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French has three interrogative pronouns: qui, que, and lequel, which are used to ask questions. They all have differences in meaning and usage.
Note that lequel is a more complicated case and, as such, is addressed separately. Also, while qui and que are also relative pronouns, we are only discussing them here in their function as interrogative pronouns.
How to Use Qui
Qui means "who" or "whom," and it is used when asking about people.
Qui as Subject
When we want to use qui as the subject of the question, meaning "who," you can use either qui or qui est-ce qui. In this case, the word order cannot be inverted, and the verb is always third person singular.
- Qui veut le faire? / Qui est-ce qui veut le faire? Who wants to do it? (answer: Pierre wants to do it. Qui refers to Pierre, the subject of the sentence.)
- Qui parle? / Qui est-ce qui parle? Who is speaking? (answer: Margot is speaking. Qui refers to Margot, the subject of the sentence.)
Qui as Object
To use qui as the object of the question, in the sense of "whom," qui can be followed by either est-ce que or inversion.
- Qui est-ce que vous aimez ? / Qui aimez-vous ? Whom do you love? (answer: I love Julien. Qui refers to Julien, the object of the sentence.)
- Qui est-ce que tu vois ? / Qui vois-tu ? Whom do you see? (answer: I see Manon. Qui refers to Manon, the object of the sentence.)
Qui After a Preposition
- À qui est-ce que tu parles ? / À qui parles-tu ? To whom are you speaking?
- De qui est-ce que tu dépends ? / De qui dépends-tu ? Upon whom do you depend?
How to Use Que
Que means "what" and is used to refer to ideas or things.
Que as Subject
When que is the subject of the question, you must use qu'est-ce followed by qui (which is the part that refers to the subject) and followed by a verb in the third person singular, with no inversion.
- Qu'est-ce qui se passe ? What's happening?
- Qu'est-ce qui est tombé sur la terre ? What fell on the ground?
Que as Object
When que is the object of the question, it can be followed by est-ce que or inversion.
- Qu'est-ce qu'il veut? / Que veut-il ? What does he want?
- Qu'est-ce que tu penses de mon idée? / Que penses-tu de mon idée? What do you think of my idea?
- Qu'est-ce que c'est (que cela) ? What is that?
Que to Quoi
After a preposition, the meaning of que (as "what") remains but its format changes to quoi.
- De quoi est-ce que vous parlez? / De quoi parlez-vous? What are you talking about?
- À quoi est-ce qu'il travaille? / À quoi travaille-t-il? What's he working on?
More Examples of the Interrogative Pronouns Qui and Que
- Qui donc t'a frappé? Who hit you? (qui as subject)
- Qui est-ce qui en veut? Who wants some? (qui as subject)
- Qui cherchez-vous? Who are you looking for? (qui as object)
- C'est à qui? Whose is it, to whom does it belong? (qui as object)
- À qui le tour? Whose turn (is it)? (qui as object)
- De qui parles-tu? Who (ou whom) are you talking about? (qui as object)
- Qui est-ce que tu connais ici? Who do you know around here? (qui as object)
- À qui est-ce que je dois de l'argent? Who do I owe money to? / To whom do I owe money? (qui as object)
- Qu'y a-t-il? What's the matter? (que as subject)
- Que devient-elle? What's become of her? (que as object)
- Qu'est-ce que je vois / j'entends? What is this I see / hear? (que as object)
- Qu'est-ce qui t'arrive? What's the matter with you? (que as subject)
- Qu'est-ce que la liberté? What is freedom? (que as object)
Summary of French Interrogative Pronouns
|Subject of question||Object of question||After preposition|
qui est-ce qui
qui est-ce que