Can somebody please clarify how this phrase is supposed to work? For instance, "qu'est-ce qu'il veut?" supposedly translates to "what does he want?", but I don't understand the logistics behind that.

Que = than(?) Est = is Ce = this Qu'il = what he

"Than is this what he wants?"

December 28, 2017


It sounds very long winded in English but you can think of it as a prefix meaning "what is it that...". So in your example "what is it that he wants".

December 28, 2017

que=what (qu' before a vowel)
ce=that (or this)

so literally "what is that what he wants"

you can also drop the "est-ce que" and reverse the subject and the verb and it becomes just "que veut-il" (but this is less common, esp in spoken language)

December 28, 2017

Try not to translate word for word. French is a unique language not a translation of English, as such French words do not conveniently map with English words.

On top of this, words such as que has many more meanings than "than". Here, the closest literal meaning would be:

Qu(e) / est-ce / qu(e) / il veut ? - Qu'est-ce qu'il veut ?
What / is it / that / he wants? - "What does he want?"

January 1, 2018

Questions tend to start with "Est-ce qu(e)"... E.g. Est-ce que tu parles l'anglais ? = Do you speak English?

If you're using that structure and want to ask what then you add the "Qu" which is short for "Que": e.g. Qu'est-ce que c'est ? = What is it?

December 28, 2017

I agree with them both. The definition is 'What is it?', so it's used in the same context in French. There are a few exceptions, though...

December 28, 2017
Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.