Qu'est-ce que c'est... and Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça/cela ? = What is... / What's that?

There are several ways to ask something to be explained with What is that/this/it? in French.

1.

C'est quoi ?
What is it? / What is that? / What is this?

Qu'est-ce que c'est ?
What's that?  /  What's this?  /  What is it?

Literally "what is it that it is?", it is pronounced [kess kuh say].

Note that est-ce is simply c'est inverted.

You can use C'est quoi [chose] ? or Qu'est-ce que c'est [chose] ?

C'est quoi le Sacré Cœur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Cœur in Paris?

Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ?
What is a pen?

If you want to ask what something is by name, simply add the name of the thing after c'est quoi or qu'est-ce que c'est.
These are not the most elegant questions, but probably the most commonly used.

2.

Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça ?
What is that?  /  What is this?

Qu'est-ce que c'est que cela ?
What is that?  /  What is this?

Literally what is it that it is that that? (quite a mouthful!), this is pronounced simply [kess kuh seksah] and [kess kuh sek sullah].
Note that ça is the shortened form of cela.
Cela 
is quite formal, so you'll hear ça used much more frequently.


You can also use Qu'est-ce que c'est que + [chose] :

Qu'est-ce que c'est que le Sacré Coeur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Coeur in Paris?

Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo ?
What's a 'stylo' - pen?

If you want to ask what something is by name, simply replace ça/cela with the name of the thing.
Remember to contract que into qu' if followed with a vowel or silent h.

3.

Qu'est-ce que cela ?
What is this ?
What is that ?

This shorter form of the question is actually more formal in French, and will therefore require the more elegant cela.
You wouldn't say Qu'est-ce que ça ?.

You can also use Qu'est-ce que + [chose] :

Qu'est-ce que le Sacré Coeur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Coeur in Paris?

Qu'est-ce qu'un stylo ?
What's a 'stylo' - pen?

 

Once again, if you want to ask what something is by name, simply replace cela with the name of the thing.
Remember to contract que into qu' if followed with a vowel or silent h.

ATTENTION: 
When asking What is this/that? in the context of a choice, as in Which one is that?, you will then use Questions: Quel, quels, quelle, quelles = Which / what ?.

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

C'est quoi ?
What is it? / What is that? / What is this?


Qu'est-ce que c'est ?
What's that?  /  What's this?  /  What is it?


C'est quoi le Sacré Cœur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Cœur in Paris?


Qu'est-ce que cela ?
What is this ?
What is that ?



Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça ?
What is that?  /  What is this?


Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ?
What is a pen?


Qu'est-ce que c'est que cela ?
What is that?  /  What is this?


more formal


Qu'est-ce que le Sacré Coeur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Coeur in Paris?


Qu'est-ce qu'un stylo ?
What's a 'stylo' - pen?


Qu'est-ce que c'est que


Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo ?
What's a 'stylo' - pen?


Qu'est-ce que c'est que le Sacré Coeur à Paris ?
What is the Sacré Coeur in Paris?


Q&A Forum 26 questions, 52 answers

The same problem, I think, as with La Sorbonne issue below

Why is "Qu'est-ce que c'est une baguette" marked as being wrong for "What is a baguette?" when the notes say that "Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo" is correct for "What is a pen?"
Asked 3 weeks ago

The same problem, I think, as with La Sorbonne issue below

Why is "Qu'est-ce que c'est une baguette" marked as being wrong for "What is a baguette?" when the notes say that "Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo" is correct for "What is a pen?"

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Are there 4 ways to ask To ask what something is by name?

I had to organize as follows to make it easier to understand.  Please confirm.  Thx.

Qu'est-ce que c'est que + article + chose  

Qu'est-ce que c'est article + chose  

Qu'est-ce que + article + chose  

C'est quoi + article + chose  

Asked 3 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi White,

Perfect !  The last one is more used in spoken French ....

Are there 4 ways to ask To ask what something is by name?

I had to organize as follows to make it easier to understand.  Please confirm.  Thx.

Qu'est-ce que c'est que + article + chose  

Qu'est-ce que c'est article + chose  

Qu'est-ce que + article + chose  

C'est quoi + article + chose  

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AnnA1

Qu'est -ce -que c’est que la voiture?

