FR: qu'est-ce qui / qu'est-ce que / qui est-ce qui / qui est-ce que

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by MiguelHidalgo1986, Nov 7, 2006.

  1. MiguelHidalgo1986 New Member

    Madrid, Princeton, NJ, Los Angeles
    US-California English
    Could someone please explain how you can distinguish between "qu'est-ce que" and "qu'est-ce qui". For example: "qu'est-ce qui te fait mal"/ "qu'est-ce que vous voulez". I'm not sure when to use which. And what about "qui (est-ce qui)" and "qui est-ce que"? Cheers!

    Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one.
    This is a confusing topic, in part because it is hard to understand it without considering all four expressions at the same time... but they look very similar!
    We reproduce here an edited portion of one member's explanation, which is a very nice summary of the four expressions. For more information, please read the whole thread.

    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 19, 2014
  2. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    Qu'est-ce qui will be the subject of the sentence
    - Qu'est-ce qui te fait mal ? - What hurts you?
    [Subject = Qu'est-ce qui/What ; object = te/you]

    Qu'est-ce que will be the direct object
    - Qu'est-ce que vous voulez ? - What do you want?
    [Subject = vous/you; object = Qu'est-ce que/what]
  3. jemappellekelly Senior Member

    English & Français
    The first que/qui tells you whether the answer to your question will be a person (qui) or an thing (que).
    The second que/qui tells you whether the answer to your question will be the subject or the object.

    SUJET: Qui est-ce qui mange? Il mange.
    OBJECT: Qui est-ce que vous aimez? J'aime James.

    SUJET: Qu'est-ce qui te fait mal? Mon dos me fait mal.
    OBJET: Qu'est-ce que vous voulez? Je veux un chaton.

    When it is Qui...qui or Que...que, you can get rid of the est-ce part:
    Qui est-ce qui mange? --> Qui mange?
    Qu'est-ce que vous voulez? --> Que voulez-vous?
  4. sensa Senior Member

    English, Canada
    What does "qu-est-ce qui?" mean? I thought it would mean "who?" because of the word "wui", but in this sentence, it means "why?":

    Qu'est-ce qui vous a retardé?
  5. jierbe31 Senior Member

    French from France
    I'm afraid you got it all wrong!:D
    Qu'est-ce qui just stands for what.
    Qu'est-ce qui vous a retardé ? = What delayed you?
    Do not mistake it for Qui est-ce qui, meaning who.
    Qui est-ce qui vous a retardé ? = Who delayed you?
    Hope it helps.:)
  6. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    I'm not sure if this will help or not, but I think of this structure as
    What is it that (slowed you down?)
  7. juliobenjimino

    juliobenjimino Senior Member

    UK, English
    try this link
    it really helped me when I was trying to work out the diff between ce que and ce qui (and ce dont and ce quoi).


    qu est-ce qui = what (when "what" is the subject ie doing something)
    qu est-ce que = what (when "what" is the object)

    qu est-ce qui vous derange.... whats bothering you
    qu est-ce que tu fais ... what are you doing

    bonne chance!
  8. sensa Senior Member

    English, Canada
    What is the difference between qui est-ce qui and qui est-ce que?

    My book says in qui est-ce que, the qui is the person and the que is the complement of the verb.

    what is a complement du verb?

    My book also says "qui est-ce qui" is the subject and "qui est-ce que" is the complement direct but both are under the heading of "personnes"

    so, tell me if I have this straight:
    qui-est-ce qui est à la porte? sujet-person
    qui est-ce que
    vous avez-vu? objet direct-person

    while "qu'est-ce qui" is the subject and "qu'est-ce que" is the complément direct under the heading "choses".

    qu'est-ce qui te dérange? sujet-thing
    qu'est-ce que
    tu veux? objet direct- thing
    Is qui-est-ce qui just a long way of saying "qui"?
  9. Bisou82 Senior Member

    United Kingdom
    France - French
    "qui est-ce qui" is definitely the equivalent of "qui".

    "Qui est-ce qui" will be subject since it can be replaced by "qui".

    "Qui est-ce que" is complement direct indeed: "qui est-ce que ca dérange?" for example. So: "ca derange qui?". qui is then cpt direct.
  10. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    "Qui est-ce qui" is the equivalent of "qui" when performing the verb. So

    "Qui est à la porte" equals "qui est-ce qui est à la porte".

    However, when you are asking "who" is having the verb done to them you have to use the longer form "qui est-ce que" only.

    "Qui est-ce que tu as vu à la porte ?" not (in standard grammar) "qui tu as vu à la porte ?".
  11. omahieu Senior Member

    Belgium and French
    It's another term for an object (here direct object, but you can also have À qui est-que tu as prêté ce livre ? although I would prefer À qui as-tu prêté ce livre ?)

    We often use the terms COD (complément d'objet direct) or COI (complément d'objet indirect.)
  12. itka Senior Member

    You perfectly got it.

