How to Ask for Specific Information with French Question Words
Sometimes you need to know how to say more than a simple yes or no in French; you may want to know when or where something happened and who came and what they did. In this case, you need to use an information question, and like in English, French information questions start with a question word (technically known as interrogative adverbs and adjectives).
Useful French question words
French has the same interrogative words and expressions as English. The following list introduces the most useful question words in French, with their English equivalents.
à quelle heure (at what time)
qui est-ce que (who, object of the verb)
qui est-ce qui (who, subject of the verb)
avec qui (with whom)
pour qui (for whom)
combien (de) (how many/how much)
d’où (from where)
pour quelle raison (for what reason)
qu’est-ce qui (what, subject of the verb)
que/qu’est-ce que (what, object of the verb)
quel + noun (what/which)
The interrogative words are just an added block to the yes/no question block. In other words, you form a question like you would for a yes/no question and add the question word or expression at the beginning.
The French est-ce que question format
Follow these steps to include a question word in the est-ce que format:
Start with a statement and add est-ce que to form a yes/no question.
For example, Tu achètes un livre (You buy a book) becomes Est-ce que tu achètes un livre? (Do you buy a book?)
To ask a more specific question, just add the question word at the beginning of the yes/no question.
For example, if you want to know why someone buys a book, use the word pourquoi at the start of your question: Pourquoi est-ce que tu achètes un livre? (Why do you buy a book?)
Here are a few more examples of information questions using est-ce que:
Quand est-ce que tu vas en vacances? (When do you go on vacation?)
Combien d’enfants est-ce qu’ils ont? (How many children do they have?)
Qu’est-ce qu’on attend? (What are we waiting for?)
The question word que (what) turns into qu’ before a vowel, as shown in the last example. However qui (who/whom) doesn’t change.
French questions with inversions
Follow these steps to include a question word in inversion format.
Invert the verb and subject in the statement and put a hyphen between them.
For example, the statement Tu achètes un livre (You buy a book) becomes Achètes-tu un livre? (Do you buy a book?)
Add the question word at the beginning, and don’t forget the question mark at the end.
For example, if you want to know why someone buys a book, use the word pourquoi at the start of your question: Pourquoi achètes-tu un livre? (Why do you buy a book?)
If the question includes a name or noun, it still has to go before the verb, at the beginning of the yes/no question. For example, Pourquoi Pierre achète-t-il un livre? (Why does Pierre buy a book?)
Here are additional examples of information questions using inversion:
Quand vas-tu en vacances? (When do you go on vacation?)
Combien d’enfants ont-ils? (How many children do they have?)
Qu’attend-on? (What are we waiting for?)
The French interrogative où
The interrogative où (where) behaves differently from other question words. Actually, où is a complete rebel! The best way to ask a question that begins with où is to build sentences this way: où + verb + any subject (pronoun or noun). If it is a subject pronoun, you still need to link it to the verb by a hyphen, as in the following examples:
Où as-tu trouvé ça? (Where did you find that?)
Où va Paul? (Where is Paul going?)
Où sont mes clés? (Where are my keys?)
Où allez-vous voyager? (Where are you going to travel?)