Qu’est-ce-que c’est que la  voiture dans la rue?

Asked 3 months ago

What exactly is your question?

Qu'est -ce -que c’est que la voiture?

Qu’est-ce-que c’est que la  voiture dans la rue?

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La Sorbonne

Bonjour,

Can someone please explain why the following is marked incorrect?  I'm having the same issue that Michael appeared to have in December but it's still outstanding for me.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est La Sorbonne" is scored incorrect, and  the accepted answer is:

"Qu'est-ce que La Sorbonne", but according to the lesson:

If you want to ask what something is by name, simply add the name of the thing after c'est quoi or qu'est-ce que c'est. These are not the most elegant questions, but probably the most commonly used.

Merci

Asked 4 months ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour Bill !

I really thought I captured all possible correct answers, but obviously some of them had passed me by.

It's now been fixed, thanks to you and Steven's feedbacks :)

Merci et bonne journée !

La Sorbonne

Bonjour,

Can someone please explain why the following is marked incorrect?  I'm having the same issue that Michael appeared to have in December but it's still outstanding for me.

"Qu'est-ce que c'est La Sorbonne" is scored incorrect, and  the accepted answer is:

"Qu'est-ce que La Sorbonne", but according to the lesson:

If you want to ask what something is by name, simply add the name of the thing after c'est quoi or qu'est-ce que c'est. These are not the most elegant questions, but probably the most commonly used.

Merci

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Can someone please explain why the following structure is marked incorrect when testing...Qu'est-ce que c'est la Sorbonne ?....Thank you.

Asked 6 months ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour Michael !

I've looked into it, and the reason you were marked down is that you repeated words from the question. I've now fixed it and it's marked correct :)

Bonne Année !

Merci Aurélie !

Bonne Année !

Can someone please explain why the following structure is marked incorrect when testing...Qu'est-ce que c'est la Sorbonne ?....Thank you.

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do you refer to animals as who or what? In English we refer to animals as it how do you do it in french

Asked 6 months ago
ChrisC1Correct answer

Quite often there are different nouns for male and female animals. For instance:

un chat - une chatte
un chien - une chienne
un oiseau - une oiselle
un cheval - une jument
un taureau - une vache
un coq - une poule
un merle - une merlette
un lapin - une lapine

If you're unsure of the gender you use the male version, normally.

Some animal names only come in a male of female version, for example: la souris. Here the grammatical gender wins:

J'ai une souris blanche, elle s'appelle Auguste, c'est un mâle.
J'ai un hamster noir, il s'appelle Louise, c'est une femelle.

do you refer to animals as who or what? In English we refer to animals as it how do you do it in french

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KC1

Hi, I’m having difficulty with this.

The lesson said that a correction had been made to allow both « qu’est-ce que c’est le Sacré Cœur (le Quai d’Orsay) and qu’est-ce que c’est que le Sacré Cœur (le Quai d’Orsay) to be considered correct. However, today my answer with « qu’est-ce que » was marked wrong
Asked 7 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super star

Hi K,

Can you use the  'Report it' button in your correction board, as it will link directly to the quiz you are referring to and make it easier to answer you.

KC1

Hi,

I did that first and was redirected here. But, I will try it again

KC1
Plus, I said the lesson but I ment the discussion. This topic was already being discussed. 
AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour à tous !

The question "What is the Quai d'Orsay?" has now been (finally) fixed to include "Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay ?" as a correct answer.

Sorry for the delay and thank you for your feedback !

Bonne journée à tous !

Hi, I’m having difficulty with this.

The lesson said that a correction had been made to allow both « qu’est-ce que c’est le Sacré Cœur (le Quai d’Orsay) and qu’est-ce que c’est que le Sacré Cœur (le Quai d’Orsay) to be considered correct. However, today my answer with « qu’est-ce que » was marked wrong

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Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay marked incorrect in quiz.

"If I understand the lessons correctly, there is no difference between Qu'est-ce que c'est que [chose] and Qu'est-ce que c'est [chose]. For this question Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay is marked incorrect, and the correct answer is given as Qu'est-ce que c'est que le Quai d'Orsay. Is there a difference in this case ? Thanks"
Asked 7 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super star

Hi Phillip,

If you use the 'Report It' button in your Correction Board it will link directly to the specific quiz you're referring to and will make it easier for us to answer you.

AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour à tous !

The question "What is the Quai d'Orsay?" has now been (finally) fixed to include "Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay ?" as a correct answer.

Sorry for the delay and thank you for your feedback !

Bonne journée à tous !

Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay marked incorrect in quiz.

"If I understand the lessons correctly, there is no difference between Qu'est-ce que c'est que [chose] and Qu'est-ce que c'est [chose]. For this question Qu'est-ce que c'est le Quai d'Orsay is marked incorrect, and the correct answer is given as Qu'est-ce que c'est que le Quai d'Orsay. Is there a difference in this case ? Thanks"

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i'm having difficulty with this topic plz help moi

Asked 7 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super star

Hi Sherin, 

What is your specific problem?

i'm having difficulty with this topic plz help moi

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LyndaA1

I am having difficulty in knowing which question is ‘the one’ in the quiz- keep getting it wrong!e’

Asked 10 months ago
Without a specific example I can't help you. 
LyndaA1

The educational session appears to have multiple ways of asking ‘what’s this/that’. When I complete the quiz I am not sure why one answer would be correct in any question.

i randomly ( to me) get the answers tight or wrong. 

What are the rules?

thank you, Lynda

Can you post a sentence you got wrong?

-- Chris. 

I am having difficulty in knowing which question is ‘the one’ in the quiz- keep getting it wrong!e’

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What is the difference between Qu'est-ce que La Sorborne and Qu'est-ce que c'est La Sorborne? Why is the second incorrect?

Asked 10 months ago

Sorry. Tired and took a while to see straight. My mistake. I know both are correct. On the test I mistakenly took the wrong bait.

What is the difference between Qu'est-ce que La Sorborne and Qu'est-ce que c'est La Sorborne? Why is the second incorrect?

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SundasA1

Qu’est ce que c’est que/Qu’est ce que c’est

My aim is to speak French fleuntly

Asked 11 months ago
What's your question?

Qu’est ce que c’est que/Qu’est ce que c’est

My aim is to speak French fleuntly

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Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo vs Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo

The examples give both the options for un stylo but the Kwiz I just did only accepts Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un gendarme, and Qu'est-ce que c'est un gendarme is marked wrong. Is there something different between un gendarme and un stylo that mandates using Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'?
Asked 4 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Bonjour Paul !

It was indeed an omission on our part :)

Thanks to you, it's now been fixed!

Merci et à bientôt !

Same for me, hope you get a reply soon
AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour Nabeel !

As mentioned above, it was a mistake on our part, which has now been fixed :)

Which case are you referring to ?

À bientôt !

I don't think its fixed...
AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour Spencer !

Can you let me know which specific question you're referring to please?

I'm still having this same issue with that question

Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo vs Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo

The examples give both the options for un stylo but the Kwiz I just did only accepts Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un gendarme, and Qu'est-ce que c'est un gendarme is marked wrong. Is there something different between un gendarme and un stylo that mandates using Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'?

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Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ?

Two of the questions in this lesson are as follows: - Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ? Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo ? Could you please explain why the 2nd question has 'qu' inserted before 'un stylo'.
Asked 4 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super starCorrect answer
Bonjour Stewart !

These are simply two ways to ask questions in French.
The second is actually more elegant and is explained as such:
"Qu'est-ce que c'est que/qu' + [thing]?"

I can't really justify the structure, all I can say is that it's literally very convoluted to an English ear : "What is it that it's that [a thing]?"

I hope that helps :)
Bonne journée !
Thank you Aurélie, your answer is fine.

Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ?

Two of the questions in this lesson are as follows: - Qu'est-ce que c'est un stylo ? Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un stylo ? Could you please explain why the 2nd question has 'qu' inserted before 'un stylo'.

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TerryB1

When using « Qu’est-ce que c’est » is it appropriate to follow this statement with article?

Asked 5 years ago
See my reply to your previous answer. -- Chris.

When using « Qu’est-ce que c’est » is it appropriate to follow this statement with article?

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TerryB1

When using « Qu’est-ce qu » is it always followed by an article?

Asked 5 years ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi Terry,

Qu'est-ce que is more formal than Qu'est-ce que c'est que

Hope this helps!

