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Interrogatives and interrogative words in French

Interrogatives and Interrogative Words
Most questions (or interrogatives) in French contain a verb. Interrogatives either ask for a yes/no answer or for information or facts. There are four types of yes/no questions: three are largely conversational; the fourth is used in writing and sometimes in conversation. Questions that ask for information or facts usually begin with interrogative words such as Qui... ? (Who . . . ?), Que... ?/ Qu’est-ce que... ? (What . . . ?), or Quand... ? (When . . . ?).

Yes/No Questions
Like English, French has several types of yes/no questions.
Yes/No Questions with No Change in Word Order
• Questions with rising intonation
In this type of question, the pitch of the voice rises at the end of a sentence to create a vocal question mark. The subject-verb order remains unchanged.
Vous êtes d’ici?                                Are you from around here?
On a du temps pour un café?         Do we have time for a coffee?

• Tag questions
Here, the invariable tag n’est-ce pas? is added to the end of a sentence. The speaker generally expects agreement or confi rmation. The subject-verb order does not change.
Tu es allemand, n’est-ce pas?    You’re German, aren’t you?
En été on a des vacances,             We’ll have vacation in the
n’est-ce pas?                                 summer, won’t we?

The English equivalent of a tag question varies according to the subject of the question (aren’t you? won’t we? do we? isn’t it? etc.), while the French n’est-ce pas? remains the same.

• Questions starting with est-ce que...
In this form the entire statement is preceded by est-ce que. The subjectverb order of the sentence does not change. Est-ce que is pronounced as a single two-syllable word [ehs-kuh]. Before a vowel, est-ce que becomes est-ce qu’: Est-ce qu’il(s)... /Est-ce qu’elle(s)... [ehs-keel/ehs-kehl].
Est-ce que nous sommes                         Are we already in the city?
déjà en ville?
Est-ce qu’elle a une opinion?      Does she have an opinion?

Yes/No Questions with a Change in Word Order
In French, questions with a change in the subject-verb order (inversion) are often used in written or formal spoken language. Short questions with inversion are often used in colloquial speech.
• In questions with pronoun subjects, the subject pronoun and verb are inverted. A hyphen connects the subject pronoun to the verb.

Êtes-vous déjà en retard? Are you already late?
Avons-nous assez d’argent? Do we have enough money?
Sont-elles au travail? Are they at work?

In negative questions with inversion, ne/n’ precedes the conjugated verb and pas follows the inverted subject pronoun.

N’as-tu pas envie de manger?    Don’t you want to eat?
Ne sommes-nous pas à la gare?           Aren’t we at the train station?
N’ont-ils pas soif?              Aren’t they thirsty?

• The subject pronoun je is almost never inverted with the verb. Use Estce que... ? instead.
Est-ce que je suis à l’heure?                 Am I on time?

However, several irregular verbs may invert the first-person singular je: (verb: être) Suis-je... ? (Am I . . . ?), (verb: pouvoir) Puis-je... ? (May I. . . ?), and (verb: devoir) Dois-je... ? (Must I . . . ?). These three forms are found only in rather formal speech.

• In an inverted question, when a third-person singular (il/elle/on) verb form ends in a vowel, the letter -t-, surrounded by hyphens, is inserted between the verb and the pronoun to aid in pronunciation.
A-t-on l’adresse de Marianne? Do we have Marianne’s address?

Note especially the inverted question form of the expression il y a (there is, there are). In the affi rmative, it goes like this:
Y a-t-il... ? Is there . . . ? Are there . . . ?
Y a-t-il des devoirs? Is there any homework?

Des becomes de/d’ in the negative form of the question.
N’y a-t-il pas de... ? Isn’t there . . . ? Aren’t there . . . ?
N’y a-t-il pas de bons fi lms? Aren’t there any good movies?
N’y a-t-il pas d’eau? Isn’t there any water?

Everyday language, however, asks questions such as Il y a des devoirs? and Il n’y a pas d’eau? with no inversion.

The added -t- between vowels in a third-person singular inverted question is found in all present-tense verbs
Parle-t-il? [pahR-luh-teel]               Is he speaking?
Discute-t-elle? [dees-kU-tuh-tehl]                         Does she argue?
Ne va-t-elle pas habiter [vah-tehl]             Isn’t she going to live
à Paris?                                                         in Paris?
Questions with Noun Subjects
When an inverted question has a noun subject, both the noun subject and the inverted pronoun are used.
Ce monsieur est-il français? Is that man French?
Simon a-t-il une moto?                  Does Simon have a motorcycle?
Annick et Chantal n’ont-elles   Don’t Annick and Chantal have
pas de logement?                            a place?
This table recaps how to ask questions with subject-verb inversion in French.

Summary of Subject-Verb Inversion in Questions
Statement: Elle est professeur.                              Renée est professeur.
She is a teacher.                              Renée is a teacher.

Question:  Est-elle professeur?                           Renée est-elle professeur?
Is she a teacher?                                        Is Renée a teacher?

Negative:  Question N’est-elle pas professeur?        Renée n’est-elle pas professeur?
Isn’t she a teacher?                                   Isn’t Renée a teacher?

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