Questions and requests

The easiest way to ask a question

If you want to ask a question in French, an easy way to do this is to make a statement and raise your voice at the end.

For example:

Tu aimes le fromage - You like cheese

Tu aimes le fromage? (with voice raised at the end) - Do you like cheese?

or

Nous allons au parc - We are going to the park

Nous allons au parc? (with voice raised at the end) - Are we going to the park?

Tu aimes le fromage? - Do you like cheese?

Using ‘modal’ verbs and ‘infinitives’ to make requests

Modal verbs express ability, permission, obligation or desire (i.e. things you want to do). ‎

Examples of modal verbs in English are ‘can’, ‘must’ or ‘want’.

An infinitive is always ‎needed after modal verbs such as devoir (to have to), pouvoir (can/to be able to) and ‎often -but not always- after vouloir (to want) and falloir (to be necessary). ‎

You can use the je part of the verb pouvoir or devoir to make a request in French:

  1. Create your statement.

  2. Raise your voice to turn this into a question.

For example:

  • Je peux aller aux toilettes s’il vous plait? - Can I go to the toilet please?

(Literally ‘I can go to the toilets please’)

  • Je peux emprunter une gomme s’il vous plait? - Can I borrow a rubber please?

(Literally ‘I can borrow a rubber please’)

  • Je dois faire mes devoirs pour lundi? - Do I have to do my homework for Monday?

(Literally ‘I must do my homework for Monday’)

Using ‘Est-ce que’ to form questions

Often, French people start a question with est-ce que...?

Est-ce que has no real meaning when on its own. Its function is to turn a statement into a question.

For example:

  • Est-ce que je peux manger en classe? - Can I eat in class?

  • Est-ce qu'il y a des choses à faire? - Are there things to do?

Est-ce qu'il y a des choses à faire là? - Are there things to do there?

Common question words in French

The most useful question words are:

FrenchEnglish
Qui?Who?
Que… ?/ Qu'est-ce que… ?What...?
Quand?When?
Où?Where?
Pourquoi?Why?
Comment?How?
Combien (de)?How much / How many?
À quelle heure?(At) what time?
Combien de temps?How long?

Put the question word at the start of the sentence and switch the verb and subject around.

For example:

  • Où habites-tu? - Where do you live?

  • Que vas-tu faire demain? - What are you going to do tomorrow?

Quiz

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz on making requests.