In asking "What is ...." kind of questions I can't think of an example where you wouldn't need either a definite or indefinite article in French. -- Chris (not a native speaker).
TerryB1
Thanks. I think what I’m actually confused about but didn’t state it well, is when to use ...que c’est? And when to use only ...que? I.e. the difference between Qu’est-ce que...(le stylo)? and Qu’est-ce que c’est (le stylo)? I keep getting them incorrect and i find the explanation in the ‘explain this’ section to not be very clear/helpful.

When using « Qu’est-ce qu » is it always followed by an article?

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Longer ways of saying things are less formal

Than shorter ways of saying things? Is that right? Qu’est ce que is more formal than qu’est-ce que c’est que?
Asked 6 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Stuart ! In that case, it is indeed the case :) I cannot think of any other example that contradicts that statement. Bonne journée !
Well, I'll give it a try! Anne est malade? (Less formal) Anne est-elle malade? (More formal) -- Chris.
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Yes, that works too :)

Longer ways of saying things are less formal

Than shorter ways of saying things? Is that right? Qu’est ce que is more formal than qu’est-ce que c’est que?

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The difference between the second two variants ...

Is the difference that, in number 1 ‘Qu’est-ce que c’est’ I would just point, whereas the ‘que’ is added if I refer to the object by name?
Asked 6 years ago
ChrisC1Correct answer
No, you can use either to point to a thing or to name one.

Qu'est-ce que c'est ça? -- Qu'est-ce que c'est cette boîte?
Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça? -- Q'est-ce que c'est que cette boîte?


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

The difference between the second two variants ...

Is the difference that, in number 1 ‘Qu’est-ce que c’est’ I would just point, whereas the ‘que’ is added if I refer to the object by name?

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I do not understand the difference between qu"est -ce que c'est and qu'est- ce que c'est que. Help

Asked 6 years ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi April and Karen,

As Chris has already said, both structures mean the same , What's this?, What's that?

Maybe the problem is that the French use 'est-ce-que' an awful lot when asking questions. In spoken French this is the one you will hear most often as the inversion often sounds stilted and you need to recognise it at least.

If you find it difficult to use, you may consider the third way of asking questions which is the statement with the voice rising at the end :

C'est quoi ça? C'est quoi ce livre? (What's that? , What's this book?)

which means the same as,

Quest-ce -que c'est que ça?  Qu'est-ce-que c'est que ce livre ?

but is somewhat less elegant but fine in conversation.

Hope this helps!

They are synonyms. There is no difference in meaning. "Qu'est-ce que ce que ça" is, however, a bit less formal. Didn't you find the explanation given in the lesson helpful? I thought it addressed this issue rather well. -- Chris (not a native speaker).
I don't understand either.

I do not understand the difference between qu"est -ce que c'est and qu'est- ce que c'est que. Help

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Is it more appropriate to say use Qu'est-ce que c'est que in spoken form?

...and Qu'est-ce que c'est is appropriate written form. What did we mean by more formal?
Asked 0 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super starCorrect answer
Bonjour Anish (and Max) !

Max, I find it weird that you heard "Qu'est-ce" on its own, as it's very old-fashioned and antiquated...

The nuance is between "Qu'est-ce que + thing" vs "Qu'est-ce que c'est que + thing" to express "What is + thing":
"Qu'est-ce que la Tour Eiffel ?"
vs
"Qu'est-ce que *c'est que* la Tour Eiffel ?"

The first one is more formal as it's simply the inverted form (always considered more elegant), whereas the second one is more colloquial, and will be more used in everyday speech.
I would actually add that the most common way to ask this in colloquial speech would be a third option:
"C'est quoi, la Tour Eiffel ?"

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !
AurélieKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Bonjour Mary !

In the first case, you're asking confirmation that it is indeed the Eiffel Tower:

C'est bien la Tour Eiffel ?
or
C'est ça la Tour Eiffel ? (a bit more disdainful)

The second case is actually asking what the Eiffel Tower is:

Qu'est-ce que c'est, la Tour Eiffel ?
C'est quoi, la Tour Eiffel ?

...

Bonne journée !

