Posts Tagged ‘comment que’

A man in the street approached me to ask for the time. Although you’ve almost certainly learned quelle heure est-il?, that’s not what he said.

Here’s what he did say:

Quelle heure qu’y’est, monsieur?

The qu’y’est part is a contraction of qu’il est. It sounds like kyé.

Another colloquial way of saying this, which we’ve already seen, is:

Y’est quelle heure?

Again, y’est is a contraction of il est; it sounds like yé.

We’ve been looking at how que often gets inserted after question words in colloquial French, like comment:

Comment qu’on appelle ça?

Otherwise, the question word can go at the end:

On appelle ça comment?

The same thing is happening with our two questions asking for the time:

Quelle heure qu’y’est?
Y’est quelle heure?

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One of the first things you might’ve learned in French was how to say “how do you say X in French?” I’m guessing you probably learned to say it as comment dit-on X en français? This is correct, of course, but it doesn’t sound terribly colloquial.

Maybe you’ll remember from past posts that colloquial French avoids the inversion after question words like pourquoi, où, quand, comment. You’re not very likely, then, to hear comment dit-on…? in colloquial French.

During a conversation, someone asked me this very question in French. He wanted to know how to say blé in English. Here’s how he asked me the question:

Le blé en anglais, on appelle ça comment?
How do you say blé in English?
What’s blé called in English?

You’ll notice that the question word comment doesn’t appear until the very end. It’s possible to move it forward, but in this case there’s a high probability that you’ll hear a que get slipped in after it in colloquial language: le blé en anglais, comment qu’on appelle ça?

Just be aware that comment que is considered by certain people to be faulty because codified French doesn’t accept it. This means its use should be limited to informal language situations. At any rate, it’s not necessary for you to adopt comment que as a learner of French; the first example above (on appelle ça comment?) is fine for you to use in colloquial situations.

You’ll find more posts about comment que here. For example, we’ve already seen the question Oignon, comment qu’on écrit ça?, meaning how do you spell oignon? In this question, of course, comment que can also be avoided by moving comment to the end: Oignon, on écrit ça comment?


The OffQc book C’est what? will help you get your bearings in the colloquial variety of French spoken in Québec and pave the way for further independent study. You can buy and download it here.

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On 98,5 fm, there was a discussion about the spelling modifications that have taken place in French.

The animator of the show brought up the example of the French word for onion, whose spelling has been modified, but whose old spelling is still considered acceptable nonetheless.

Jokingly, the animator asked in French in a slightly exasperated tone:

How do you spell it?

Can you say how she might’ve said that? She said it in a way typical of colloquial language.

Here’s how she said it:

Comment qu’on écrit ça?

That que in there can often be heard in spoken language — but you should be aware some people will tell you it’s incorrect. If you’re bothered by this, you can say comment on écrit ça?

We’ve seen other examples of que used like this recently, here and here.

So, onion in French… comment qu’on écrit ça?

  • oignon (old spelling)
  • ognon (new spelling)

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On the radio, there’s an audio clip taken from a television show being used for promotional purposes. In the audio clip, the character from the television show can be heard saying:

Je suis dégoûtée de comment qu’on a pas protégé mes enfants.
I’m disgusted by how my children weren’t protected.

There are a few things I wanted to point out about the language in this quote:

1. Comment que was used instead of just comment. This can be heard frequently in spoken language. You saw this before in a past post where a speaker used comment que and quand que, instead of just comment and quand. She said:

quand qu’y’a fermé la porte
(an informal variation on quand il a fermé la porte)
when he closed the door

comment qu’y pensaient
(an informal variation on comment ils pensaient)
how they used to think

2. On a pas from the quote is an informal equivalent of on n’a pas, but they both in fact sound exactly the same. (I could’ve written on n’a pas in the quote above, but ne is almost always dropped in informal language — even if, here, including it or not including it makes no difference to the pronunciation of the quote.)

3. You know now that je suis frequently contracts to j’su’ in spoken language (sounds as if it were written chu in French — the ch sounds like the ch in chez). But the speaker here did in fact use the full je suis, and not a contraction of it. That’s because she wanted to stress what she was saying. By using the full je suis, she was able to emphasise her words more, which helped to convey her anger. Maybe we can compare it to the way an angry parent calls a child by his full name when he’s in trouble!

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In #1020, we saw an example of where a Québécois speaker in Montréal said:

quand qu’y’a fermé la porte
(an informal variation on quand il a fermé la porte)
when he closed the door

Instead of saying just quand, she said quand que. This is a feature of colloquial language. It’s not necessary for you to include this que yourself here, but it’s always good to understand what people are saying.

It’s not just after quand that you might hear que added in. I heard another example of it today, this time using comment instead:

comment qu’y pensaient
(an informal variation on comment ils pensaient)
how they used to think

Remember, il and ils are pronounced informally as i’, often written as y.

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