Thursday, November 10, 2011

French 1 basics: interrogative pronouns and
question formation


The 5 Ws in English:


And we need to include How, which doesn't begin with a W, but is nonetheless included in the roster of so-called "WH questions." (The word how has both an h and a w, n'est-ce pas?)

In French, it gets a bit dicey. One of the above pronouns has more than one French equivalent, based on context. Here, first, are the straightforward pronouns:

Who = Qui

When = Quand

Where = Où

Why = Pourquoi

How = Comment

What is expressed differently in French depending on context. See here:

Qu'est-ce que tu manges? (Qu'est-ce que = what in front of a standard question)
Que manges-tu? (Que = what at the beginning of a question in inversion form)
Tu manges quoi? (Quoi = what at the end of a standard question)

All three of the above express the question "What are you eating?" There are some nuanced differences in meaning, which we won't discuss here, but the main point is that all three questions use different forms of what to convey essentially the same interrogative.

One last form of what borrows from comment:

A: Qu'est-ce que tu manges?
B: Comment?

In the above exchange, "Comment?" doesn't mean "How?" It's a polite version of "What?" (Sort of like "Pardon?" or "Excuse me?") In ruder French, one might use "Quoi?" in place of "Comment?"

Try your hand at inserting the proper word into the following declaratives, questions, and dialogues.

1. _____ tu fais? (from faire, which means to do)

2. Tu vas _____ ? (from aller, to go)

3. _____ est cet homme?

4. Tu t'appelles _____ ?

5. _____ étudies-tu le français?

6. _____ est-ce qu'il arrive?

7. Tu fais _____ ?

A: _____ ?
B: J'ai dit que tu es belle! (I said you're beautiful!)

Answers below. Highlight to see.

1. Qu'est-ce que tu fais? (You can't use quoi at the beginning of a question, and que would require inversion grammar.)

2. Tu vas où? (You're going where? Where are you going? Other pronouns might be possible, such as comment or pourquoi, but the question would need to be rephrased to something like Tu y vas...?)

3. Qui est cet homme? (Who is that man?)

4. Tu t'appelles comment? (You learned this during the first week or so of French 1!)

5. Pourquoi étudies-tu le français? (Why are you studying French? Comment might work here as well, but wouldn't sound as natural. Don't overthink! Go for the most obvious answer.)

6. Quand est-ce qu'il arrive? (When is he arriving?)

7. Tu fais quoi? (A different version of Qu'est-ce que tu fais? Remember that quoi comes at the end of a non-inverted question.)

8. Comment? (Excuse me?)

In the above examples and exercises, you've already had a glimpse of what we're going to discuss next: question formation in French. Before we leap to that section, though, I'll note one other interrogative pronoun that's rather important: Combien. It means How much/many? Examples:

Ça coûte combien? (How much does that cost?)
Combien d'élèves y a-t-il dans la salle? (How many students are there in the [class]room?)
Combien peses-tu? (How much do you weigh?)
Tu en veux combien? (You want how many of them?)


There are three ways to form questions in French:

1. the "standard" form with "Qu'est-ce que" (or another interrogative locution) at the beginning

2. the "inverted" form

3. the "standard" form with an interrogative pronoun at the end

Here's the question "What do you think?" rendered three ways, per the above:

1. Qu'est-ce que tu penses?
2. Que penses-tu?
3. Tu penses quoi?

Here's "What's he doing?" done three ways:

1. Qu'est-ce qu'il fait? (que + il = qu'il)
2. Que fait-il?
3. Il fait quoi?

Here's "Where do you work?" done three ways:

1. Où est-ce que tu travailles?
2. Où travailles-tu?
3. Tu travailles où?

Use the verb manger (to eat) to write "What are they eating?" three different ways. Use the feminine plural pronoun elles for they. Try it first on your own, then highlight to see the answers.

1. Qu'est-ce qu'elles mangent?
2. Que mangent-elles?
3. Elles mangent quoi?


The third person singular inverted form can occasionally get weird. You can't say, for example:

Que pense-il?

To the French ear, the above sounds incomplete, so you need to add a consonant sound between the pense and the il. The French use "t" for this. The proper form, then, is:

Que pense-t-il?

If a verb ends with a d in the third person singular, no extra t is necessary. Example:

Que prend-il? (What's he taking?)

WRONG: Que mange-il?
RIGHT: Que mange-t-il?

Try making questions with the following words.

1. tu/étudier/que (quoi, etc.)

2. elle/penser/que (quoi, etc.)

3. nous/aller/où

4. vous/arriver/quand

5. elles/travailler/où

6. tu/frapper ton frère (hit your brother)/pourquoi

Stick your answers to the above in the comments section, if you want. I hope this exercise has been helpful! Study hard!


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