Qui vs Que Interrogative Pronouns

In French the interrogative pronoun qui means who and que means what. There are lots of ways of using qui and que to ask questions and the structures can be a bit tricky. A key underlying rule is “qui + verb” and “que + subject pronoun”. This will play out in the example sentences below.

questions with qui

qui + verb

Here qui is the subject of the sentence and it’s followed directly by a very and object.

  • Qui parle français ici? Who speaks French here?
  • Qui commande une pizza? Who is ordering a pizza?

qui + est-ce qui

Here qui is the subject. But, its’ followed by with est-ce que. Est-ce que becomes est-ce qui because what follows is a verb. The underlying rule here is qui + verb.

  • Qui est-ce qui parle français ici? Who speaks French here?
  • Qui est-ce qui veut manger de la glace? Who wants to eat ice cream?

qui + est-ce que

Here qui is the subject again. It’s followed by est-ce que then a subject pronoun. Here the underlying rule is que + subject pronoun.

  • Qui est-ce que tu invites? Who are you inviting?
  • Qui est-ce que tu appelles? Who are you calling?

In the passé composé:

  • Qui est-ce que tu as appelé? Who did you call?

Sometimes verbs can take prepositions.

  • À qui est-ce que tu parles? Who are you talking to?
  • De qui est-ce tu parles? Who are you talking about?

qui + inversion

Here we’re not using est-ce que but using the more formal inversion style for asking a question. Again, the subject is qui.

  • Qui invites-tu? Who are you inviting?
  • Qui as-tu invité? Who did you invite?
  • Qui préférez-vous? Who do you prefer?
  • Qui avez-vous aimé? Who did you like?

When there’s a person involved, e.g. Who did Jean invite?, his or her name follows qui and precedes the inversion.

Qui Jean invite-t-il? Who is Jean inviting?
Qui Jean a-t-il invité? Who did Jean invite?

questions with que

Que means what when it appears at the beginning of a question sentence.

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qu’est-ce que/qu’ + personal pronoun + object

This is a very standard and useful way of asking questions in French. The second “que” is que because the underlying rule is que + personal pronoun.

  • Qu’est-ce que tu manges? What are you eating?
  • Qu’est-ce que tu fais? What are you doing?
  • Qu’est-ce que tu as mangé? What did you eat?
  • Qu’est-ce que tu as fait? What did you do?

que + verb + subject

Here there is no usage of est-ce que. An example of this kind of question would literally be “What does Jacques” or “What is Jacques doing?”

  • Que fait Jacques? What is Jacques doing?
  • Que mange Marie? What is Marie eating?

qu’est-ce qui + verb

Where the subject remains que followed by est-ce + qui. Est-ce qui is used rather than est-ce que because the underlying rule is qui + verb.

  • Qu’est-ce qui se passe? What’s going on?
  • Qu’est-ce qui arrive? What’s happening?
  • Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas? What’s wrong?
  • Qu’est-ce qui te prend? What’s with you?
  • Qu’est-ce qui t’arrive? What’s wrong with you?

In the passe compose:

  • Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé? What happened?

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