Learning how to ask questions in French is for the most part quite easy. In many ways it’s actually easier to do than in English. In this guide we are going to not only talk about how to ask yes-no questions in French, but also how to ask what, who, how, how much, why, when and where questions.
Let’s first start by looking at the ways to ask yes-no questions in French.
How to ask yes-no questions in French
There are actually three main ways to ask yes-no questions in French. The first way is by adding est-ce que to the beginning of a statement. The closest equivalents to this in English are the words “do”, “does” and “did” which also turn a statement into a question. Take a look at the below examples to get a feel for how this works:
You speak French – A Statement
Do you Speak French? – A Question
He likes basketball – A Statement
Does he like basketball? – A Question
See how by just adding “do” or “does” to the beginning of a statement you change it into a yes-no question? Est-ce que works the exact same way except it doesn’t change based on who you are talking about. For example in English we say, “Do you like pizza?”, but “Does he like pizza?” if the sentence requires “he”, “she” or “it”. In French, est-ce que can be used in all of these instances.
Let’s look at the above sentences translated into French.
Tu parles français – You speak French
Est-ce que tu parles français ? – Do you speak French?
Il aime le basket – He likes basketball
Est-ce qu’il aime le basket ? – Does he like basketball? (Remember that because of the conflicting sounds of que and il they get combined to form qu’il.)
Contrary to the English words “do”, “does” and “did”, est-ce que can be used in pretty much any situation and tense. For example the words “do” and “does” CANNOT be used in the following sentences:
You would buy a car – CORRECT
Do you would buy a car? – WRONG
She will play guitar tomorrow – CORRECT
Does she will play guitar tomorrow – WRONG
It’s obvious that this doesn’t work in the above sentences and that in order to make them correct, you would have to invert the first two words (the subject and the verb) giving you, “Would you buy a car?” and “Will she play guitar tomorrow?” (more on this later.)
The great thing about est-ce que however is that it works even in these situations. Look at the translated sentences below:
Tu achèterais une voiture – You would buy a car
Est-ce que tu achèterais une voiture ? – Would you buy a car?
Elle jouera de la guitare demain – She will play guitar tomorrow
Est-ce qu’elle jouera de la guitare demain ? – Will she play guitar tomorrow?
See how easy this all is? You don’t even have to think of how to formulate the question or move words around, just stick est-ce que in front of it and you’re good to go.
Form yes-no questions using inversion
The second way to ask yes-no questions in French is with inversion. All this simply means is that you take the subject (I, You, He, She, They, etc..) and switch it with the verb. We do this a little bit in English but in French you can do it in pretty much any situation.
In order to better understand this let’s look at a couple of English sentences where you are able to use inversion to create yes-no questions as well as a couple where you cannot.
You can see the dog – Can you see the dog? CORRECT
He would like to go to France – Would he like to go to France? CORRECT
He walks to work – Walks he to work? WRONG
They read books – Read they books? WRONG
See how all you have to do to make these sentences yes-no questions is a simple inversion? As you can see from the above examples this doesn’t work in every situation in English, but you should still be able to get a feel for how it will work in French.
Let’s now look at the same sentences translated into French.
Tu peux voir le chien – Peux-tu voir le chien? CORRECT
Il aimerait aller en France – Aimerait-il aller en France ? CORRECT
Il marche jusqu’au travail – Marche-t-il jusqu’au travail ? CORRECT
Ils lisent des livres – Lisent-ils des livres ? CORRECT
Side Note: When inverting the subject and verb you have to make sure to use a hyphen like in the above examples.
That’s all there really is to it. There are a couple more things we need to go over regarding inversion, but for the most part you’ll see it’s pretty straight forward.
adding t to il, elle, and on inversion
Because French is a language that is all about avoiding conflicting sounds we have to talk about the extra “t” that gets added when doing inversion with il, elle and on. Do NOT get this confused with the “t” that you see in sentences like « Je t’aime ». The “t” we are talking about here literally has no meaning and its only purpose is to make the sentence flow better.
An extra “t” is added when the verb that is being inverted ends in a vowel. Take a look at the below examples.
Elle parle français – Parle-t-elle français?