MaxC1
In today's French, I often hear "Qu'est-ce?" - such as on TV5MONDE or podcats. I'm old school and prefer the longer older form. But I am not a native speaker.
Dear Aurélie / Max, thank you for the answers. Is it right to use "Qu'est-ce que *c'est que* la Tour Eiffel?" in written form or is it only restricted to colloquial speech. Regards Anish
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Anish ! It's not considered very elegant to use it in wirtten form: we'll prefer the "qu'est-ce que" option :) Bonne journée !
MaryA1
What is the difference between saying "Is that the Eiffel Tower" and "What is the Eiffel Tour"?

Is it more appropriate to say use Qu'est-ce que c'est que in spoken form?

...and Qu'est-ce que c'est is appropriate written form. What did we mean by more formal?

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When do we use Cela?

When you say Cela is a formal version, does it mean it is used often in written form?
Asked 0 years ago
RonC1
Ce = this/that .. Ce pain =this bread/that bread Ca = that/this ... Veux-tu ça ? = Do you want that ? Ceci/cela = this/that (here, not really defined) Ceci est un chien = "this thing here" is a dog/ "this" is a dog. Cela me va bien = "it" suits me well ("this thing" suits me well) Celui/Celle = this/that one (among others, yes masculine/feminine forms) Voici mes frères, celui qui a un chapeau s'appelle Danny (Here are my brothers, the one with a hat is named Danny) Les plus résistantes sont celles qui ont le plus de volonté (The most resistant are the ones that have most will "among women") "Ca" and "Cela" can be exchanged one for another, used for something undefined, here or there... the english "it" Usually "ce"/"cet" is used with a noun, to precise it (this thing), note that the feminine version might be "cette" "Ceci" is used for something undefined right here, close to the speaker "Celui/celle" for a precision among a group, as to distinguish it. Also, take a look at this: Ce chien-ci --> this dog Ce chien-là --> that dog
Thank you Ron.

When do we use Cela?

When you say Cela is a formal version, does it mean it is used often in written form?

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Why is C'est Quoi correct?

I am getting very confused as to which form of "what" I should be using. Please explain.
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1
1. questions about people: qui, qui est-ce qui, qui est-ce que 2. questions about things: qu'est-ce qui, que, qu'est-ce que, quoi Hope this helps !

Why is C'est Quoi correct?

I am getting very confused as to which form of "what" I should be using. Please explain.

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Quést-ce que la vie? est vie Quést-ce que Je prends?

I am trying to say what is life? Is life what I think it is? tell me if I got it write
Asked 7 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Sukanya ! Attention, because you're writing "Quést-ce" instead of "Qu'est-ce" : here it is not an accent, but an apostrophe replacing the "e" at the end of "Que" to link with "est". "Qu'est-ce que la vie ? " indeed means "What is life?" "Qu'est-ce que je prends ?" means "What do I take?" I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !
qu'est-ce que la vie? Est-ce que je pense?
AurélieKwiziq language super star
"Est-ce que je pense ?" means "Do I think?" "Qu'est-ce que je pense ?" means "What do I think?"

Quést-ce que la vie? est vie Quést-ce que Je prends?

I am trying to say what is life? Is life what I think it is? tell me if I got it write

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Quést-ce que tu parle?

Asked 7 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Sukanya ! Actually, to say "What are you talking about?" in French, you need to remember that we use "parler DE [quelque chose]", therefore the question would be: "De quoi est-ce que tu parles ?" However, you can also use the verb "dire" to express "What are you saying?": "Qu'est-ce que tu dis ?" I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !

Quést-ce que tu parle?

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AurélieKwiziq language super star

W. asked: "Is there a difference between ce and cela (ça)?"

Asked 9 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star

Bonjour W.,

​Regarding the difference between ça and cela, the lesson states that "Ça is the shortened form of celaCela is quite formal, so you'll hear ça used much more frequently."

As for ce, it's also a shortened occurence of cela, but will only be used in front of a verb, neither on its own nor at the end of a sentence:
Ce sera bien (It will be good)

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

W. asked: "Is there a difference between ce and cela (ça)?"

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C'est une cravate

Ce sont des fleurs
Asked 11 years ago
LauraKwiziq language super star
Très bien !

C'est une cravate

Ce sont des fleurs

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Thinking...