How to ask questions in French

Nov 28 / Ellie Louis

The number one objective of everyone learning at The French Room is to be able to have a conversation in French.

Questions are the oil that starts a conversation and keeps it going. 

The second thing that nearly everyone who learns me tells me is that they are terrified of having a question answered in French!

Crazy isn't it? But those are the ambitions and fears that pretty much everyone I teach has.

So, let's look at questions and see how we can make them easier to ask. 

We'll tackle some answering techniques in another blog!

Rising intonation in French questions

Statements, assertions and affirmations all have one thing in French. They end with falling intonation at the end of the idea or sentence.

Questions are distinguished by their rising intonation. That's a little tricky for a native English speaker as we can go up in the middle of words and at the end of sentences to express all sorts of things.

In English a question is announced with "Dids" as well as all the question words. So you have warning that one is coming up. So, we don't have to rely on rising inflection as a signal that we are being asked a question.

In French, questions and statements can be identical. 

"Vous avez une amie."

"Vous avez une amie?"

And all there is between them is how the voice is modulated. 

Using "est-ce que" to buy you thinking time

Using "est-ce que" to buy you thinking time

In English "Do" and "Did" and other words signal that a question is about to be asked.

In French, you can use "est-ce que" for this. It's a device to let the listener know that you are asking a question. 

It's also a great point to pause and think about what you're going to ask. You'll be able to get the listener's attention by uttering "est-ce que" and then you've just got the question to tack onto the end.

Natural speech questions

There are lots of ways of asking questions in French but there is one form which is used profusely in normal spoken conversation.

The technique is to say a phrase and add the question word in at the end. If you like you establish the idea and then decide which part of it you want to question.

"Vous arrivez comment?"

"Vous arrivez quand?"

"Vous venez pourqoui?"

"Vous mangez quoi"

Vous arrivez avec qui?"

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