In French, to make formal questions, we usually invert the verb and its subject (je, tu, nous, vous, ils, elles). See Inverted questions in the present tense (Le Présent) in French - regular forms (except il/elle/on forms).
However, this method is not as straightforward when the subject is il, elle or on.
Look at these examples:
Va-t-il à Paris?Is he going to Paris?
Parle-t-elle anglais?Does she speak English?
Mange-t-on bientôt?Are we eating soon?
Y a-t-il un problème ? - Oui, il y a un problème.Is there a problem? - Yes, there is a problem.
Notice that when the verb ends with a vowel (often the case with il/elle/on), then a t must be inserted in-between the verb and il/elle/on with hyphens : -t- .
The purpose here is to make the sentence easier to pronounce.
When the verb already ends in a 't' or 'd', you don't need to insert the extra 't' because it's already present (the 'd' is pronounced [t] in these cases):
Réussit-il ses études?Is he doing well at school?
Prend-on le train ou le bus?Do we take the train or the bus?
Quand prend-il sa douche?When does he have his shower?
The same rules apply in questions starting with a question word (que, qui, où, ...):
Comment va-t-il ?How is he?
Que cherche-t-elle ?What is she looking for?
Où va-t-on ce soir?Where are we going tonight?
Combien de bouteilles veut-il ?How many bottles does he want?
Asking questions in French with "qui/que/quoi/quand/où/comment/pourquoi/combien" (French Question Words)
Que + [inverted statement] ? = What ... ? (French Questions)
Inverted questions in the present tense (Le Présent) in French - with names/things/emphasis
Want to make sure your French sounds confident?
We’ll map your knowledge and give you free lessons to focus on your
gaps and mistakes. Start your Braimap today »