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Different Ways of Saying “What” in French…

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My French students often wonder how to translate what into French as it can have different terms depending on its function in a sentence. In this short lesson, I won’t be giving you all the terms we use in French but the most useful ones. So, first, we are going to see how to use it in a question and then in a statement.

WHAT IN A QUESTION

What can often be translated by “Qu’est-ce que/Qu’est ce qui – Quel(s) /quelle(s)- Quoi

Each one has a grammatical function that you need to understand in order to correctly use them.

  1. Qu’est-ce que and Qu’est-ce qui

a.        Qu’est-ce que tu veux manger ce soir?

What do you want to eat tonight ?

b.        Qu’est-ce qui fait ce bruit ?

What makes that noise ?

Note : In sentence (a) we use « Qu’est-ce que » because it is directly followed by a subject.

Qu’est-ce que + tu (subject) + veux manger (verbs)

In sentence (b) the verb we use « Qu’est-ce qui » because it is directly followed by a verb and NOT a subject. But be careful because here « Qui » doesn’t mean « WHO » so don’t get confused!

 Qu’est-ce qui + fait (verb)

2. Quels & Quelles

a.           Quelle heure est-il?

What time is it?

 b.          Quel est ton nom?

What is your name?

Note: In sentence (a) you must use “Quelle” because it is followed by a feminine noun (une heure-an hour) and in the second sentence you must use “Quel” because “nom’ has a masculine gender (un nom- a name/a noun).

Quel/Quelle literally mean “which” and are always used before a noun or before the verb “to be”.

  • Quel(le)s + noun (Quelle heure est-il?)
  • Quel(le)s + être (Quel est ton nom)

 There are 4 different forms of “Quel” according to gender and number of the noun they precede and modify

What/which     Masc     Fem
Singular Quel Quelle
Plural Quels Quelles

 

Tips: Easy to remember how to pronounce each of them as they all have the same pronunciation /KEL/!!

 

 3.     Quoi

This is the unformal way of asking a “What” question.

So, instead of saying “Qu’est-ce que tu veux?” you could say “Tu veux quoi? “.

Notes:

  • “Quoi” can only replace “Qu’est-ce que” (not qu’est-ce qui or quel)
  • It has to be put at the end of a question
  • It is informal (mainly used in spoken French)

WHAT IN A STATEMENT

  1. Ce que/ce qui      

a.   Je me demande ce que vous voulez.

I wonder what you want.

 b. Tu me demandes ce qui fait ce bruit

I wonder what makes that noise

 Notes:

  • What (ce que /ce qui) is often in the middle of a statement
  • It corresponds to “Qu’est-ce que /Qu’est-ce qui “in a question …
  • Ce que + subject + verb
  • Ce qui + verb

2.    Quel(s)/quelle(s)

a. Je me demande quel est son nom

I wonder what ‘s his/her name

b. Je me demande quelle heure il est

I wonder what time it is

Notes:

  • Quel/quelle + verb “être”+ noun
  • Quel/quelle + noun (without an article le/la un/une)
  • Concerning the gender, the same thing happens as in the questions : Quel for masculine nouns & Quels for mac and plural nouns / Quelle for feminine nouns & Quelles for feminine and plural nouns.

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