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Questions with subject/verb inversions

March 5, 2013

In French there are three different ways to form a simple yes/no question :

  1. By adding a question mark : Vous venez ?
  2. By adding a question mark + est-ce que : Est-ce que vous venez ?
  3. By reversing the subject-verb order : Venez-vous ?
The examples 1 and 2 correspond to a standard level (though the first example is usually used only when speaking and not when writing). The last example with inversion of subject-verb order correspond to formal French

INVERSION IS POSSIBLE ONLY WHEN THE SUBJECT IS A PERSONAL PRONOUN !!

This construction is also possible when using interrogative words :

  • Comment allez-vous ?
  • Quel livre lisez-vous en ce moment ?

1. Addition of -t- in third person singular.

In the third person singular, when the verb ends in a vowel, a -t- is added to make the liaison possible :

  • Aime-t-elle la musique classique ?
  • Quand arrive-t-il ?

2. With “c’est” and “il y a”.

The inverted forms of “c’est” and “il y a” are : “est-ce” and “y a-t-il“:

  • Est-ce possible ?
  • Y a-t-il de la place ?

3. When the subject is a noun or a proper noun.

When the subject is a proper name or noun, the corresponding subject pronoun (“il”, “elle”, “ils”, or “elles”) is added for inversion with the verb.

  • Marie vient ce soir ? → Marie vient-elle ce soir ?
  • Les étudiants sont prêts ? → Les étudiants sont-ils prêts ?

4. With compound tenses etc.

In compound tenses, such as the “passé composé”, the subject pronoun is inverted with the auxiliary (the conjugated verb). With the “futur proche” and verbs followed by an infinitive (“pouvoir”, “vouloir” etc.), here also the subject pronoun is inverted with the conjugated verb.

  • Est-elle arrivée ?
  • Vont-ils venir ?
  • Peux-tu m’aider ?

5. With a negation.

In a negative sentence, the order is as follows :

  • Ne vient-elle pas ?
  • N’est-elle pas venue ?
  • Ne va-t-elle pas venir ?

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