Est-ce que (pronounced "es keu") is a French expression that is useful for asking a question. Literally translated, this phrase means "is it that… ," although in conversation it rarely is interpreted that way. Instead, it is a convenience of everyday French, an interrogatory phrase that easily turns a statement into a question. It is a slightly informal construction; the more formal or polite way to ask questions is with inversion, which involves inverting the normal pronoun/noun + verb order.
But in everyday spoken French, est-ce que is far more common because it does the inverting for you: Est-ce que is the inversion of c'est que. (Note that a hyphen is required between ce and est when they are inverted to est-ce.) The word order of the original sentence stays exactly the same; you just add the already inverted phrase est-ce que to the front of the sentence. This simple structure works best for yes/no questions. For example:
- Tu travailles. / Est-ce que tu travailles? > You work. / Do you work?
- Paulette l'a trouvé. / Est-ce que Paulette l'a trouvé? > Paulette found it. / Did Paulette find it?
- Vous n'avez pas faim. / Est-ce que vous n'avez pas faim? > You aren't hungry. / Aren't you hungry? OR Are you not hungry?
Note that que must contract when it follows a word beginning with a vowel:
- Elle est arrivée. / Est-ce qu'elle est arrivée? > She has arrived. / Has she arrived?
- Il y a des problèmes. / Est-ce qu'il y a des problèmes? > There are problems. / Are there problems?
- Anny vient avec nous. / Est-ce qu'Anny vient avec nous? > Anny is coming with us. > Is Anny coming with us?
To ask questions that ask for information like "who," "what," "where," "when," "why" and "how," place an interrogative pronoun, adverb or adjective before est-ce que. For example:
- Qui est-ce que vous avez vu? > Whom did you see?
- Quand est-ce que tu vas partir? > When are you going to leave?
- Quel livre est-ce qu'il veut? > Which book does he want?
Remember that est-ce que is the inversion of c'est que, meaning literally, "It is that." That's why a hyphen is required between est and ce: c'est = ce + est which are inverted to est-ce.
Depending on their place in the sentence, the variations qu'est-ce qui and qui est-ce qui are also useful, but understanding them requires further discussion of interrogative pronouns. For now, here's a summary.
SUMMARY OF FRENCH INTERROGATIVE PRONOUNS
|Subject of question||Object of question||After preposition|
qui est-ce qui
qui est-ce que
- Asking questions in French
- French interrogatives
- Expressions with être
- Most common French phrases