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French Question Words: Who, What, When, Where, Why

As with any language, asking questions is an essential part of communication in French. To effectively form questions, it's important to be familiar with the French question words, which are used to inquire about specific information. While we aim to cover these topics more thoroughly with our French classes, in this article, we'll explore the commonly used French question words for who, what, when, where, and why. 

who what when where why in french

1. Who - Qui

The French word for "who" is "qui." It is used to ask about a person or people.

Example sentences:

Asking about the subject of a sentence:


Qui mange la pomme ? (Who is eating the apple?)

Asking about the object of a sentence:

Tu connais la fille qui habite à Paris ? (Do you know the girl who lives in Paris?)

Asking about the subject of a relative clause:

L'homme qui a gagné est très heureux. (The man who won is very happy.)

Asking about people in general:

Qui aime les légumes ? (Who likes vegetables?)

Asking about a person's identity or role:

Qui est cet homme ? (Who is this man?)

Qui est le président de la France ? (Who is the president of France?)

In these cases, "qui" is used to inquire about the identity of a person or people involved in the action or to specify a particular person among a group.

2. What - Qu'est-ce que / Quoi

The French word for "what" can be expressed in two ways: "qu'est-ce que" or "quoi." Both forms are used to ask about objects, ideas, activities, and more.

Qu'est-ce que:

Examples:

  1. Qu'est-ce que tu manges ? (What are you eating?)
  2. Qu'est-ce que c'est ? (What is it?)

Quoi:

Examples:

  1. Tu manges quoi ? (What are you eating?)
  2. C'est quoi ? (What is it?)
  3. Tu veux quoi ? (What do you want?)

In summary, "qu'est-ce que" is a bit more formal and used in written or formal spoken language, while "quoi" is informal and commonly used in everyday conversations. Both can be used to ask "what," but the choice between them depends on the context and level of formality.

3. When - Quand

In French, the word "quand" is equivalent to the English word "when." You use "quand" to ask about or express a specific time or moment in the following situations:

Asking about a specific time or moment:

  1. Quand est-ce que tu viens ? (When are you coming?)
  2. Quand est ton anniversaire ? (When is your birthday?)

Asking about a general time or frequency:

  1. Tu fais du sport, mais quand ? (You do sports, but when?)
  2. Quand est-ce que tu étudies habituellement ? (When do you usually study?)

In relative clauses to specify a time or moment:

  1. Le jour quand il est né, il pleuvait. (The day when he was born, it was raining.)

Expressing a point in time or a period:

  1. Je t'attends à 18 heures. C'est quand tu devrais arriver. (I'm waiting for you at 6 p.m. That's when you should arrive.)


In all of these situations, "quand" is used to inquire about or specify a particular time or moment, making it equivalent to the English word "when."

4. Where - Où

In French, the word "où" is equivalent to the English word "where." You use "où" to ask about or express a specific location or place in the following situations:

Asking about a specific location or place:

  1. Où habites-tu ? (Where do you live?)
  2. Où est la gare ? (Where is the train station?)

Asking about the location of objects or people:

  1. Où sont mes clés ? (Where are my keys?)
  2. Où est ma mère ? (Where is my mother?)

Asking about the location of an event or action:

  1. Où se déroule la fête ? (Where is the party taking place?)
  2. Où travailles-tu ? (Where do you work?)

Expressing a location or place in statements:

  1. Le musée est là où nous avons commencé notre voyage. (The museum is where we started our journey.)
  2. C'est l'endroit où j'ai perdu mon téléphone. (It's the place where I lost my phone.)


In these situations, "où" is used to inquire about or specify a particular location or place, making it equivalent to the English word "where."

5. Why - Pourquoi

In French, the word "pourquoi" is equivalent to the English word "why." You use "pourquoi" to ask about the reasons or causes behind something or to express the motive for an action in the following situations:

Asking for a reason or cause:

  1. Pourquoi es-tu en retard ? (Why are you late?)
  2. Pourquoi pleut-il autant aujourd'hui ? (Why is it raining so much today?)

Asking for an explanation or justification:

  1. Pourquoi as-tu fait ça ? (Why did you do that?)
  2. Pourquoi il n'est pas venu à la fête ? (Why didn't he come to the party?)

Expressing a motive or reason for an action:

  1. J'étudie le français parce que j'aime la langue. (I study French because I love the language.)

In these situations, "pourquoi" is used to inquire about or express the reasons or motives behind an event, action, or situation, making it equivalent to the English word "why."

By familiarizing yourself with these essential French question words, you will be able to confidently ask and understand questions in French. Remember to pay attention to proper pronunciation and intonation to ensure clear communication. Practice using these words in different contexts to improve your overall fluency. Bonne chance! (Good luck!)


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