French Question Words: Interrogatives With Clear Examples
- Written byAdrien Renault
- Read time13 mins
There are so many situations in which you will need to ask a question in French.
Questions are crucial, which is why it’s important to know how to ask them early on.
Forming a question in French requires knowledge of interrogatives. If you’re not certain what an interrogative is, this guide will run through each French interrogative for you.
It will also give you some fundamentals for asking questions in French as a beginner.
So, continue on for French interrogatives with examples.
What are the French interrogatives?
Just like the English language, French has several question words that help us to ask questions.
The table below features all of the French interrogatives:
Asking direct and indirect questions in French
The interrogatives above are used for forming questions in French.
There are two main types of questions - direct and indirect questions.
In English, you might ask someone who has been slightly unwell:
Are you feeling okay?
This question is direct. It is a question that expects a response from the person to whom it is directed.
It also features a question mark in its written form.
Now, let’s take a look at the indirect version of this question:
I hope you are feeling okay.
This indirect question takes a question and changes it into the indirect style.
It doesn’t feature a question mark, and a response is not necessarily expected from the person who is being asked.
Just like in English, the French language has direct and indirect questions. The structure of indirect sentences in French are not the same as direct questions.
Here’s a direct and an indirect question to give you some examples:
Quand pourra-t-il acheter sa toute nouvelle voiture?
Il aimerait savoir quand il pourra acheter sa nouvelle voiture.
From this, we can deduce a key thing about interrogatives and questions in French.
For both direct and indirect questions in French, interrogatives can feature in the structure of the sentence, but they feature in different parts of the sentence.
In the first question, quand (the interrogative) appears at the very beginning.
In the second sentence, it appears near the middle.
Changing the tone of your voice to ask questions in French
To ask questions in French, you can change a statement into a question by altering the tone of your voice.
This is one of the simplest ways to ask a question. How does a question sound in French?
When asking questions in French, the tone of your voice should be slightly higher towards the end of the question. This is similar to the Spanish way of asking questions as well.
This way, there’s no need to change the structure of the sentence.
Take a look at the following sentences as examples:
Elle aime manger des côtes de porc le week-end.
Elle aime manger des côtes de porc le week-end?
Il aime faire du patin à glace une fois par mois.
Il aime faire du patin à glace une fois par mois?
Ils aiment écouter de la musique rock et du heavy metal.
Ils aiment écouter de la musique rock et du heavy metal?
There are no structural differences between the statements and questions listed above, except for the question mark at the end.
This question mark (point d’interrogation) tells you which sentences are questions in their written form.
It also tells you how to read these sentences aloud.
So, if you encounter a question in a novel, you will instantly know how to pronounce them - just lift the tone of your voice near the end of the sentence.
Using qui to ask questions in French
The French interrogative qui translates to English as ‘who’, or ‘whom’. When you ask a question using qui (where its meaning is ‘who’), this interrogative is categorised as the subject of the sentence.
Here’s an example:
Qui est heureux que le soleil brille aujourd’hui?
Qui can function as the object of the sentence as well.
If you wanted to ask ‘whom do you see at the end of the street?’, you would say:
Qui voyez-vous au bout de la rue?
In this example, the word qui becomes the object of the sentence.
It refers to the person to whom the action is done i.e. the person who can be seen.
Using que and quoi to ask questions in French
Que is a French interrogative that means ‘what’. We use que when asking questions about objects, things we think, or things we sense.
Here’s a simple way to use que:
Que pouvez-vous entendre en ce moment, à cet instant?
Alternatively, because it is grammatically incorrect to use que after a preposition in French, the word quoi is typically used in some questions.
And, one other thing to remember is that if the interrogative que is used at the end of the sentence, you must use a rising tone of voice when asking the question.
When to use où to ask questions in French
This French interrogative - où - means ‘where’ in English.
It is used to ask about locations or places.
For example, if you wanted to ask where the Louvre is located, you might ask:
Où se trouve le Louvre?
Or if you wanted to know where the local police station is, you might ask:
Où se trouve le poste de police local?
If you want to ask questions in French as a tourist, you might ask:
Où se trouve la gare la plus proche?
The accent mark floating above u in où is crucial when you’re writing questions. This orthographic mark helps you distinguish between où (meaning ‘where’) and ou (meaning ‘or’).
Don’t forget about it when writing!
Où can also be used as a relative pronoun that means ‘when’.
In cases like these, où is not an interrogative but works as a pronoun that brings together two separate ideas from two clauses.
Asking questions in French using pourquoi
The French equivalent to the English word ‘why’ is pourquoi.
If you’re a teacher or have children, you can expect to hear them inquisitively asking plenty of questions using this interrogative word.
You will most likely respond using the phrase parce que (which means because).
Here are some examples of pourquoi being used in questions:
Pourquoi étudiez-vous le français?
Pourquoi les gens aiment-ils voyager?
Pourquoi les arbres sont verts?
What does quand mean and how to use it in French?
The French word quand, in English, means ‘when’.
