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Framing questions in French. A question.

When I began in French, I was taught to use the French verbal question-mark ("Est-ce que") in front of a sentence.

Est-ce que tu parles français ?

In recent years, in revisions to Duolingo and Memrise and Pimsleur, I have noticed a preference for the more direct, inflection-based phrasing.

Tu parles français ?

Of course, there is always the reverse construction.

Parles-tu français ?

Is this a conversational vs. literary choice, or something that has come into vogue?

PS. Is the typographical convention of a space before question marks and exclamation points still a thing?

Many thanks.

August 6, 2019



So to summarize, in formal French they use inversion, in informal they begin with "Est-ce que", and in a familiar register they would simply use a declarative syntax (word order) but with a rising tone. C'est correct?


I would use the terms "formal" (inversions), "normal" (« est-ce que »), and "informal" (inflections/rising tone).

My understanding of "familiar" is that you'll start getting word truncation and even some words dropped. It's when the grammar is loosened in order to simplify things. I forget the technical term, but somewhere I read how French tends to use more syllables to articulate an idea. The "familiar" form relaxes the rules to increase the 'meaning density'. It can also be very regional.


Angus found a wonderful example of how "French sentences can be long".



Excellent links. Reminds me a bit of this discussion.



PS. Is the typographical convention of a space before question marks and exclamation points still a thing?

I'm always surprised and a bit amused when someone makes this remark : is it such a big deal ? ;) I just think that a space between words and a ponctuation mark makes the reading clearer. I don't know if there is a convention, not everybody knows how to write them. We're not supposed to use a space before a point and a comma but after. Does everyone do it the right way ? ;) Do the english speakers know the writing convention for their language so well and notice the differences with other languages so quickly ?


I notice when others write in English like yourself if they leave a space, then they are probably not a native speaker as we are all taught not to leave spaces. So when I write in French I make sure to leave a space :)


we are all taught not to leave spaces

Really ? When I was at school, there was no computer !! Haha, it was quite a long time ago, I started to use computer at 19 y.o. at the beginning of my studies. There was one "computer course" among so many others with paper and pen ; we learnt to use Word but I don't remember anything about the space between ponctuation. What do students learn nowadays ? I'm curious.

There is one app/website teaching proper spelling famous in France called "Projet Voltaire" , one of their course teaches how to write correctly with a computer (the ponctuation, the spaces and all those things) . I did the free trial and ... there are lots of things I don't know ! I'm already busy with the ordinary word spelling and learning languages; so ... maybe one day :)


Also: some very important comments from Sitesurf about using « Est-ce que » properly.

Long story short - DL has question sentences which improperly use « Est-ce que ». The below links are to specific points in the overall conversation, but I would suggest reading the entire thread.


Hello i'm native french speaker. Tu parles français? and you insist well on the word "français " with a touch of interrogation emphasized and it will sound very good and it will come into vogue if you speak with an other french or someone else in the street.


For your P.S. : in French, there is always a space before and after semicolons, question marks, exclamation points and two points; never before commas and points. Cf. http://grammaire.reverso.net/5_1_10_les_espaces_et_la_ponctuation.shtml


Using "Est-ce que" or inversing the verb and the pronoun is more formal and they both are used, but in a more informal discussion, we tend to keep the normal order of words like a normal sentence . For example instead of "Est-ce que tu parles Français ? / Parles-tu Français?" that would be "Tu parles Français ?" But with an emphasis on the last syllable to show it is a question and not a declarative sentence.


Technically, all three forms are correct, but using your exemple : Tu parle français ? is veeeery unformal, even with friends we don't speak that way, cause it can be confusing if you missed the intonation, and it's a very lazy way of speaking. Est-ce que tu parles français ? is the "passe partout" tool, it's correct, and sometimes it's the only one used. The formal questions, are usualy about reversing verb and subject, you can't do it every time, but whenever you can, do it.


FWIW, In a separate post, I found the way to type non-breaking spaces (necessary to keep guillemets (etc) from detaching from the related text).

In the Duolingo forums, it's &#8239 (followed by a ";"). https://www.codetable.net/decimal/8239


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