Why are you learning French?
Maybe you’re interested in watching fabulous French films without the bother of subtitles. Maybe you’ve been dying to read Tintin in its original untranslated glory. Maybe you just want to finally understand what you’re ordering at that fancy restaurant up the street.
All of these are worthy goals that may very well be enough on their own to propel your language learning. But, if you’re like most language learners, then you probably have another, more important goal: to talk to people in French.
After all, language is about communication, and communication is about people.
In French, as in any language, conversation is all about listening and asking the right questions.
In this article, we’ll start with questions that can have “yes” or “no” as an answer.
Do you have any children?
Do you enjoy your work?
Have you ever travelled?
These questions can be asked in French using three common structures.
1. Rising Intonation
Using intonation is probably the easiest way to ask a question in French. The voice simply rises at the end of a sentence, turning it into a question. Consider the following in English:
You have children.
You have children?
A simple change in your voice turns a statement into a question.
Vous avez des enfants? (You have children?)
Tu aimes ton travail? (You like your work?)
Tu as déjà voyagé? (You’ve travelled?)
At this point, you might be feeling like it’s almost too easy. For all intents and purposes, you could get away with asking any and all yes/no questions using intonation. But, you’ll still need to understand the other structures in order to fully engage in French conversations.
2. Est-ce Que
Le French structure “est-ce que” is equivalent to “is it that” in English. So, a question like “Est-ce que tu as un chien?” would translate literally to: “Is it that you have a dog?”.
Yes, it might sound a bit strange when you’re thinking in English. But, French people don’t think in English, of course; they think in French! Est-ce que is an extremely common structure for yes-no questions, and you can expect to hear it often in conversation.
Est-ce que vous avez des enfants? (Do you have children?)
Est-ce que tu aimes ton travail? (Do you like your work?)
Est-ce que tu as déjà voyagé? (Have you ever travelled?)
Inversion is probably the trickiest of the three structures for English-speakers, but with a little bit of practice, it will soon be second nature.
An inversion is basically moving the personal pronoun after the verb and connecting the two with a hyphen.
Personal pronoun? I have no idea what she’s talking about...
For those of you who – like me – never actually learned English grammar, a personal pronoun is simply one of: I, you, he, she, we, they.
So in this case, a statement like “Tu aimes danser” (you like to dance) could be turned into a question by placing tu after the verb and adding a hyphen:
Aimes-tu danser? (Do you like to dance?)
Let’s try that with our original three questions:
Avez-vous des enfants? (Do you have children?)
Aimes-tu ton travail? (Do you like your work?)
As-tu déjà voyagé? (Have you ever travelled?)
So there you have it: three basic structures for asking yes-no questions. While it’s best to get comfortable with all three, which one you use most often is really up to you. There is no “best” structure; all three are equally correct. Of course, you will also hear all three in conversations with French-speakers.
And now, you can ask questions in French!
Vous pouvez poser des questions?
Est-ce que vous pouvez poser des questions?
Pouvez-vous poser des questions?
Oui, vous pouvez poser des questions!