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Posts Tagged ‘informal’

To invert, or not to invert, that is the question.

To invert, or not to invert, that is the question.

Did you learn that questions using the inversion automatically sound more formal in French? This isn’t always the case in the French of Québec. In fact, you’ll hear the inversion used quite often when questions are asked in everyday conversations.

The questions below all sound perfectly conversational despite the fact that they use the inversion:

Veux-tu un lift? from entry #707
Do you want a lift?

Pourrais-tu me donner dix piasses, s’il te plaît? from entry #382
Can you give me ten bucks, please?

En veux-tu? from entry #382
Do you want some?

As-tu mal à la tête? from entry #382
Do you have a headache?

Me l’apporterais-tu, s’il te plaît? from entry #382
Can you bring it to me, please?

Sais-tu comment ça s’est passé? from entry #318
Do you know how it happened?

However!

Using the inversion with question words (comment?, pourquoi?, quand?, où?, etc.) does sound more formal in French, even in Québec. In regular conversations, the inversion is typically avoided in these kinds of questions.

None of the conversational questions below use the inversion:

Comment t’as su? from entry #712
(as opposed to comment as-tu su?)
How did you know?
How did you find out?

Pourquoi vous me dites ça? from entry #318
(as opposed to pourquoi me dites-vous cela?)
Why are you telling me this?
Why are you saying this to me?

C’est arrivé quand? from entry #318
(as opposed to quand est-ce arrivé?)
When did it happen?

Il restait où? from entry #318
(as opposed to où restait-il?)
Where was he living?

You’ll also sometimes hear question words get thrown to the end of a question, like in the last two examples above.

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This afternoon, I ordered a coffee — a strong one, un café corsé. As I ordered, I heard a woman talking on her mobile. The person she was speaking to couldn’t hear her.

Maybe you’ll remember this question from entry #682, asked by a girl in her 20s speaking on the phone:

Tu m’entends-tu?
Can you hear me?

This is also how the woman today asked if she could be heard. In fact, she asked the question a few times. One of the other ways she asked the questions was:

Est-ce que tu m’entends?
Can you hear me?

The first question (tu m’entends-tu?) uses the informal yes-no question marker tu to ask the question. You can read more about asking yes-no questions with tu in this guide.

The woman speaking on the phone used tu m’entends-tu? and est-ce que tu m’entends? interchangeably. Because she used the form tu m’entends-tu?, we know that she was speaking to someone she’s on familiar terms with.

A call centre representative is very unlikely to ask a customer on the phone who has trouble hearing: tu m’entends-tu? It’s too informal sounding. It’s okay to use tu m’entends-tu? with a friend, though.

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