French Grammar For Dummies
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The French equivalents of who are qui, qui est-ce qui, and qui est-ce que. The choice between the forms depends on whether qui is the subject or object of the verb.

“Who” as the subject of a French verb

In Qui est là? (Who’s there?), qui functions as the subject of the verb. Using qui this way is the most common and easiest way of asking who. To form this type of question, start with qui, add the verb (always in third person singular) and the rest of the question, and complete the question with a question mark.

Here are a few examples of qui used as the subject.

Qui parle espagnol? (Who speaks Spanish?)
Qui arrive toujours en retard? (Who is always late?)
Qui veut un bonbon? (Who wants a candy?)

“Who” as the object of a French verb

Qui can also be the object of the verb in the question, and in proper English usage it’s often a whom, as in Whom do you prefer? To form this question in French, start with qui and then use the est-ce que form or inversion of a yes/no question. Of course you finish with a question mark, like so:

Qui est-ce que tu préfères? (Whom do you prefer?)
Qui préfères-tu? (Who do you prefer?)

If the subject of the verb is a noun or a name, start with qui and then the noun or name, followed by inversion, as shown in the following examples:

Qui Paul préfère-t-il? (Whom does Paul prefer?)
Qui les pompiers ont-ils aidé? (Whom did the firefighters help?)

Like for qui subject, qui object has a long version: qui est-ce que. This time inversion can’t be used, though, because you have est-ce que in the question. Use qui est-ce que, follow it with the subject (either a noun or a pronoun), and finish with the statement. Here are the previous examples in the long version so you can compare:

Qui est-ce que les pompiers ont aidé? (Whom did the firefighters help?)
Qui est-ce que Paul préfère? (Whom does Paul prefer?)

When a question begins with qui, it’s always asking about a person.

About This Article

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Véronique Mazet has a doctorate in French from the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of two successful grammar books. She currently teaches French at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.

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