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French:"est-ce que" and "qu'est-ce que"

I am not entirely sure about when to use "est-ce que" or when to use "qu'est-ce que" in a sentence. Example: " Qu'est-ce que tu bois?" (What are you drinking.) How do you know not to say "est-ce que tu bois?" Sorry if this is a bad question, it just has never quite made sense to me. Any help is appreciated! :)

May 3, 2015



The way I think of it is that "est-ce que " literally translates to "is it that", so "est-ce que tu bois?" must translate to "Are you drinking?"

Whereas, "Qu'est-ce que" literally translates to "What is it that", so "Que'est-ce que tu bois?" must be "What are you drinking?"

I hope this helps :)


I like your explanation (I was very confused about this too). Thank you!


The FR locution est-ce que (or its elided form est-ce qu') has no meaning and just serves to form a question, to show very explicitly that the sentence is a question. So nothing in the English translation (of a question containing "est-ce que") will refer to this locution.

When translating, just imagine that est-ce que is not here (but remember that the sentence is a question).
=> Example: Est-ce qu'il mange ? is "Il mange ?" w/o the locution so means He eats? (or Is he eating?).
Now, remember that Qu'est is the (mandatory) contraction of "que" and "est", so when you imagine w/o the locution a sentence starting with Qu'est-ce que (or the elided form Qu'est-ce qu') don't forget to put back the "e" to the first Que.
=> Example: Qu'est-ce que tu bois [mandatory space] ? is, w/o the locution, "Que tu bois" (which is incorrect in FR, but allows IMO to get the meaning) and so means "What you drink?"/"What you are drinking?" so, in real/correct English, What you drink? / What you are drinking?. (N.B. : the correct form in FR w/o the locution is here Que bois-tu ?).


"est-ce que tu bois?" → Are you drinking ? (he do an actionhe drinks, you just want to know what he is doing) "qu'est-ce que tu bois?" → what are you drinking? (you know that he drinks but you want to know what he drinks it's more precise) I don't know if i'm really clear ;) It's not easy to explain this ..


I agree. From what I understand, the second one literally translates to "What is it that you are drinking?", and the first one is just "Is it that you are drinking?", if that helps. If you want to ask a question of whether something is a certain way, then say "Est-ce que," and if you want to ask "what is/ what are", use "Qu'est-ce que."


Je vais vous donner deux lingots pour cette importante question. Merci beaucoup!


I've just learnt this in the French course I'm doing, est-ce que turns a statement into a definite question eg. tu est francais needs a '?' or an upward intonation at the end to be a question, 'est-ce que tu est francais?' is always a question. You use 'Qu'est-ce que' when it's an open ended question, ie. one that cannot be answered yes or no. So to use the drinking example: 'Est-ce que tu bois?' = 'Are you drinking?' Either yes or no must be the answer. 'Qu'est-ce que tu bois?' = What are you drinking?' The answer could be anything


Perfect explanation! small typo: tu es français ?


thank you for this, I was also struggling to get my head around this, your explanation makes total sense.

[deactivated user]

    est-ce que used when you can only answer yes/no. Like - are you ready ? are you waiting for someone ? yes/no

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