There are many ways to form questions in French. The different patterns convey differences in registers – formal language, everyday language, informal language, slang. Thus the type of question pattern that speakers select depends on the situation they are in and the relationship they have with the person to whom they are asking the question.
There are two types of questions: yes/no questions and information questions. Yes/No questions expect the answer yes or no. They do not begin with an interrogative word.
In colloquial French, statements are turned into yes/no questions most frequently by changing the intonation of the sentence from falling to rising, with no change in the word order of the original statement.
- Claire sait programmer ? | Does Claire know how to program?
- Cet enfant suit bien à l’école ? | Is this child a good student?
- Tu connais ce type-là ? | Do you know that guy?
The addition of est-ce que at the beginning of each of the questions above makes them appropriate in all registers.
- Est-ce que Claire sait programmer ? | Does Claire know how to program?
- Est-ce que cet enfant suit bien à l’école ? | Is this child a good student?
- Est-ce que tu connais ce type-là ? | Do you know that guy?
In formal French, a yes/no question may be formed by inverting the subject and verb if the subject is a subject pronoun. In this type of question, the subject pronoun is connected to the verb by a hyphen.
- Vous êtes en retard. | You’re late.
- Êtes-vous en retard ? | Are you late?
- Elle connaît Paris. | She knows Paris.
- Connaît-elle Paris ? | Does she know Paris?
- Nous pouvons entrer. | We can enter.
- Pouvons-nous entrer ? | Can we enter?
- Ils font une promenade. | They’re taking a walk.
- Font-ils une promenade ? | Are they taking a walk?
Inversion also requires a hyphen for third-person singular forms of -er verbs, including aller, where a -t- is added between the verb and the inverted pronoun. The -t- is also added between the third-person singular of avoir and the inverted pronoun.
- Arrive-t-il en voiture ? | Is he arriving by car?
- Parle-t-elle au téléphone mobile ? | Is she speaking on the mobile phone?
- Trouve-t-on une solution ? | Are people finding a solution?
- Va-t-il en avion ? | Is he going by plane?
- A-t-elle soif ? | Is she thirsty?
- A-t-on des difficultés ? | Are people having trouble?
There are some restrictions on inversion, however. In French, only a pronoun can be inverted.
If the sentence has a noun subject and inversion is selected to convey formal register, then the pronoun corresponding to the noun subject is added after the verb and connected to it by a hyphen or -t-.
- Cette fille parle français. | That girl speaks French.
- Cette fille parle-t-elle français ? | Does that girl speak French?
- Cette ville a des industries. | That city has industry.
- Cette ville a-t-elle des industries ? | Does that city have industry?
- Maurice va en Italie. | Maurice is going to Italy.
- Maurice va-t-il en Italie ? | Is Maurice going to Italy?
The pronoun je is rarely inverted in modern French. Est-ce que can be used to make a question with the subject je suis for formal speech or writing. However, inversion of je with monosyllabic verb forms je suis, j’ai, je puis (literary variant of je peux) is still occasionally found in very formal speech and formal writing.
- Suis-je l’homme que vous cherchez ? | Am I the man you are looking for?
- Ai-je le droit de dire cela ? | Do I have the right to say that?
- Puis-je vous demander un service ? | May I ask a favour of you?
Have a wonderful week, everyone!
A bientôt !