It is an interrogative that is used concerning moments in time. If you want to ask when an event is going to happen you would use quand in your question.
Quand la fête d’anniversaire commence-t-elle?
Quand le concert se termine-t-il?
Quand verrons-nous la prochaine pluie de météorites?
In many cases, you might see the longer version of quand being used.
The longer version is quand est-ce que, which we’ll get to in the following sections.
Using est-ce que for asking questions in French
Early in this article, you learned that lifting the tone of your voice is one way to change statements into questions in French.
Another way to do this is to add est-ce que to the beginning of the sentence.
As with lifting the tone of your voice, there’s no need to change the structure of the sentence in French when adding est-ce que to the beginning.
It is a handy way to form questions with little difficulty.
Here are some examples:
Vous êtes un peu inquiet au sujet de votre test.
Est-ce que êtes un peu inquiet pour votre test?
J’ai un rendez-vous avec le médecin la semaine prochaine.
Est-ce que j’ai un rendez-vous chez le médecin la semaine prochaine?
Vous êtes allé à Paris il y a sept mois.
Est-ce que vous êtes allé à Paris il y a sept mois?
It’s as simple as that.
Just add the phrase est-ce que to the beginning of your statements to turn them into questions.
Using comment to ask questions in French
We use the French interrogative comment when we want to ask ‘how’ something happens or ‘how’ something has occurred.
The first time you hear the interrogative comment is most likely in your French course during the introduction to your classmates.
For instance, you might have just told your classmates your name, to which they might respond:
But comment can also be used to ask questions in French in general. For example:
Comment les hélicoptères restent-ils suspendus dans le ciel?
Comment est-il possible qu’il ait presque quatre-vingts ans?
Comment est-il possible que nous soyons les seules formes de vie dans l’univers?
You might even be sitting in a French lesson and need to know how the French subjunctive mood is formed. And, yes, you would even use comment for this.
Comment puis-je former le subjonctif français?
Using quel to ask questions in French
Quel is an interrogative that has many forms. It has a masculine form, a masculine plural form, a feminine form and a feminine plural form.
Here are the forms that quel can take:
We use quel when we want to ask ‘who?’ or ‘which?’.
This interrogative must complement the noun that features in the sentence.
For example, if you wanted to ask someone who their favourite actress is, you would say:
Quelle est votre actrice préférée?
Quelle is used in this case because the noun in the sentence actrice is singular and feminine.
This would be different if we used the word acteur, actrices, or acteurs.
Quel est votre acteur préféré?
Quelles sont vos actrices préférées
Quels sont vos acteurs préférés?
Did you notice how the form of quel changes for each of these sentences?
The masculine singular form quel is used alongside the masculine singular noun acteur, the feminine plural quelles is used alongside the feminine plural noun actrices and the masculine plural form quels is used alongside the masculine plural noun acteurs.
When to use combien to ask French questions
If you’re a French tourist and want to know the cost of a delicious gâteau, you will need the interrogative word combien to ask the baker this question in French.
Here’s how you would ask this question:
Combien coûte le gâteau?
And it works like this for shoes, dresses, suitcases… et cetera, except for when a noun (the object that you’re asking about) comes immediately after the word combien.
Combien d’œufs faut-il pour le gâteau?
Combien de voitures avez-vous?
Here, the little word de appears between combien and the noun. This must be used when a noun follows combien straightaway.
One little extra tip. When combien de precedes a noun that begins with a vowel, a contraction happens.
In this case, the e in the word de disappears and is replaced substituted by an apostrophe.
This is a similar principle to some English contractions, such as ‘can’t’ ‘don’t’ and ‘won’t’, except that this rule applies to nouns that start with a vowel.
When to use lequel in a French question
Lequel means ‘which one’.
This interrogative is used when you have already described some objects or people and are talking about them again after the first mention.
Here is a quick example of this:
J’ai acheté cinq fruits au supermarché. Lequel préférez-vous manger?
In situations like these, you might be tempted to use the interrogative quel.
But, remember, lequel is used when you’ve already mentioned the object or thing that you’re asking someone about.
Here’s another example:
J’ai écouté de la musique rock, de la musique pop et de la musique disco. Laquelle avez-vous écoutée?
What does à qui mean and when should you use it?
À qui is a French interrogative used to identify someone out of many people. In other words, it translates to English as ‘to whom’.
Say you’re curious to find out which person your colleague sent a message to.
You would use the phrase à qui to ask them in French. Take a look at the examples below:
À qui avez-vous envoyé ce message?
Start studying French interrogatives to thoroughly understand them
It doesn’t matter if you’re in school or at work, French interrogatives are an essential part of the language.
They’ll help you learn more and stay curious about new things, which is how you will develop your knowledge of French.
Begin practising by using flashcards with all of the French interrogatives on one side, and their English translations on the other (Memrise has some great decks for this).
Build your confidence, and then try answering some French fill-in-the-blank questions to test yourself.
Have you got any pointers for learning French interrogatives?
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