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Asking Questions in French


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Just Add a Question Mark

At its simplest, a question mark can simply be added to change the tone of a statement into a question:

  • Vous allez au magasin. -> Vous allez au magasin ?
  • You’re going to the shop. -> You’re going to the shop?

Whilst this construction is common in French speech, it is less appropriate in writing. Moreover, it is much more common in French than it is in English, where the verb to be is usually employed to begin the question:

  • Are you going to the shop?
  • Est-ce que...?

Placing Est-ce que at the beginning of the question is perhaps the most widely accepted way to ask a question in French. The literal translation would be something akin to ‘is it that...’.

  • Est-ce que vous allez au magasin ?
  • Are you going to the shop?

Inversion

The inversion structure is the closest to the English question structure, and is called thus because verbs, which usually follow the subject, in this case precede it. Where a pronoun (such as you, he, she etc.) is the subject of a verb (i.e. the person or thing doing the action of the verb), questions can be formed by simply inverting the position of the pronoun and the verb and joining them with a hyphen:

  • Allez-vous au magasin ?
  • Are you going to the shop?

In every day French this structure is mostly used with auxiliary verbs - être (to be), avoir (to have) and aller (to go) when the are used in conjunction with a past participle - and with modal verbs (pouvoir (to be able to), vouloir (to want to) etc.):

  • Avez-vous déjà mangé ?
  • Have you already eaten?

  • Allez-vous chercher les enfants ?
  • Are you going to get the children?

  • Êtes-vous fatigué ?
  • Are you tired?

However, it is possible to use this construction in French with any verb, whereas in English this structure can only be used for the verbs to have and to be:

  • Mangez-vous beaucoup de pommes? (this is correct)
  • Eat you many apples? (this is incorrect)

 

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