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.

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?"

 

Est ce que vs qu'est-ce que-min.jpg

This lesson has given you the foundations to understand the art of questionning with est-ce que and Qu'est-ce que, but if you would like to take your learning further, and take live lessons with native speakers, in a structured way, we recommend Lingoda. Lingoda is an online language school with affordable and effective group classes and private classes starting from 50 euros per month. You can access the free trial here, allowing you to test to 3 group lessons or one private lesson. And if you like challenges, try the Lingoda sprint. You will get 50% or 100% cash back if you attend all the classes you subscribed for. Note that during this summertime, you can enjoy 30% off your monthly plan with the code SUNNY30. Check it out here.

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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