Home page / page d'accueil
[ENGLISH]Have you found an error or do you want to add more information to these pages?
You can contact me at the bottom of the home page.
[FRANÇAIS]Avez-vous trouvé une erreur?
Vous pouvez m'envoyer un message au bas de ma page d'accueil

Pronouns with questions

I have made a few tables (I like tables) which you can use to look up which word to use in different situations. Some of the tables are just to try to show patterns.
Before I begin, I want to explain two types of questions. One is direct questions which are questions with a "?" so they are easy to spot. The others are indirect questions which I understand them as implied questions such as:
"I wonder where he is going" - implying "where is he going?"
or ...
"I do not understand what you are saying" - implying "what are you saying?"
Although that last example I believe it can also just be a statement (using a relative clause if you know what they are) and is not implying a question.
Personally, I think of it as a replacement of a question. You can replace "I wonder where he is going" with "where is he going?" with the same response to both.
Ordering someone to say or tell you something is classed as an indirect question such as "tell me what you did on holiday" can be replaced by a question - "what did you do on holiday?" with the same answer to both.

Subject / object
There is also some confusion about the difference between subjects and objects. If you know what one of them is, you know what the other is.
A subject pronoun in English can be 'I' or 'he' and so a verb follows "I am, he eats" etc. so when there are words in French like "ce qui" which is a subject pronoun, then you know the verb follows (or a negative verb follows, starting with 'ne') therefore an object pronoun like "ce que" is the one where the verb has its own subject such as 'je' or 'elle' etc.
Je ne sais pas ce que c'est = I don't know what it is - here you can see the verb "est" has its own subject (the c' part) so 'ce que' must be an object pronoun.
It may help you to understand by thinking which words you can replace the 'who' or 'what' part with he or she:
Qui a ouvert ce site Web? = who has opened this web site?
you can replace it with a subject pronoun like 'il' or 'elle'
Elle a ouvert ce site Web = She has opened this web site.
So here, qui is being used as a subject.

You may also use different words when a preposition is in front of it. A preposition is a word that relates one thing to another such as on, under, inside, with for example, the plate is on the table. The word 'on' relates 'plate' with 'table'. The most common ones in French that you will recognize is 'à', 'de' and 'pour' but there are many others.

Here is a table to look up which words to use and in which situations, then I will follow it up with more to explain certain words in more detail.

Type of word Direct question (with a "?") Indirect question
who (subject) qui est-ce qui or qui qui
who (object) qui est-ce que or qui qui
preposition + who qui est-ce que or qui qui
what (thing, subject) qu'est-ce qui (no shorter version) ce qui
what (thing, object) qu'est-ce que or que ce que
preposition + what quoi quoi
The longer forms are more common in speech. It may help you to think of the longer ones as "who is it that ..." or "what is it that ...". Que still contracts as normal to qu' in front of a vowel sound.
Take note of the verb-subject inversion with pronouns like tu, elle, nous etc. You do not invert with the longer forms. You may have noticed this when asking questions with and without 'est-ce que'.

who (subject)
qui est-ce qui a ouvert ce site Web?
qui a ouvert ce site Web?
}Who has opened this web site?
You can tell these are subjects because you can replace the 'who' part with a subject to say "He has opened this web site".

who (object)
qui est-ce que tu as vu?
qui as-tu vu?
}Who have you seen? (notice the inversion with the shorter 'qui' version)
You can see that 'qui est-ce que' is used as an object because the 'have seen' has its own subject - tu.

preposition + who
De qui parlez-vous?
De qui est-ce que vous parlez?
}Who are you talking about? (Of whom are you talking about?) 
Parler = to talk, parler de = to talk about

what (subject)
Qu'est-ce qui se passe?
Que Que se passe-t-il?
}What is happening?

what (object)
Qu'est-ce que vous voulez?
Que voulez-vous?
}What do you want?
Vous can be used as both a subject or object. Here it is the subject of voulez so you use one of the object words.

