French Lesson Plan: Asking "What" Questions in French

By Brian J. Donovan

What are you doing? What's over there? Teach your students how to ask "What" questions in French.

Language Level: I try to make all of my lessons easily adaptable to different levels, but this is geared more towards beginners, as it does not go into great detail where the grammar is concerned.

Grade Level: Approx. 7th grade through university level

Format: I’ve kept the format very simple to avoid too many layout issues. Paste the text into a document, and you can make the changes you'd like to make.

The Lesson

This can be a little tricky at first, as there are multiple choices for "what" (or "which") in French (Que, Quoi, Quel(s), Quelle(s)--even Comment...). Here are the basics.

I. Que (as what / which.)

Asking What Questions in French A. Que (alone) at beginning / Inversion of subject and verb.

1. Que fais-tu ? --What are you doing?
2. Que manges-tu ? --What are you eating?

B. Que at the beginning with est-ce que ("what" as a direct object) (subject + verb).

1. Qu'est-ce que tu fais ? --What are you doing?
2. Qu'est-ce qu'elle mange ? --What is she eating?

C. Que + est-ce qui ("what" as a subject) + verb.

1. Qu'est-ce qui se passe ? --What is happening?
2. Qu'est-ce qui est sur la table ? --What is on the table?

D. Que after prepositions--see section II.

II. Quoi

Quoi is what Que becomes after prepositions and verbs.

A. After prepositions.
The same rules apply regarding beginning a question (est-ce que or inversion) when used at the beginning.

1. Avec quoi est-ce qu'il travaille ? --With what is he working?
2. De quoi parles-tu ? --What are you talking about?
3. Vous parlez de quoi ? --What are you talking about? (lit: You're talking about what?)

B. After the verb.
This is what many French speakers might do in everyday French conversation.

1. Tu fais quoi cet après-midi ? --What are you doing this afternoon? (lit: You're doing what...?)
2. Il a dit quoi ? --What did he say? (lit: He said what?)

III. Quel(s), Quelle(s)

Quel and it's different forms are interrogative adjectives, so that's why they change forms. They'll match the gender and number of the nouns they modify. They do not need to be next to each other (see A). See section V for lequel...

A. Quelle est la date ? --What is the date?
B. Quel âge as-tu ? / Tu as quel âge ? --How old are you?
C. Quelle heure est-il ? / Il est quelle heure ? --What time is it?
D. Quels cours préfères-tu ? --What courses do you prefer?

IV. Comment (what, how)

You may know "comment" from "Comment t'appelles-tu ?" or "Comment ça va ?" It's an interrogative adverb, as it works with verbs a lot, and is used in some French questions you learn right from the start. It can often go at the beginning or at the end.

A. Comment est Marc ? Sympa ? --What's Mark like? Nice?
B. Comment va Marc aujourd'hui ? --How is Mark doing today?
C. Comment ? --What?

V. Lequel ? Which One?

When you don't need to reuse or mention the noun, you can use an interrogative pronoun (the definite articles with "Quel") to ask, "Which one(s)?" You can use them with prepositions, too.

A. La voiture ? Laquelle ? --The car? Which one?
B. Tu cherches des livres? Lesquels ? --You're looking for books? Which ones?
C. Tu sors avec son frère ? Avec lequel ? --You're dating his brother? With which one?