Est-ce que

French expressions analyzed and explained

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Expression: Est-ce que

Pronunciation: [es keu]

Literal translation: is it that

Register: normal/informal

Notes: The French phrase est-ce que can't be translated literally - or at all, in fact. Rather than providing information, est-ce que simply changes any given statement into a question. It is a slightly informal construction; the more formal/polite way to ask questions is with inversion. But in spoken French, est-ce que is far more common because it's much easier: the word order of the original sentence stays exactly the same, you just tack est-ce que on to the front.

   Tu travailles. > Est-ce que tu travailles ?
   You work. > Do you work?

   Paulette l'a trouvé. > Est-ce que Paulette l'a trouvé ?
   Paulette found it. > Did Paulette find it?

   Vous n'avez pas faim. > Est-ce que vous n'avez pas faim ?
   You aren't hungry. > Aren't you hungry? Are you not hungry?

Note that que must contract when followed by a word that begins with a vowel:

   Elle est arrivée. > Est-ce qu'elle est arrivée ?
   She has arrived. > Has she arrived?

   Il y a des problèmes. > Est-ce qu'il y a des problèmes ?
   There are problems. > Are there problems?

   Anny vient avec nous. > Est-ce qu'Anny vient avec nous ?
   Anny is coming with us. > Is Anny coming with us?

All of the above are yes/no questions. To ask WH questions (questions that ask for information like "who" and "how"), use an interrogatory pronoun, adverb, or adjective before est-ce que:

   Qui est-ce que vous avez vu ?
   Whom did you see?

   Quand est-ce que tu vas partir ?
   When are you going to leave?

   Quel livre est-ce qu'il veut ?
   Which book does he want?

Est-ce que is the inversion of c'est que, literally, "it is that." That's why a hyphen is required between est and ce: c'est = ce + est which are inverted to est-ce.

For the variations qu'est-ce qui and qui est-ce qui, see my lesson on interrogative pronouns.