Lesson 13 – Interrogative Sentences

Leçon 13 – Interrogative Sentences

Forming Questions

There are three ways to change a statement into a question in French:

  • In spoken French, statements can be turned into questions by raising the pitch of the voice at the end of the sentence. The word order remains the same as in a statement, and the voice goes higher at the end of the sentence.
    • Tu descends avec moi?
    • Are you coming downstairs with me?
  • In both spoken and formal French, est-ce que may be placed at the beginning of a statement to turn it into a question.
    • Est-ce que vous écoutez souvent les concerts à la radio?
    • Do you often listen to concerts on the radio?
  • In formal speech, especially in writing, statements are turned into questions by placing the subject pronoun after the verb and joining the two with a hyphen. This is called inversion of the subject and the verb. (It’s good to note that the pronoun je is not used in inverted questions.)
    • Travaillez-vous ici, Madame?
    • Do you work here, ma’am?
  • If the third person singular form (il/elle/on) of a verb ends in a vowel, -t- is added between the verb form and the inverted subject pronoun il, elle, or on.
    • Parle-t-il français?
    • Does he speak French?
    • A-t-elle envie de sortir?
    • Does she feel like going out
  • In an inverted question, a noun subject remains before the verb and the corresponding pronoun is added after the verb.
    • Les étudiants tutoient-ils leur professeur?
    • Do the students use the tu form to their teacher?
  • Negative questions with inversion are used only in formal style. The ne and pas surround the inverted pronoun and verb. These questions imply that the speaker expects the answer to be yes.
    • N’appuie-t-il pas notre candidat?
    • Doesn’t he support our candidate?
  • If the subject of a negative question is a noun, it remains in its position before ne and the corresponding pronoun is added after the verb. (It’s good to note that Si not Oui is used to answer yes to a negative question.
    • Les musiciens de cet orchestre ne jouent-ils pas merveilleusement?
    • Don’t the musicians in this orchestra play wonderfully?
  • N’est-ce pas can be added to the end of any statement to ask a question to which the speaker expects the answer to be yes. The meaning is similar to that of negative questions.
    • Les musiciens jouent bien, n’est-ce pas?
    • The musicians play well, don’t they?
  • Negative questions formed with rising intonation and without inversion expect the answer to be no.
    • Tu ne regardes pas la télé?
    • You’re not watching TV?

2 thoughts on “Lesson 13 – Interrogative Sentences

  1. Thanks. Very useful–I don’t recall hearing about the inverted questions with a full noun phrase (Les étudiants, tutoient-ils…)

    Are you sure about no inversion with je? I just searched Twitter for “puis-je” and got a number of hits. I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen it in Bernard-Henri Lévy’s writing, too.

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