French Grammar For Dummies
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Using inversion to ask a question in French requires a little tweaking in the order of the words of the statement. The subject pronoun and the verb get swapped around (inverted) and separated by a hyphen.

Here is a list of the subject pronouns you can use in inversion. Note how je (I) is not among them! You pretty much never invert je and the verb (unless you’re a writer of melodramas in the 19th century).

  • tu (you [singular informal])

  • il/elle/on (he/she/one)

  • nous (we)

  • vous (you [singular formal or plural formal and informal])

  • ils/elles (they [masculine or mixed/feminine])

And here are some of them in action:
Statement: Tu veux une glace. (You want an ice cream.)
Question with inversion: Veux-tu une glace? (Do you want an ice cream?)
Statement: Vous parlez italien. (You speak Italian.)
Question with inversion: Parlez-vous italien? (Do you speak Italian?)

Inversion with verbs that end in a vowel in the third person

When you invert the subjects il (he), elle (she), or on (one) and a verb that ends in a vowel when conjugated in the present or future tense, pronunciation requires that you add -t- between the verb and subject inverted.

This rule applies to the third person singular of -er verbs and the third person singular of aller (to go) in the present tense, and to the third person singular form in future tense. Here are a few examples of such forms:

Aime-t-elle la glace? (Does she like ice cream?)
Parle-t-on anglais ici? (Does one speak English here?)
Dinera-t-il avec nous? (Will he have dinner with us?)

Inversion with a noun or a name as the subject

Inversion cannot be done when the subject is a noun (like la fille, which means the girl) or a name (like Julie). It can only be done between a subject pronoun and the verb. Here’s how you get around that problem: You simply add the subject pronoun to the sentence while the noun or name sits at the beginning of the sentence. Here’s how to proceed.
  1. Leave the original noun subject at the beginning.

    For example, in La petite fille veut un vélo (The little girl wants a bicycle), leave La petite fille alone.

  2. Find the subject pronoun that matches the noun.

    In this instance, you use elle (she) for La petite fille.

  3. Do inversion between the subject pronoun and the verb (be sure to add a hyphen) and add the question mark.

    In this example, inversion produces veut-elle. And here’s your question: La petite fille veut-elle un vélo?

Here are a few more examples, including some with the extra -t-.
Statement: Marie joue du violon. (Marie plays the violin.)
Question with inversion: Marie joue-t-elle du violon? (Does Marie play the violin?)
Statement: Ce fruit est bon. (This fruit is good.)
Question with inversion: Ce fruit est-il bon? (Is this fruit good?)
Statement: Le match finira tard. (The match will end late.)
Question with inversion: Le match finira-t-il tard? (Will the match end late?)

About This Article

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About the book author:

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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