The word for when in French is “quand” (pronounced kɑ̃). For example, “Quand est-ce qu’on commence?” (When are we are starting?). In this post we will discover how to use the word quand in sentences as well as explore several other French words for “when”. Towards the bottom of the post we’ll explain the meaning of “lorsque”, which is another word for when.
How to pronounce “quand”
Before we go any further, let’s have a look at the pronunciation of “quand”. Using the phonetic symbols, the pronunciation is “k + ɑ̃”. The symbol “ɑ̃” is a nasal sound expressed by the letters “an” or “en”. My friend, Camille, at Frenchtoday.com does a great job teaching the French nasal sounds on this post.
This page on Forvo has several very good audio samples of quand. In addition, this video from How To Pronounce demonstrates the correct pronunciation:
How to use “quand” when asking a question
The word “quand” is used to mean “when” when asking a question and seeking information. There is no set place for where to place quand within a question sentence. We’ll look at a few examples below.
The most common way to ask a question in French is to use the word “est-ce que“, which means is/are/do/does. To ask a “when” question, place quand before est-ce que. For example:
- Quand est-ce que vous mangez la pizza? When are you eating the pizza?
Another common and slightly more formal way to ask a question is to use inversion. This is when the subject and verb are inverted with a hyphen.
- Quand mangez-vous la pizza ? When are you eating the pizza?
In this next example, quand is being placed towards the end. This is a very informal and somewhat impolite way of asking the same question: When are you eating?
- La pizza, vous la mangez, quand ? When are you eating the pizza?
My friend, Alexa, does a great job explaining how to ask these types of questions using “quand” in the following video:
Other common ways to say when in French
The word “quand” is not the only game in town when it comes to asking when en français. In this next sections we’ll look at several more useful words and phrases.
À quelle heure
The phrase “à quelle heure?” is a synonym for “quand” when asking “when” in the context of “what time?” or “at what time?”. For example:
- À quelle heure est-ce que le train part ? What time is the train leaving? or:
- Quand est-ce que le train part ? When is the train leaving?
Dans combien de temps
The phrase “dans combien de temps” is another synonym for when when asking “when” an action will start or occur in the future. This page explains the difference between en and dans, two words commonly used for “in” in French.
- Dans combien de temps est-ce que le film commence ? When’s the movie staring?
- Quand est-ce que le film commence ? When’s the movie starting?
The word “depuis” means since. To ask how long an action has been occurring, use “depuis quand”, which translates to “since when”. For example:
- Depuis quand est-ce que tu étudies le français ? Since when (how long) have you been studying French?
The conjunction “alors que” can be used to mean “when” when talking about two opposing actions. Here’s an example.
- Il étudie l’italien alors qu’il devrait étudier le français. He’s studying Italian when he should be studying French.
Lorsque (vs. quand)
Another commonly used word for “when” is “lorsque”. In these sentences, “lorsque” is NOT an “when” in the context of information seeking question, for example, “Quand est-ce que tu arrives ?” (When are you arriving?). Lorsque is being used as conjunction. Here’s an example:
- J’ai commencé le français lorsque j’avais quatorze ans. I started French when I was fourteen years-old.
Here’s another example. This example uses the French future tense, which is explained in depth on this page.
- Je vous téléphonerai lorsque j’arriverai. I’ll telephone you when I arrive.
It is important to note that the above two sentences can both be written with the word “quand”:
- J’ai commencé le français quand j’avais quarorze ans. I started French when I was fourteen years-old.
- Je vous téléphonerai quand j’arriverai. I’ll telephone you when I arrive.
However, “lorsque” CANNOT be used for “when” in the context of asking an information-seeking question. For example:
- Lorsque est-ce que tu commences ? When are you starting? (WRONG!)
- Quand est-ce que tu commences ? When are you starting? (RIGHT!)
The world “lorsque” can be used at the beginning of a sentence as synonym for “quand” when expressing a condition. For example:
- Lorsqu’il neige, les gens font du ski. When it snows, people go skiing.
- Quand il neige, les gens font du ski. When it snows, people go skiing.
Au moment où
Another word for “when” and a synonym for lorsque in the context of a conjunction is: “au moment où”. This can also translate to as, the moment and just as. For example:
- J’ai mis la table au moment où tu es rentré à la masion. I set the table when (the moment, as, just as) you came home.
Quel que soit le moment
To express “no matter when”, use the expression, “quel que soit le moment”. For example:
- Quel que soit le moment où j’y vais, il y aura trop de monde. No matter when I go, there will be too many people.
In the context of “at any time” to mean “no matter when”, use “n’importe quand”. For example:
- Tu peux me téléphoner, n’importe quand. You can call me, no matter when (at any time).
A few fun expressions
Now we’ll look at some common English expressions which use the word “when” and their equivalents in French.
When it rains it pours
For the expression, “When it rains, it pours”, in French? The translation according to this thread on WordReference is:
- Quand ça va mal, ça va mal. Loose translation: When things are going badly, they go badly.
When the sh*t hits the fan
Here’s another fun expression. This one is very informal.
- Quand ça pétera à la gueule. Loose translation: When it farts from the mouth.
When the chips are down
- Dans les moments difficiles. Translation: During difficult times (or moments).
When push comes to shove
- Quand il le faut. Literal translation: When it’s necessary.
When the dust settles
- Quand les choses se seront tassées. Literal translation: When things will be compressed.
Cross that bridge when you get to it
- Voir le moment venu. Literal translation: To see the moment come.
When it’s all said and done
- En fin de compte/au bout du compte. Literal translation: At the end of the account.
When’s the baby due?
- C’est prévu pour quand? Literal translation: It’s predicted for when?