What (subject) in an indirect question
Je ne sais pas ce qui a passé = I don't know what has happened (implying "what happened?")
Here 'ce qui' is the subject of 'a'

What (object) in an indirect question
Je me demande ce qu'il veut = I wonder what he wants
Again, il is the subject of veut so you use 'ce que'. The above sentence is an indirect question because it implies "what does he want?" or you could replace it with "what does he want?" and get the same response.

Preposition + who
Demandez-lui pour qui a-t-il fait cela = Ask him for whom has he done it
Here, the preposition is 'pour'

If these forms still look a little odd, have a look at these tables:
qui est-ce qui (or qui) Person (subject)
qui est-ce que (or qui) Person (object)
qu'est-ce qui Thing (subject)
qu'est-ce que (or que) Thing (object)

The word at the start and end determine whether it is a subject / object or if it refers to a person or thing:
(person) qui
(thing) qu'
}est-ce{ qui (subject of the verb)
que (object of the verb)

Asking which ... + thing

In English, we sometimes translate this construction as 'what ...' instead of 'which ...' but in French, it is which because you are referring to which one or some of a number of things.
In this type of sentence, you use quel because it is an adjective and agrees with the thing that follows. There is a pattern with quel:
Type Which
masculine singular quel
masculine plural quels
femenine singular quelle
femenine plural quelles
Just remember that quel is masculine, quelle is feminine and add an 's' to make either of them plural.
Quelle glace voulez-vous? = Which ice-cream do you want?
Quelle heure est-il? = What time is it?
À quelle heure est le petit déjeuner? = What time is breakfast?
Dans quels pays est-elle allée? = In which countries did she go to? (notice the allée is feminine because it agrees with 'she')
De quelle couleur est-ce?
C'est de quelle couleur?
} What colour is it?

Quel may be split from the thing (nound) with the verb être:
Quelle est l'heure d'arrivée? = What time does it leave?
Quel est ce programme? = What is this program? (no hyphen when ce means this)

There may be a little bit of confusion with that last example. There is no est-ce in this example because ce here means this. Ce is one version of ce, cet and cette. Ce can mean 'it' and is contracted with c'est. They are two words spelt the same way.
If you want to say which one, use lequel, which is explained below.
Lequel est-ce que vous voulez? = Which one do you want?

Which (ones) ... as a pronoun - lequel

There is one more pronoun that looks complicated but it is not. There is a pattern to this one. I look upon this word as a contraction of 'the' and 'which':
le + quel = lequel (both are masculine)
la + quelle = laquelle (both are feminine)
les + quel = lesquels (both are plural)
les + quelles = lesquelles (both are plural, referring to some feminine things or people)

They also combine with 'à' or 'de' in the same way that le / la / les do:
à + le + quel = auquel (à + le = au)
de + les + quels = desquels (de + les = les)
I do not think it is helpful to list them all. Just work them out when you need them.

It seems to me that lequel really means 'le homme quel' = 'the man which ...' or 'la femme quelle' = 'the woman which ...' but without the noun to make the sentence shorter, a bit like shortening English sentences for example we say "I've chosen two dresses - which ones?" instead of "which dresses?".

lequel des cinq voulez-vous? = Which of the five do you want?
je ne sais pas lequel des cinq je veux = I don't know which of the five I want
Lequel est-ce que vous voulez? = Which one do you want?
j'ai choisi deux robes — lesquelles? = I've chosen two dresses — which (ones)?
Lesquels de vos amis sont anglais? = Which of your friends are English?
Indirect question - je me demande laquelle des valises est la votre = I wonder which of these suitcases is yours
Notice that valise is a feminine noun so 'laquelle' and 'la votre' agrees with it. Since you are referring to only one of the suitcases, you use the singular versions.

Note these words are also used in relative clauses (a second part of a sentence that identifies who or what you are referring to):
l'homme à lequel j'ai acheté ma voiture = the man from whom I bought my car.
Je l'ai donné au secrétaire, lequel est très occupé = I've given it to the secretary, who is very busy

[ENGLISH]Have you found an error or do you want to add more information to these pages?
You can contact me at the bottom of the home page.

[FRANÇAIS]Avez-vous trouvé une erreur?
Vous pouvez m'envoyer un message au bas de ma page d'accueil

Home page / ma page d'accueil