
How much (of it) do you want? Combien en voulez-vous ?
How much (of it) did you eat? Combien est-ce que tu en as mangé ?
You may notice that I didn't use any questions using intonation, but that is because these are formed differently. To use a question determiner with intonation, you have to place the determiner at the end or the start of the sentence, but for saying "What," Quoi must always be placed at the end. Here are three examples:
You want me to do what? Tu veux que je fasse quoi ?
How do you think we should do it? Tu penses que l'on devrait le faire comment ?
Why'd you get here so late? Pourquoi tu es arrivé(e) si tard ?
Special verb placement with inversion. When using a compound tense (a tense that uses avoir or être as a helping verb), the helping verb goes before the subject and the action verb is found right after the subject. Here are some examples:
Why didn't you close the door? Pourquoi n'avez-vous pas fermé la porte ?
How did you take care of things? Comment vous êtes-vous débrouillé(e) ?
The placement of direct object and indirect object pronouns (between the subject and the verb) doesn't change in questions, but in an inversion clause, they still go before the verb, as seen in the sentence listed above.
Well, that about does it for this lesson. I can't really think of anything else to add to this, but if you guys find that I'm missing some important information, be sure to leave a comment and I'll try adding it later. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope it was helpful!
I know that I didn't say anything about quel/quelle, qu'est-ce qui, lequel, and laquelle, but I thought that was more advanced than this, and might put fit those into a different lesson somewhere.
This is great - well done. Just one correction I noticed :
Never use "vous" with intonation. Since intonation is informal and "vous" is informal, using these two things together is paradoxical and contradictory.
I think you meant to say and "vous" is formal
Wow, I completely forgot about that somehow. I'll add that to the lesson. Thanks.
If you borrowed any of this information from anywhere else, it's a good idea to provide a link or at least mention the source. All of this is good to know, but you may get down-voted if people think you are not properly credited your source.
I didn't use any sources or links, I made this lesson based off of what I know :) The only source was my brain.
"Never use "tu" with inversion, as inversion is solely for formal contexts."
Not true. From Claude Gueux, by Victor Hugo, a dialogue between one inmate to another:
"— Que veux-tu ? dit-il enfin brusquement."
I realize that this is not necessarily true, but you have to look at time periods here.
A normal modern-day Parisian will not use this formation, although a French poet from the 19th century did so freely. There is quite a difference.
And yes, there are still French natives that use this formation today, but the best way to put it is that using that formation every time would almost make it seem intentional.
I thought you'd find this interesting: I was arranging a few days ago an interview with a company in Montréal, and the e-mail I got asked me: "quand es tu dispo?" He "tutoyed" me, used slang, AND used inversion.
Of course, according to Parisians, whatever language they speak in Quebec, it certainly isn't French.
Yeah, I guess in Canadian French, "tu" and "vous" are used much more loosely?
I don't think I can ever imagine a situation where a company employer/interviewer would ever refer to someone as "tu," and much less use slang while speaking...
Mostly my knowledge of the nuances of Canadian French is that "lorsque" is much more common than in Parisian French and that certain colloquialisms are different.