Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 35): l’interrogation (que, quoi ou quel?)


French learners often have trouble deciding how to translate “what” into French. Should it be que or quoi, or may be that pesky quel? Understanding the difference between these terms is critical to knowing how to use them correctly.

When asking a question with “what” as either the subject or object, the French equivalent is the interrogative pronoun que.

1. As the object of a question, que may be followed by either inversion or est-ce que.

Que veux-tu? Qu’est-ce que tu veux? What do you want?
Que regardent-ils? Qu’est-ce qu’ils regardent? What did they see?
Qu’est-ce que c’est (que ça)? What is it (that)?

2. When que is the subject, it must be followed by est-ce qui. In this type construction, qui is simple acting as a relative pronoun (not as it means the question, “who?’) with no actual meaning of its own.

Qu’est-ce qui se passe? What’s happening?
Qu’est-ce qui a fait ce bruit? What made that noise?

To ask a question in which “what” comes after the verb, use quoi. This serves as an informal construction, for example:

Tu veux quoi? You want what?
C’est quoi, ça? Ça c’est quoi? What’s that? (literally, that’s what?)

When “what” joins two clauses, it is an indefinite relative pronoun.

1. If “what” is the subject of the relative cause, use ce qui.

Je me demande ce qui va se passer. I wonder what’s going to happen.
Tout ce qui brille n’est pas or. All that glitters are not gold.

2. When “what” is the subject, use ce que.

Dis-moi ce que tu veux. Tell me what you want.
Je ne sais pas ce qu’elle a dit. I don’t know what she said.

When “what” precedes or otherwise modifies a noun, use quel (m) quelle (f) (which literally means “which”), and can be either an interrogative adjective or an exclamative adjective.

Quel livre veux-tu? Quel livre est-ce que tu veux? What (which) book do you want?
À quelle heure vas-tu partir? (At) what time are you going to leave?
Quelles sont les meilleures idée? What (which) are the best ideas?
Quel livre intéressant! What an interesting book!
Quel bonne idée! What a good idea!

When “what” follows a preposition, quoi is usually needed in French.

1. In a simple question, use quoi followed by either inversion or est-ce que.

De quoi parlez-vous? De quoi est-ce que vous parlez? What are you talking about?
Sur quoi tire-t-il? Sur quoi est-ce qu’il tire? What is he shooting at?

2. In a question or statement with a relative clause, use quoi + subject + verb.

Sais-tu à quoi il pense? Do you know what he’s thinking about?
Je me demande avec quoi c’est écrit. I wonder what it’s written with.

a. When a verb or expression requires de, use ce cont.

C’est ce dont j’ai besoin. (J’ai besoin de…) That’s what I need.
Je ne sais pas ce dont elle parle. (Elle parle de…) I don’t know what she’s talking about.

b. When à is the preposition and it is replaced either at the beginning of a clause or after c’est, use ce à quoi.

Ce à quoi je m’attends, c’est une invitation. What I’m waiting for is an invitation.
C’est ce à quoi Chantal rêve. That’s what Chantal dreams about.

Finally, when you didn’t hear or didn’t understand what someone just said and you’d like to repeat it, use the interrogative adverb comment, which is considered nicer than saying quoi.


One Response to Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 35): l’interrogation (que, quoi ou quel?)

  1. Pingback: Apprendre la Langue Française (96e partie): communication et savoir-faire, les sommaires (deuxieme partie) « coffeechat with perkyperps

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: