How do you ask basic questions in French? Well, French interrogative words mean the same as they do for English: who, what, when, where, why, and how. By knowing basic French interrogatives, you'll be able to express your questions, even without an extensive vocabulary.

For example, say you're at a French street market and you want find a beautiful antique clock. You can ask the vendor Combien est cette horloge antique? (How much is this antique clock?). But if you don't know enough vocabulary, you can simply point to the clock and say Combien? (How much?) and the seller will understand that you want to know the price.

Know how to ask questions with these interrogatives:

Qui? (kee) (Who?)
Qu’est-ce que? (kehs-kuh) (What?)
Quand? (kahN) (When?)
? (oo) (Where?)
Pourquoi? (poor-kwah) (Why?)
Comment? (koh-mahN) (How?)
Combien? (kohm-biahN) (How much? How many?)
Quelle? (kehl) (Which?)
Y a-t-il? (yah-teel) (Is there? Are there?)

Take a look at some different ways to put these interrogatives into some useful phrases.

  • À quelle heure le restaurant ferme? (What time does the restaurant close?)

  • Où habite ta fille? (Where does your [informal] daughter live?)

  • Quand est la réunion? (When is the meeting?)

  • Comment est-ce que je vais au bureau? (How do I get to the office?)

  • Où est le distributeur automatique? (Where is the ATM?)

  • Quand faut-il régler la note? (When is checkout time?)

The following questions show how you can use these interrogative words in a variety of ways.

Jean Paul: Qui est cet homme? (Who is that man?)
Francois: C’est le gérant. (He’s the manager.)
Jean Paul: Qui sont ces gens? (Who are these people?)
Francois: Ce sont des étudiants. (They’re students.)
Jean Paul: Où vas-tu? (Where are you [informal] going?)
François: Je vais au musée. (I’m going to the museum.)
Jean Paul: Où sont les billets? (Where are the tickets?)
Francois: Ils sont dans le tiroir. (They’re in the drawer.)
Jean Paul: Où se trouve le Louvre? (Where is the Louvre located?)
François: Dans le premier arrondissement. (In the first district.)
Jean Paul: Quand partons-nous? (When do we leave?)
François: Nous partons demain matin. (We leave tomorrow morning.)
Jean Paul: Combien de valises avez-vous? (How many suitcases do you have?)
François: J’ai deux valises. (I have two suitcases.)
Jean Paul: Qu’est-ce que tu fais? (What are you [informal] doing?)
François: Je fais la cuisine. (I’m cooking.)

By changing the form of the word you from tu to vous and using the corresponding verb form, you change the question from informal to formal.

  • Qu’est-ce que tu veux? (What do you [informal] want?)

  • Qu’est-ce que vous voulez? (What do you [formal] want?)