Posts Tagged ‘question word’

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?


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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You’ll hear yes-no questions asked frequently with -tu, so it’s a good idea to devote time to understanding how they work.

You don’t ever have to ask yes-no questions with -tu yourself. You can always use the est-ce que form that you’ve already learned and you’ll be covered for any situation where you need to ask a yes-no question. That said, it’s still important to understand how yes-no questions are formed using -tu because you’ll definitely hear this formulation when people speak.

To begin, take three examples of yes-no questions using est-ce que:

Est-ce que c’est possible? (oui/non)
Est-ce que tu m’aimes? (oui/non)
Est-ce que je peux savoir de quoi tu parles? (oui/non)

These questions could also be asked without est-ce que by making the voice rise at the end:

C’est possible? (oui/non)
Tu m’aimes? (oui/non)
Je peux savoir de quoi tu parles? (oui/non)

In Québec, you can also hear these same questions asked with -tu inserted after the conjugated verb.

C’est-tu possible? (oui/non)
Tu m’aimes-tu? (oui/non)
Je peux-tu savoir de quoi tu parles? (oui/non)

Asking yes-no questions with -tu is an informal usage. It does not occur in formal speech or writing. Its use is limited to informal spoken language situations.

This -tu can appear in any verb tense. For example, in the past tense (j’ai dit, j’ai fait, etc.), it gets placed after the auxiliary verb. The auxiliary verb in j’ai dit and j’ai fait is ai.

Did I say that?
Est-ce que j’ai dit ça?
J’ai dit ça?
J’ai-tu dit ça?

Did I do that?
Est-ce que j’ai fait ça?
J’ai fait ça?
J’ai-tu fait ça?

J’ai-tu vraiment dit ça, moi?
Did I really say that?

J’ai-tu vraiment fait ça, moi?
Did I honestly do that?

Remember, this -tu is used to ask yes-no questions. It’s never used with question words like quand, comment, pourquoi, etc. Those aren’t yes-no questions! You cannot ask: Quand j’ai-tu dit ça?

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