N’est-ce pas (pronounced ness-pa) doesn’t really mean anything by itself because it’s simply something that you tag onto the end of a statement to affirm or verify your statement with whoever you are talking to.
Although it turns your statement into a question, people typically only use it when they are more or less expecting someone to agree with them. The question is for the most part rhetorical.
Translated literally as “it is not”, n’est-ce pas is like the French version of “right?”, “don’t you think?”, “isn’t he?”, etc…
What makes using n’est-ce pas so much easier than English is that all of the different ways to reaffirm a statement in English can just be translated by n’est-ce pas in French.
In English, when you want to reaffirm your statement with someone you have to think of the verb in your statement to determine how you are going to do so. Look at the below examples to get an idea of this.
He is really tall, isn’t he?
They are from Germany, aren’t they?
She speaks French, doesn’t she?
He can do it himself, can’t he?
Do you see how in the above sentences the tag at the end changes depending on the sentence? If these sentences were in French all the different tags at the end would just be n’est-ce pas?. See how much easier that is? Let’s now take a look at some French sentences with which you could use n’est-ce pas.
Ils ont beaucoup d’argent, n’est-ce pas ? – They have a lot of money, don’t they?
Elle aime le vin blanc, n’est-ce pas ? – She likes white wine, doesn’t she?
Il fait beau, n’est-ce pas ? – It’s nice out, isn’t it?
Vous habitez Paris, n’est-ce pas ? – You live in Paris, don’t you?
One thing that should be taken into account is that although n’est-ce pas can be translated into English by words or phrases like “isn’t it?”, “right?”, “don’t they?”, etc… n’est-ce pas itself is actually more formal than its English counterparts.
Because of this, n’est-ce pas is used much less often in French than any of the translations are used in English. This point is often left out when teaching French which results in learners using n’est-ce pas much more often than French speakers themselves do. Although it’s completely grammatically correct to use it, it can be a little unnatural when it’s used too often. The French are much more likely to use non? in informal situations.
Hopefully with this guide you’ll see how easy it is to understand n’est-ce pas and how to use it in daily conversation. Typically all you need is a few examples and you’re good to go. For more vocabulary, take a look at the French vocabulary page.