Thomas Berger said that "the art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge."
If you already know how to introduce yourself, talk about your life in general, and answer basic questions in French, you are now ready to delve into a deeper form of knowledge: the art of asking questions.
A great way to minimise your speaking time is to ask questions and let the other person speak. You can learn as much from listening to your conversation partner as you do from speaking with him/her.
Here are 5 Great Tips to Ask Better Questions In French
The Logic Behind French Question Forms
There are three ways to ask the very same question in French.
Once you master 1), I personally recommend using 2) for your everyday life and 3) when you want to be more formal and display a better level of French.
1) Vous aimez la fondue au fromage? (Do you like cheese fondue?)
Most simple form, used in everyday situation. Simply add a question mark at the end of the affirmative sentence.
2) Est-ce que vous aimez la fondue au fromage? (Do you like cheese fondue?)
More polite and formal, used in everyday situation. Add est-ce que at the beginning of the question.
3) Aimez-vous la fondue au fromage? (Do you like cheese fondue?)
Most polite and formal way to ask a question. Put the verb first and connect it to the subject with a hyphen.
Always put question words (qui, quoi, comment, pourquoi, où, quand, etc.) at the very beginning of an interrogative sentence. Here are a few examples:
- Où tu as mis mes gants? (Where did you put my gloves?)
- Où est-ce que tu as mis mes gants? (Where did you put my gloves?)
- Où as-tu mis mes gants? (Where did you put my gloves?)
- Pourquoi tu ris? (Why are you laughing?)
- Pourquoi est-ce que tu ris? (Why are you laughing?)
- Pourquoi ris-tu? (Why are you laughing?)
- Qui est venu hier soir? (Who came yesterday night?)
- Qui est-ce qui est venu hier soir? (Who came yesterday night?)
*Form no 3 doesn’t exist with qui as it is both subject and question word.*
Negative Question Form
Things are getting a bit trickier in the negative form, but nothing you can’t tackle with a bit of practice!
In the present tense and with other simple verb tenses, ne…pas always surround the conjugated verb.
- Pourquoi tu ne l’appelles pas? (Why don’t you call him/her?)
- Pourquoi est-ce que tu ne l’appelles pas? (Why don’t you call him/her?)
- Pourquoi ne l’appelles-tu pas? (Why don’t you call him/her?)
In passé composé and with other compound verb tenses, ne…pas always surround the auxiliary verbs avoir or être.
- Pourquoi tu ne l’as pas encore appelé? (Why haven’t you called him yet?)
- Pourquoi est-ce que tu ne l’as pas encore appelée? (Why haven’t you called her yet?)
- Pourquoi ne l’as-tu pas encore appelée? (Why haven’t you called her yet?)
Why Is French Considered ”Fancy/Elegant”?
From the 17th to the 19th centuries, France was the leading power of Europe. Together with the influence of the Enlightenment, French was the lingua franca of educated Europe, especially with regards to the arts, literature, and diplomacy. Monarchs like Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia could both speak and write in most excellent French. Similarly, the Russian, German and Scandinavian courts used French as their main or official language.
French was used by the nobility, scientists, artists… everybody that was somebody. Many believe that French started to be considered as the elegant language of elite around that time.
There are currently over 220 million French speakers worldwide, including 72 million so-called partial French speakers, i.e. YOU!
Aren’t you fancy?!
6 Shades Of Politeness
Choosing the right level of speech when speaking French not only displays your understanding of the language, but also your appreciation and respect for the francophone culture.
I challenge you to use shade no 6 with your douce moitié. There is nothing sexier than being called ”vous” by your beloved one! It sounds so… gentlemanly!
1) Comment tu t’appelles? (What’s your name?) Very informal, often used with children.
2) Comment est-ce que tu t’appelles? (What’s your name?) Informal.
3) Comment t’appelles-tu? (What’s your name?) More polite, but still informal as we use ”tu”.
4) Comment vous vous appelez? (What’s your name?) Polite.
5) Comment est-ce que vous vous appelez? (What’s your name?) More polite.
6) Comment vous appelez-vous? (What’s your name?) Most polite.
Knowledge is having the right answer. Intelligence is asking the right questions.
I hope you now have more tools to ask better questions in French!
As a native Québécoise, born to a Franco-Belgian family, now living in Nyon with her two children, Isabelle is no stranger to the expat reality! Trained as a professional opera singer, her passion for arts and languages led her to become an ambassador of the French language & francophone culture, i.e. a French Teacher!
She founded Prêt à Parler in January 2015. Since then she's been hard at work helping native and non-native English-speaking expats make French part of their everyday life! Prêt à Parler's mission is based on what Isabelle does best: helping busy professionals and parents improve their language skills by providing a high quality, eco-friendly, fun, no-nonsense approach to learning French online!