French Interrogative Pronouns

Valorie Delp
Des fleurs a Paris.

There are three French interrogative pronouns: qui, que and lequel. Of course, interrogative pronouns are always used to ask questions. . .and these three pronouns replace in English words like who or whom, what, and which.

French Interrogative Pronouns

Anytime you see the word interrogative it means that a question is involved. French interrogative pronouns are a little tricky for French language learners, but with a little structured practice you'll be asking questions in no time.

Que

Que means what in French. How you use que depends on whether or not que is the subject of the sentence, the object of the sentence or if it is preceded by a preposition. Having trouble keeping it straight? Follow these quick tips:

  • What is he doing? Qu'est-ce "qu'il" fait?
    • In this case, "what" is the object of the sentence (and the 'e' is dropped and an apostrophe joins it with the subject 'il'). You can also invert the subject and the verb of the question so it reads: "Que fait-il?"
  • What happened here? Qu'est-ce "qui" se passe ici?
    • In this case "what" is the subject of the sentence and becomes "qui". You cannot use inversion and you must use the question phrase,"qu'est-ce qui."
  • What are you talking about? De quoi est-ce que tu parles? or more commonly De quoi parles-tu?
    • Whenever "que" is preceded by a preposition, "que" becomes "quoi" and you can use it either inverted or with the question phrase "est-ce que."

    Qui

    Qui is the translated equivalent of "who" or "whom" in French. Like "que", there are rules to follow depending on whether it is the subject or object of a sentence.
  • To whom are you talking? À qui est-ce que tu parles?
    • In this case, "qui" is preceded by the preposition "to" and therefore follows the "qui est-ce que" construction. You can also invert the question: À qui parles-tu?
  • Who do you see? Qui est-ce que tu vois? or Qui vois-tu?
    • Here, "qui" is the object and therefore is paired with est-ce que. You can also invert the question and this is by far a more common construction.
  • Who is going to help me? Qui est-ce qui va m'aider?
    • In this case, who is the subject of the sentence (me is the object). When "who" is the subject, you must use the "qui est-ce qui" construction.

    Lequel

    While the usage of "que" and "qui" might seem confusing, the real trick is to simply understand whether or not you are using them as a subject or an object or after a preposition. It is actually "lequel" that poses the most problems for French language students.Lequel can be translated as "which" and replaces quel + a noun. Like the question word quel, lequel has four different forms that are used depending on the number and gender of the noun it replaces:
  • Lesquelles - used for plural feminine nouns
  • Lesquels - used for plural masculine nouns
  • Laquelle - used for singular feminine nouns
  • Lequel - used for singular masculine nouns

In addition, lequel has various contracted forms when there is a preposition involved:

  • À + lequel can contract to form: auquel, à laquelle, auxquels, or auxquelles
  • De + lequel can contract to form: duquel, de laquelle, desquels, or desquelles

While all this might seem tricky, it's really just a matter of paying attention to the noun that you are replacing and whether or not you are replacing a preposition along with that noun. Still confused? Here are a few examples to solidify your knowledge:

  • Je veux les gants bleus. Lesquels?
  • Je vois le musée. Lequel?
  • Je connais ces filles. Lesquelles?

Remember, the key to keeping all of this straight is to practice, practice and practice some more!

French Interrogative Pronouns