How to Ask Questions in French

'Qu'est-ce que c'est ?' and other essential ways to state your query.

Est-ce que vous dansez?

Want to know something? Whether you're working, traveling, learning, or just trying to learn more about someone, questions are an important part of the conversation. There are, essentially, four ways to ask questions in French. Remember that when you ask a question in French, the verb is not demander but poser; the expression is "poser une question." 

There are two main types of questions:

  1. Yes/no questions, also known as polar questions or closed questions (questions fermées), ask for a simple yes or no answer.
     
  1. Information questions, also known as WH questions, constituent questions or open questions (questions ouvertes), ask for information with question (interrogative) words such who, what, when, where, why, which, how, how much or how many. 

Ways to Structure Questions

1. 'Est-Ce Que'

Est-ce que, literally "is it that," can be placed at the beginning of any affirmative sentence to turn it into a question.

   Est-ce que vous dansez ?
   
Do you dance?

   Est-ce que tu veux voir un film ?
   
Do you want to see a movie?

   Est-ce qu'il est arrivé ?
   Has he arrived?

Place any interrogative word in front of est-ce que.

   Qu'est-ce que c'est ?
   
What is it / that? What's going on?

   Quand est-ce que tu veux partir ?
   When do you want to leave?

   Pourquoi est-ce qu'il a menti ?
   Why did he lie?

   Quel livre est-ce que vous cherchez ?
   
Which book are you looking for?

2. Inversion

Inversion is a more formal way to ask questions.

 Just invert the conjugated verb and subject pronoun and join them with a hyphen. Again, place any interrogative words at the beginning of the question.

   Quand veux-tu partir ?
   When do you want to leave?

   Quel livre cherchez-vous ?
   Which book are you looking for?

Use inversion to ask negative questions.

   Ne dansez-vous pas ?
   Don't you dance?

   N'est-il pas encore arrivé ?
   Hasn't he arrived yet?

With the third person singular (ilelle, or on) and a verb that ends in a vowel, add t- between the verb and the subject pronoun for euphony, or a more harmonious sound.

   Aime-t-il les films ? > Does he like movies?

   Écoute-t-elle la radio ? > Does she listen to the radio?

   A-t-on décidé ? > Have we decided?

   Veux-tu voir un film ?
   Do you want to see a movie?

   Est-il arrivé ?
   Has he arrived?

   Pourquoi a-t-il menti ?
   Why did he lie?

3. A Statement as a Question

A very simple but informal way to ask yes/no questions is to raise the pitch of your voice while pronouncing any sentence. This is a popular option of the many informal ways to ask questions in French. 

   Vous dansez ?
   
You dance?

   Tu veux voir un film ?
   
You want to see a movie?

   Il est arrivé ?
   
He arrived?

You can also use this structure to ask negative questions:

   Tu ne danses pas ?
   
You don't dance?

   Il n'est pas encore arrivé ?
   
He hasn't arrived yet?

4. 'N'est-ce pas ?'

If you're pretty sure the answer to your question is yes, you can just make an affirmative statement and then add the tag n'est-ce pas ? to the end.

   Tu danses, n'est-ce pas ?
   
You dance, right?

   Tu veux voir un film, n'est-ce pas ?
   
You want to see a movie, right?

   Il est arrivé, n'est-ce pas ?
   He arrived, right?

'Si' as a Response

This is a special French word that's used only when responding in the affirmative to a negative question. 

Affirmative questions Negative questions
Vas-tu au ciné ? > Oui 
Are you going to the movies? >Yes  
 Ne vas-tu pas au ciné ? > Si !
Aren't you going to the movies? > Yes (I am)!
Est-ce que tu veux venir ? > Oui
Do you want to come? > Yes
 Tu ne veux pas venir ? > Si !
You don't want to come? > Yes (I do)!

Additional Resource

French question quiz