Quoi: Complete Guide To The Mysterious & Weird French Word

Quoi - what in French

“Quoi” (pronounced kwah) in French means “what”. However, learning how and when to use this word can be somewhat of a mystery to many students. This post will explain how to use quoi in the context of “what”, how to use it as a common filler word and examine several useful expressions.

How to pronounce quoi

Before we go any further, let’s have a look at the pronunciation of “quoi”. In French, “qu” is always read as a [k]. The vowel “oi” always sound like “wah” as in “moi” (me). The page on Forvo does provides several audio samples of quoi.

My friend, Julien, a star French pronunciation teacher on YouTube, explains how to pronounce quoi in the following video:

1) Quoi in the context of “what”

The most basic meaning of “quoi” is “what”. Here are some examples:

  • Qu’est-ce que c’est? What is it? (slightly more formal)
  • C’est quoi? What is it? (slightly less formal)

This page on our site covers ways to say “what” in much more detail.

As we just saw, using “quoi” is less formal than using “Qu’est-ce que” for “what”. Here are some more examples including subject pronouns followed by verbs.

  • Qu’est-ce que tu manges ? What are you eating?
  • Tu manges quoi ? What are you eating?

One more example:

  • Qu’est-ce que tu fais samedi ? What are you doing Saturday?
  • Tu fais quoi samedi ? What are you doing on Saturday?

By using quoi, it’s almost like you’re saying, “You’re eating WHAT!?!”. The word “quoi” is used to express an element of surprise. Here’s one more example:

  • Qu’est-ce que vous dites ? What are you saying?
  • Vous dites quoi ? What are you saying?

2) Expressing “What???”

Another common usage of “quoi” is simply to ask “what?” When you haven’t understood what’s being said. In this context, the word comment?” to to indicate “what” is much more polite. For example:

  • Comment ? Je n’ai pas compris. What? I didn’t understand. (slightly more formal)
  • Quoi ? Je n’ai pas compris. What? I didn’t understand. (much less formal)

3) Quoi used as a filler word

In spoken French, the word “quoi” can be used as a filler word, much like “like” in English. In this context, “quoi” also loosely translates to “kind of” or “in short”. For example:

  • C’était un bon film, quoi. It was kind of a good film.
  • J’avais envie d’y aller, quoi. I kind of wanted to go.

4) Preceded by a preposition

“Quoi” can be preceded by prepositions. For example: “avec quoi” (with what), “sur quoi” (on what). For example:

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  • Avec quoi est-ce que tu écris ? What are you writing with?
  • Sur quoi est-ce que tu écris ? What are you writing on?

Interestingly, the word “pourquoi” (why) is a combination of the preposition “pour” (for) and quoi to literally mean “for what”.

  • Pourquoi est-ce que vous étudiez le français ? Why are you studying French?

5) To not know “what” to + infinitive

The word “quoi” is also used to mean what in the context of “I don’t know what to + infinitive (to form of a verb)”. Here are some examples:

  • Je ne sais pas quoi dire. I don’t know what to say.
  • Je ne sais pas quoi faire. I don’t know what to do.

6) Used in indefinite relative pronouns

“Quoi” can also be used in indefinite pronouns for verbs followed by the preposition “à”. For example:

  • Je ne sais sais pas ce à quoi il pense. I don’t know what he’s thinking about.
  • On ne sait pas ce à quoi il s’entend. We don’t know what he’s expecting.

7) Whatever: Quoi que + subjunctive

To express, “whatever + person + verb”, use the construction “quoi que + person + subjunctive”. Here’s an example:

  • Quoi que tu fasses, sois très prudent ! Whatever you do, be very careful!
  • Quoi que je fasse, je n’arrive pas à apprendre ces mots. What ever I do, I can’t manage to learn these words.

This page on our site covers the subjunctive mood in detail.

The expression “quoi que ce soit” means “anything” or “anything at all”. For example:

  • Quoi que ce soit, telephonez-moi ! Anything at all, call me!

8) Although: Quoique + subjunctive

The word “quoique” means although and is used to express opposing ideas or situations. You must also use the subjunctive here. For example:

  • Quoiqu’il mange bien, il n’arrive pas a perdre du poids. Although he eats well, he can’t manage to lose weight.

Quoique can also be followed by an adjective. For example:

  • Quoique beau, il n’arrive pas a trouver une petite copine. Although handsome, he can’t mange to find a girlfriend.

9) Nonsense – n’importe quoi !

The word “quoi” can follow the word “n’importe” (any) to mean “nonsense” or “bullsh*t”. For example:

  • Il dit n’importe quoi. He’s saying nonsense.

N’importe quoi can also be a stand-alone expression to mean, “Whatever!”.

Important expressions with quoi

The word “quoi” also appears in many expression in French. Here are some of them:

  • Il n’y a pas de quoi. Don’t mention it / you’re welcome.
  • Un je-ne-sais-quoi A touch our hint of something
  • À quoi ça sert ? What’s the use? What’s the point?
  • Pour quoi faire ? What’s the point?
  • C’est quoi ce délire ? What the heck is going on here?
  • À quoi ça rime ? What’s the point? Why bother?
  • Avoir de quoi faire To have enough to do to stay busy
  • Comme quoi ! It just goes to show! Who would have thought!
  • En quoi puis-je vous aider ? How can I help you?
  • Non mais ça va pas ou quoi ? Are you out of your mind?
  • Quoi d’autre ? What else? What more?
  • Quoi de neuf ? What’s new? What’s happening? What’s going on?
  • Tu sais pas quoi ? Guess what!

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About David Issokson

David Issokson is a lifelong language enthusiast. His head is swimming with words and sounds as he speaks over six languages. Of all the languages he speaks, he's the most passionate about French! David has helped hundreds of students to improve their French in his private online lessons. When procrastinating working on his site, FrenchLearner.com, David enjoys his time skiing and hiking in Teton Valley, Idaho.

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