How do you say « what is your name? » in French? How about « where are you from? » These are all common questions that people want to know when they meet someone for the first time.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the different types of questions that can be asked in French, in different language levels, and how to ask them.
So whether you’re a French beginner or an experienced speaker, this post has something for everyone!
Bonne chance ! (Good luck!)
3 French different questions to ask the same thing
- Comment t’appelles-tu ?
- Comment est-ce que tu t’appelles ?
- Tu t’appelles comment ?
Yes, yes, you read it right… I can ask you 3 different questions to ask the same thing: I would like to know your name, that’s all.
The 3 questions I asked you give exactly the same information. But to say that, I can use three different structures that correspond to three different levels of language, we also say 3 « registres de langue« .
What are the language levels in French?
You understand the expression language level, right? It’s the way you speak that changes depending on the situation or the person you are talking to.
For example, during an oral exam or a job interview, you will choose a more formal, more sophisticated, more correct language.
This is called the sustained level. Sustained level is of course correct for writing, but it is not used for speaking in « normal » life situations. I mean, it’s not forbidden, of course, but it would be a bit weird, a bit arrogant or snobbish.
- Niveau soutenu = sustained level
- Niveau courant = current level
- Niveau familier = familiar level
The different forms of questions in French according to the language level
The French question of sustained level
The question « Comment t’appelles-tu ? » is a sustained level question.
Observe the structure:
- you have the question word (Comment) in the 1st position,
- then the verb (t’appelles),
- then a dash (-),
- then the subject (tu),
- and, the question mark?
The French question of current level
The 2nd question I asked you « Comment est-ce que tu t’appelles ? » is a current level question.
Current, common, means standard, normal. So we use this language register in writing as well as in speaking, but in normal situations. What is important is that the fluency level is correct for grammar, for vocabulary, etc.
Now, look at the question « Comment est-ce que tu t’appelles ?« .
- « Comment » (how), the question word in the 1st position,
- then « est-ce que« ,
- then the subject (tu),
- then the verb (t’appelles).
Be careful, « est-ce que » doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a tool to show you that you should always use if you want to ask a correct question in an informal situation.
The French question of familiar level
And finally, I asked you the question « Tu t’appelles comment ?« . This is a familiar level question, which you use to talk with your family, friends, etc.
⚠️ Be careful, this question is not grammatically correct.
- you start with the subject (tu),
- then the verb (t’appelles)
- and at the end, the question word (comment)!
Let’s look at the main words of the question – to ask a question – in French.
The words of the question in French
For the grammatical part of these question words in French, we will focus on the 2 « normal » question systems, i.e. the ones you will be able to use when you speak:
- the current question
- and the familiar question.
We have already seen the French question word « comment ». Let’s see other words of the French question.
The French word: « quand ? » (when)
The answer to the question « quand ? » (when), of course, it is a date, a temporal idea.
- Current question: Quand est-ce que ton père est né ? (When was your father born?)
- Familiar question: Le train arrive quand ? (When does the train arrive?)
The French word: « où ? » (where)
The answer to the question « où ? » (where) is a place.
- Current question: Où est-ce que tu habites ? (Where do you live?)
- Familiar question: Mon portable est où ? (Where is my cell phone?)
The French word: « combien ? » (how much / how many)
The answer to the question « combien ? » (how much, how many) is a quantity, a numerical information.
⚠️ Be careful, if the word « combien » is followed by a noun, we must use « combien de + nom… ? » It is an idea of quantity, like « beaucoup de… », « plus de… ».
- Current question: Combien de frères est-ce que tu as ? (How many brothers do you have?)
- Familiar question: Tu as combien d’argent ? (How much money do you have?)
The French word: « pourquoi ? » (why)
The answer to the question « pourquoi ? » (why) is an explanation. And the answer to this question often begins with « Parce que… » (because).
- Current question: Pourquoi est-ce que tu es fatigué ? (Why are you tired?)
- Familiar question: Pourquoi il part ? (Why is he leaving?)
Note: you notice that in the familiar question, the word « Pourquoi » (why) is still at the beginning of the sentence.
The French word: « qui ? » (who)
The answer to the question « qui ? » (who) is someone.
- Current question: Avec qui est-ce que Franck habite ? (Who does Franck live with?)
- Familiar question: Franck, c’est qui ? (Who is Franck?)
The French word: « que ? / qu’est-ce que / quoi ? » (what)
The answer to the question « que ? / qu’est-ce que / quoi ? » (what) is something, an object, an idea…
- Current question: Qu’est-ce que vous désirez boire ? (What would you like to drink?)
- Familiar question: Tu fais quoi, ce week-end ? (What are you doing this weekend?)
⚠️ Be careful: for the 2nd question, the familiar question, the word « que » is after the verb and changes form, it becomes « quoi« .
You can also use this word what when you don’t quite understand:
Hein ? Quoi ? Qu’est-ce qu’il dit ? (Eh? What is it? What is he saying?)
So, there you have it! You now know how to ask a question in French.
In addition, you are familiar with the different types of questions that can be asked in this beautiful language.
Just remember that the tone of your voice and the way you ask a question will also affect the answer that you receive. And, most importantly, have fun using these new skills to engage in some fantastic francophone conversations! Au revoir 😊
Bonne chance et à bientôt !
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