On a vu un oiseau – A-t-on vu un oiseau ?
Il marche jusqu’à l’école – Marche-t-il jusqu’à l’école ?
Elle range sa chambre – Range-t-elle sa chambre ?
If the verb already ends in “t” you don’t need to add another. Look at the sentence below.
Il voit une voiture – He sees a car
Voit-il une voiture ? – Does he see a car?
It’s important to remember that you can only do inversion with Je, Tu, Il/Elle/On, Nous, Vous, and Ils/Elles.
You can’t say for example « Voit-Pierre une voiture ? » You would have to say « Pierre, voit-il une voiture ? »
The last thing that should be mentioned regarding inversion is that it is more formal than the other methods of forming yes-no questions. Just keep that in mind when you’re in a conversation with someone and you’ll be just fine.
changing a statement into a question through inflection
Although asking yes-no questions in French isn’t that difficult to begin with, the last method is no doubt the easiest way (as well as the most informal.) All it involves is making a statement (without changing anything) and just putting an uptick at the end of it.
Let’s look at some examples.
Il fait froid – It’s cold out
Il fait froid ? – Is it cold out?
Tu veux aller à la plage – You want to go to the beach
Tu veux aller à la plage ? – Do you want to go to the beach?
How to ask what questions in French
Let’s start off with one of the more difficult types of questions on this list. Despite it being more difficult than the others, with just a little bit of practice you should have it down in no time.
To make things short, there are a few ways to ask “what” questions in French and typically revolve around que, qu’est-ce que or quoi. Let’s go over when and where to use all three.
Que is used before a question that uses inversion,
Que veut-il ? – What does he want?
Qu’aimes-tu ? – What do you like?
Que font-ils ? – What do they do? / What are they doing?
Que lisons-nous ? – What do we read? / What are we reading?
You can also use que next to an infinitive (a verb that hasn’t been conjugated.) You’ll see this very often online especially when people are looking for answers to some sort of general question they have. If you’re having trouble understanding the English translations just think of the word “you” as “one” such as in the sentence “What should one do in Paris?”
Que faire à Paris ? – What should you do in Paris?
Que manger pour maigrir ? – What should you eat to lose weight?
Qu’est-ce que is used just like est-ce que in that it gets placed before a statement. The meaning however is the same as the previous examples involving que.
Qu’est-ce que tu fais ? – What do you do? / What are you doing?
Qu’est-ce qu’il y a à faire à Paris ? – What is there to do in Paris?
Qu’est-ce qu’elle mange ? – What does she eat? / What is she eating?
Qu’est-ce qu’ils écrivent ? – What do they write? / What are they writing?
Now let’s look at when to use quoi instead of que or qu’est-ce que. You’ll see in the below examples that quoi is used AFTER both the subject and the verb. The meaning however is the same as what we’ve already seen in the previous examples.
Tu fais quoi ? – What do you do? / What are you doing?
Ma soeur boit quoi ? – What does my sister drink? / What is my sister drinking?
Vous dessinez quoi ? What do you draw? / What are you drawing?
Il y a quoi à faire à Paris ? – What is there to do in Paris?
how to ask who questions in french
Similar to how we ask “what” questions there are a few different ways to ask “who” questions in French. The first way is to use the word qui, which is very common, and the second way is to use qui-est-ce qui which is less common. The meaning between them however is the same. Let’s take a look at both of them in context.
Qui t’a appelé ? – Who called you?
Qui est-ce qui t’a appelé ? – Who called you?
Qui veut du fromage ? – Who wants some cheese?
Qui est-ce qui veut du fromage ? – Who wants some cheese?
Qui fait du bruit ? – Who is making noise
Qui est-ce qui fait du bruit ? – Who is making noise ?
Qui joue de la guitare ? – Who plays / is playing guitar?
Qui est-ce qui joue de la guitare ? – Who plays / is playing guitar?
Let’s place qui next to an infinitive just like we did with que.
Qui inviter à son mariage ? – Who should you invite to your wedding?
Qui voir pour une entorse ? – Who should you see for a sprain?
