Last time we talked about forming YES/NO questions in French. If you missed that, you can check it out now. Or keep reading to learn how to ask open-ended questions as well as examples of questions you can actually ask.
I remember back when I first started learning French. The questions my tutors would ask me seemed haphazard and I couldn’t find a rhyme or reason to the methods and the different forms they would use to form a question.
This made it SO HARD to feel like an active participant in the conversation because I didn’t really know how to put a question into word form to ask it.
Well, I finally figured it out and I want to lay it out for you so you don’t have to be lost or confused by French questions.
But first, I want to share with you the most important advice I can about being an active participant in the conversation.
Don’t let your fear of messing up keep you from speaking.
There, I said it.
Yup, that means even if you have the grammar or vocabulary of a 2-year-old, it’s better to speak up and ask a question any way you know how than to just keep your mouth shut until you know how to say it perfectly.
When you learn a language, it’s best to just get comfortable with making mistakes.
And with sounding like a toddler.
Because that’s how you will truly learn and grow.
You’ll get corrected and you’ll figure out how the language works!
Anyway, let’s jump into how to use questions to bring power to your conversations.
1. French Question Words
Once you’ve learned how to use and ask basic YES/NO questions and you are feeling ready for questions that will really ignite your conversation and help you be an active participant in the conversation, you need to know how to form open-ended questions (the kind that can get you any answer).
These are going to be your powerhouse phrases to start any conversation.
First of all, you must use a question word:
- quand (when)
- à quelle heure (at what time)
- qui (who/whom)
- comment (how)
combien (de) (how many/how much)
d’où (from where)
pour quelle raison (for what reason)
- quel + noun (what/which)
2. French Question Formation
Next, you pick one of the 3 structures depending on the formality of the situation.
This is the most formal way to ask a question. Use the appropriate verb + subject + question word.
** Note that if the verb ends with a vowel and the subject begins with a vowel, you will need to add a “t” between the two vowels. This has no meaning, but helps keep the sound of the question phrase going).
EXAMPLE: Vous-mangez quoi?
b. Using “est-ce que” or “qu’est-ce que”.
With the question word first in the sentence, then add the “est-ce–que” or “qu’est–ce que” + subject + verb.
EXAMPLE: Qu’est-ce que vous mangez?
c. Add the question word to the end.
The most informal method is to simply replace the complement of the sentence (what comes after the subject + verb) with a question word. If you are learning French for travel, you will need to learn the informal methods because this is what is known as “street french”. This is what you will hear most often when touring around France.
EXAMPLE: Tu mange quoi?
3. French Questions to Ask
It doesn’t take much to get a conversation going with a native speaker. Let’s look at 15 REAL questions you can use to start or keep a conversation going.
1. Ça va ?
Basically the equivalent of ‘how’s it going?’
2. Qu’est-ce que vous conseillez?
Use this to ask for recommendations for what to eat, where to go, or what to see? It’s a great conversation opener too. *Note that this is in the formal/plural form of “vous”. If you are using the totoyer with someone (words like: tu, toi), then make sure you say: Qu’est-ce que tu conseilles?
3. Il est quelle heures?
The phrase you would actually use to ask what time it is and not sound like an old-fashioned textbook.
4. Il a quel âge?
When making small talk with someone, it might be nice to know how to ask how old their child is (I suppose you could ask about their dog too).
5. C’est beau, hein?
It’s beautiful isn’t it. You can definitely use this expression anytime you see something beautiful. Who knows, you might start a lovely conversation over such a simple question.
6. Avez-vous un passe-temps?
Do you have a past time/hobby? This one is great for opening up conversation and learning more about other people. *Note, this is in the “vous” form, if you are using more familiar language with someone, be sure to say: as-tu un passe-temps?
7. Vous venez d’où?
Where are you from? Where do you come from?
8. Vous allez en France pourquoi ?
Why are you going to France? You could also exchange “en France” for any other location you want to discuss.
9. Vous commencer a quelle heures?
What hour do you start (working, a party, etc). This is great for gathering more information as well as practicing your skills with time in French.
10. Elle vient quand exactement ?
She comes when exactly? You could use this to talk about a person, or perhaps a bus or train. Just make sure to use the appropriate pronoun (il/elle).
11. Pouquoi la France est-il incroyable?
This would work for asking clarification on anything really. Just use the format –> Pourquoi (insert a subject) est-il (insert adjective)?
12. Où se trouve le train pour Paris?
You could also use this format for asking where anything is. –> Où se trouve (something you are looking for)?
An alternate form of this question is: C’est par où (the object you are looking for)? Par example: C’est par où le Louvre?
Tell me, have you heard or used any questions in French that have really opened up the conversation for you?!
13. C’est le bus numéro combien?
What’s the bus number? Literally: It is the bus number how much? Again, use this as a basic format for understanding French questions. Street French doesn’t follow the normal order we would use in English. They put the most important facts first (like the subject + the information they want) THEN the question word.
14. Tu vas faire quoi?
What are you going to do? An excellent question to get anyone started!
15. Tu prends tout seul le bus pourquoi?
Why do you take the bus alone/by yourself? Again, look at the structure here. Although you may not be using this sentence exactly, it’s a great example of how to form questions in French.
Subject + verb + (complete the sentence) + question word.
Not sure what questions can be helpful for normal “street french” or everyday conversation that doesn’t sound like a textbook?
I hope that helps! Spoken French that you’ll hear on your travels or when talking to native tutors will be slightly different than what you use in a textbook!