Asking questions in French.jpg

Asking questions with Est-ce que and qu'est-ce que

Image  HeungSoon -  Pixabay

The phrases est-ce que and qu'est-ce que,  used to ask questions in French are very useful grammar tools that will help you interact better with other people. However, making the difference between est- ce que and qu'est-ce que may not always be easy.
In this lesson, you will learn how to use and differentiate them.

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1. The question with est-ce que

The question word Est-ce que is the inversion form of C'est que which can be translated as it is that. But trying to do a litteral translation won't help you at all.

You can rather consider that est-ce que is like "do" in English in some context but it does not always translate like this.

Example :

  • Est-ce que tu parles français? => Do you speak French?

  • Est ce qu'elle mange des escargots? => Does she eat snails?

 

Let's take a look at the questions below with their answers. For each question, you have 2 answers.

  • Question 1: Est-ce que tu es espagnol? =>Are you Spanish?

  • Answer 1: Oui, je suis espagnol, => Yes, I am Spanish.

  • Answer 2 :Non je ne suis pas espagnol. => No, I am not Spanish.

 

  • Question 2: Est-ce que tu viens à la fête de Denis? => Are you coming at Denis' Party?

  • Answer 1: Oui, mais je viendrai tard. => Yes, but I will come late.

  • Answer 2: Non? Je ne pourrai pas venir. => No, I won't be able to come.

Can you see a pattern in the answers?

Well, the question word est-ce que is used for formulating closed questions. In general, the answers imply a yes or a no.

Note : placed in front of a vowel, est ce que becomes est ce qu'

Example

  • Est-ce qu'il parle anglais? => Does he speaks English?

Est-ce que  can also be used with the WH question words like who (qui), when (quand),  where (où) , why (pourquoi) or how (comment). In that case, it comes after the WH question word and becomes an opened question.

Eamples : 

  • Qui est ce que tu aimes dans ta classe? => Who do you like in your class?

  • Quand est ce que tu viens nous voir? => When are you coming to see us?

  • Où est-ce que tu vas? => Where are you going?

  • Comment est-ce que tu vas au travail? => How do you go to work?

Note that Est-ce que is a longer question form. In spoken French, we tend to use the simple way Subject +Verb+Complement + Interrogation mark. 

Example :

Tu m'aimes vraiment? will be most commonly used instead of est-ce que tu m'aimes vraiment?

2. The question with qu'est-ce que French?

 Qu'est-ce que  is the combination of the French words Que + est - ce- que litterally meaning What is it that. To make it simple note that it translates as What in English.

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A common and useful sentence is Qu'est-ce que c'est which means What is this?

When do we use the question word Qu'est-ce que in French? Look at the questions below with their answers and you will figure out.:

 

  • Question 1 : Qu'est ce que tu fais ? => What are you doing?

  • Answer 1: Je dessine. => I am drawing

  • Answer 2: Je joue avec mes amis. => I am playing with my friends

  • Question 2: Qu'est-ce que tu regardes? => What are you watching?

  • Answer 1: Je regarde les étoiles. => I am watching stars.

  • Answer 2: Je regarde un dessin animé. => I am watching a cartoon.

 

You can see from these examples that the answers are free and can be different. So, the question word qu'est-ce que is for asking open questions. It is placed in general at the beginning of the sentence.

Qu'est ce que turns to qu'est ce qu' in front of a vowel.

Example :

Qu'est ce qu'ils mangent au déjeuner? => What are they eating at lunch?

As seen with Est-ce que, Qu'est-ce que is also a longer form of asking questions. For instance,  French people would rather say "tu fais quoi? "  in daily spoken French than "qu'est-ce que tu fais?"

 

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4. Time to practice on Est-ce que /Qu'est-ce que

Here is a little exercise for you to practice on the difference between Est-ce que qnd Qu'est-ce que. You will have to choose between one of the question words. 

Happy practicing!

More Practice

Exercise 1

Exercise 2

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