Comment ? ( 'What?'): French Interrogative Adverbs Like This and More

They all ask for specific info: how many, how, where, why, and when

question marks
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Interrogative adverbs are used to ask for specific information or facts. As adverbs, they are "invariable," meaning they never change form. The most common French interrogative adverbs are: combien, comment, où, pourquoi, and quand. They can be used to ask questions with est-ce que or subject-verb inversion or to pose indirect questions. And some can be worked into to n'importe ("no matter") expressions.

'Combien (de)'

Combien means "how many" or "how much." When it's followed by a noun, combien requires the preposition de ("of").  For example:

  • Combien de pommes est-ce que tu vas acheter ? > How many apples are you going to buy?
  • Combien de temps avez-vous ? > How much time do you have

'Comment'

Comment means "how" and sometimes "what." For example:

  • Comment va-t-il ? > How is he doing?
  • Comment as-tu fait ça ? > How did you do that?
  • Comment ? > What?
    Je ne vous ai pas entendu. >  I didn’t hear you.
  • Comment vous appelez-vous ? > What’s your name?

'Où'

Où means "where." For example: 

  • Où veux-tu manger ? > Where do you want to eat?
  • Où est-ce qu’elle a trouvé ce sac ? > Where did she find this bag?

'Pourquoi '

Pourquoi means "why." For example:

  • Pourquoi êtes-vous partis ? > Why did you leave?
  • Pouquoi est-ce qu’ils sont en retard ? > Why are they late?

'Quand'

Quand means "when." For example"

  • Quand veux-tu te réveiller ? > When do you want to wake up?
  • Quand est-ce que Paul va arriver ? > When is Paul going to arrive?

In Questions With "Est-Ce Que" or Inversion

All of these interrogative adverbs can be used to ask questions with either est-ce que or subject-verb inversion. For example:

  • Quand manges-tu ? / Quand est-ce que tu manges ? > When do you eat?
  • Combien de livres veut-il ? / Combien de livres est-ce qu'il veut ? > How many books does he want?
  • Où habite-t-elle ? / Où est-ce qu'elle habite ? > Where does she live?

In Posing Indirect Questions

They can be useful in indirect questions. For example:

  • Dis-moi quand tu manges. > Tell me when you eat.
  • Je ne sais pas combien de livres il veut. > I don't know how many books he wants.
  • J'ai oublié où elle habite. > I forgot where she lives.

With 'N'Importe' Expressions

Comment, , and quand can be used after n'importe ("no matter") to form indefinite adverbial phrases. For example:

  • Tu peux manger n'importe quand. > You can eat whenever / anytime.

And the Literary Why: 'Que'

In literature or other formal French, you might see an additional interrogative adverb: que, meaning "why." For example:

  • Qu'avais-tu besoin de lui en parler ? > Why did you have to go and talk to him about it?
  • Olivier et Roland, que n'êtes-vous ici ? (Victor Hugo) > Olivier and Roland, why aren't you here?