How to ask how questions in French
Depending on how much experience you have with learning French you’ll know that the French for “how” is comment. Contrary to other kinds of French questions asking “how” is very similar to English. As usual, let’s look at some examples:
Comment vont tes parents ? – How are your parents? (You use the verb aller in this type of sentence, but comment is used the same way as its English counterpart.)
Comment tu trouves la France ? – How do you find France? (What do you think of France?)
Comment dit-on « bonjour » en italien ? – How do you say “hello” in Italian?
Comment est-il mort ? – How did he die?
Now let’s look at comment next to an infinitive.
Comment bien parler anglais ? – How do you speak English well?
Comment habiller un nouveau-né ? – How do you dress a newborn baby?
Comment conduire une voiture ? – How do you drive a car?
Comment écrire une lettre ? – How do you write a letter?
It’s important to remember that in any language it can be difficult to directly translate from one to another. For example, even though we’ve already gone over that the word comment is translated into English as “how” it doesn’t mean you can always use it in the exact same way as you would in English.
The sentence “How tall are you?”, for example, is actually translated as « Tu mesures combien ? » and doesn’t use the word comment at all. Having this said, if it still helps to remember the French word comment as the English word “how” then just stick with that.
How to ask how much questions in French
Now that we’ve already gone over how to ask “how” questions in French let’s change gears just slightly and go over how to ask “how much” in French. To make things simple the French word for how much is combien. However, if you are wanting to ask how much or how many of something you have to add the word de making combien de.
Combien de personnes habitent en France ? – How many people live in France
Il a combien d’argent ? – How much money does he have?
Nous avons lu combien de livres ? – How many books did we read?
Pierre a couru combien de kilomètres ? – How many kilometers did Pierre run ?
Let’s look at some sentences using just combien and not combien de.
Tu ne sais pas combien je t’aime – You don’t know how much I love you
Je te dois combien ? – How much do I owe you?
Combien ça coûte ? – How much does that cost?
Combien ils t’ont fait payer ? – How much did they charge you?
You can also use combien next to an infinitive just like with the others. As a reminder you’ll see this a lot online.
Combien économiser par mois ? – How much should you save each month?
Combien boire par jour ? – How much should you drink per day?
how to ask why questions in French
Just in case you aren’t already aware, the French word for “why” is pourquoi (translated literally as “for what”.) Just like in English, in order to ask a “why” question in French just stick pourquoi in front of a statement. As usual let’s look at some examples:
Pourquoi aimez-vous la France ? – Why do you like France?
Tu as acheté un livre pourquoi ? – Why did you buy this book?
Pourquoi il est allé au magasin ? – Why did he go to the store?
Charlie boit du café pourquoi ? – Why does Charlie drink coffee?
Let’s look at pourquoi placed next to an infinitive.
Pourquoi acheter une voiture neuve ? – Why buy a new car?
Pourquoi manger de la viande ? – Why eat meat?
how to ask when questions in french
Let’s get right into things with this one. The French word for “when” is quand and it’s used similarly to how “when” is used in English. Take a look at the below examples:
Quand arrive le train ? – When does the train arrive?
Quand est-ce qu’on part ? – When do we leave?
Les prochaines élections sont quand ? – When are the next elections?
Quand se lève le soleil ? – When does the sun rise?
Now let’s look at quand next to an infinitive.
Quand partir en France ? – When should you go to France?
Quand acheter un billet d’avion ? – When should you buy a place ticket?
How to ask where questions in French
The French word for “where” is où. Pay attention to the accent on the letter u because the word où is literally the only word in the French language that has this. It’s actually pretty interesting that many keyboards have a key dedicated to this one accent. Just like most of the other types of questions we’ve gone over, asking “where” questions in French is anything but complicated. See the sentences below
Où vas-tu ? – Where do you go? / Where are you going?
Tu habites où ? – Where do you live? / Where are you living?
Il vient d’où ? – Where is he from?
Où est-ce que tu as recontré Tim ? – Where did you meet Tim ?
Now let’s place où next to an infinitive and see what we get.
Où prendre sa retraite ? – Where should you retire?
Où manger à Paris ? – Where should you eat in Paris?
There are so many different ways to ask questions in French and hopefully this guide helped you with a lot of them. What other ways to ask French questions do you know? Comment below!