sont-elles? What's going on here?
English: Are the girls poor?
"Les filles sont-elles pauvres ?" is an offered solution, but so is "Les filles sont pauvres ?" However, "Les filles est-ce sont pauvres?" isn't acceptable.
What does est-ce do that irreperably changes the meaning of that sentence? But more importantly, what is "sont-elles" doing and why is it (apparently) optional?
This one kind of blew my mind. Thanks!
EDIT: Thanks for the (insanely) fast responses! I think I understand it now. =)
There are three forms for the "yes or no" question. 1. the simplest: You just add a question mark at the end of the sentence, like "Les filles vont bien?". However, this form is considered very informal and is used mostly in spoken French. 2. add the "Est-ce que..." at the beginning of your sentence so that you don't change the word order in your sentence. For example: "Est-ce que les filles vont bien?" 3. reverse the subject and the verb(or the auxiliary verb if there is any) if the subject is a pronoun, or put a corresponding pronoun after the verb(or the auxiliary verb if there is any) and connect them with a hyphen if the subject is concrete. For example: "Les filles vont-elles bien?"
Ok. You have a couple of things going on in this sentence: "Les filles est-ce sont pauvres?" The first reason this can't work is because you have two forms of the verb "être" (to be) in the sentence: "est" from "est-ce" and "sont." Since they are "filles" and this is plural, we have to use "sont." In French, you can ask a question a few ways. First, you can just produce a statement such as "The girls are poor" (Les filles sont pauvres) and add a question mark at the end. This is just like in English when you put an interrogative inflection in your voice at the end of the sentence (when you say it out loud) to make sure people know you are asking a question instead of just saying a sentence. This is why "Les filles sont pauvres?" (with your voice raised at the end for a question) works as a question in French. Another way to ask a question is to invert the verb and the subject. So, instead of "filles sont" you get "sont filles" - except you have to change "filles" to its appropriate pronoun, which in this case is "elles." This is why a second appropriate way to ask the question is as follows: The girls - are they poor? (Les filles sont-elles pauvres?). Finally, I see what you are trying to do with "est-ce" for a question. This is a common phrase to inject into a question that has a yes or no answer. Literally translated, "est-ce" means "is it." BUT, you are missing a component. To complete your question phrase (the equivalent of "Do" or "Are" in English for beginning questions), you need to have a "que." In other words "est-ce que." This is an appropriate and third way to begin a question. You can say: "Est-ce que les filles sont pauvres?" (Literally: Is it so that the girls are poor?) This is a slightly longer form of just asking "The girls are poor?" as I stated above, but it works. In contemporary spoken French people tend to drop the "est-ce que" part in rapid conversation because it takes too long to say.
Hope this helps.