    Some examples :

    Qui/Qui est-ce qui arrive ? - mon ami arrive. (person, subject = My friend is arriving)
    Qui vois-tu ?/Qui est-ce que tu vois ? - Je vois mon ami (person, object = I'm seeing my friend )

    Qu'est-ce qui arrive ? - L'autobus arrive (thing, subject = the bus is arriving)

    Qu'est-ce que tu vois ? - je vois l'autobus. (thing, object = I'm seeing the bus)

    The "long forms" are equivalent of "short forms" but much more used specially in spoken language.
  13. juninho8 Senior Member

    leeds - united kingdom
    united kingdom - english
    Qu’est-ce que t’inspire leur mauvais début en Ligue des champions?

    I came across this sentence in an interview i was reading. I can read it basically says "What do you think of their bad start to the championship?"

    But what I don't get is "Qu'est-ce que" is not the subject Qu'est-ce qui would mak more sense so why use inspire and te pronoun?

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 28, 2008
  14. Monsieur Hoole Senior Member

    Canada English
    because the subject of the sentence is leur mauvais début which is causing a certain reaction on the part of the interviewee.

  15. sylphid dust

    sylphid dust Senior Member

    English, Trinidad and Tobago

    can someone PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE explain to me IN DETAIL the difference between these two phrases? I have an exam tomorrow and I'm getting tested on this and I am SO confused- my teacher says one is for the subject and one is for the object but that doesn't make it any clearer! I need a very detailed explanation please, with many examples if you can.

  16. Gil Senior Member

    Français, Canada
    Qui est-ce qui te fait pleurer? Ted makes you cry (subject)
    Qui est-ce que tu as rencontré? You met Ted (object)
    ...and Good luck with your exam
    Hope this helps
  17. sylphid dust

    sylphid dust Senior Member

    English, Trinidad and Tobago
    no it doesn't really help because if I get fill-in-the-blanks for the exam, I get confused and don't know which one to use- French is not like English where I can easily identify an object or a subject
  18. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    Qui and que are puzzling for English people, because they can be two much different thing in French.

    -> When they are interrogative pronouns, the way to use them is qui for people and que for things.
    -> In your sentences, they are relative pronouns, that introduce a subordinate clause. The rule to remember is that qui is subject of the subordinate, whereas que is its object. In other words, if the subordinate shows a subject, use que ; and if not, use qui. Now, if you can't identify subjects and objects, I'm not sure we can help you more than this ! :eek:
  19. pyan

    pyan Senior Member

    Vendée, France
    English, UK, London
    Here is a link to a site which has a lesson on "qui" and "que":

    I hope this helps.

    If you look up "que qui" in the dictionary you will find a number of old threads.

    This forum can't provide lessons for you, which is what you need :(.
  20. OrelYY New Member

    Cork, IRELAND
    France, french
    That really well explained! But some more sentences can help you:

    "Qui est-ce qui" always used for the subject
    _ Max (subject) a frappé à la porte. Qui est-ce qui a frappé à la porte? (Who knocked at the door?)

    "Qui est-ce que" always used for the object
    _ Tu as embrassé Elise. Qui est-ce que tu as embrassé? Who did you kiss? You kissed Elise (object)
  21. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    Exactly, and the "object" status will be even easier to see if you use the (correct but falling out out of use) English object pronoun whom. :)

    Actually French subjects and objects work much the same as English ones. Regardless of the language, one clue that you will have an object is if you can already find the subject, the part the controls the verb.

    Qui est-ce ___ tu as embrassé ?
    Who is it ___ you kissed?

    The verb = embrasser, "to kiss." We already know who did the kissing (you did), so we have the subject = tu. This means that you aren't going to need a subject because you already have one. Therefore you need an object. And the pronoun for an object is que.
    Qui est-ce que tu as embrassé ? / Who is it whom you kissed?

    Compare to another example:

    Qui est-ce ___ a embrassé Elise ?
    Who is it ___ kissed Elise?

    Again, the verb = embrasser, "to kiss." But this time though we know who got kissed (Elise did, the object), we don't know who did the kissing. So we don't have the subject. Therefore you are going to need the subject pronoun, qui.
    --> Qui est-ce qui a embrassé Elise ? / Who is it who kissed Elise?
  22. ngeorgiev Junior Member

    UK, Durham
    why in the first sentence is que and in the second qui?

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 28, 2008
  23. Merpero Senior Member

    English-United Kingdom
    To understand this nGeorgiev, the difference between "qui" and "que", you have to know about the grammatical concept of SUBJECT AND OBJECT. May I ask whether you have come across this concept of subject and object at all, before I (or perhaps somebody else!) decides how to explain it to you?
  24. Merpero Senior Member

    English-United Kingdom
    Firstly, I agree with Kelly B that it really helps to make things clearer if you break down "Qu'est-ce que", or "Qu-est-ce qui" into its constituent parts, that is, "WHAT-IS-IT-THAT?...". That really helped me when I was first learning French.

    Secondly, It can be confusing when you're first learning French, because you're told that QUI means WHO. Then, later on, you are told that "qui" doesn't always mean who. It is also sometimes used to mean THAT, as in "Qu'est-ce qui?..."("what-is-it-that..?).

    Thirdly, as the others have already explained above:
    Que - is used when the "that" part of the phrase is an object/the thing having the verb done to it. Thus, in "Qu'est-ce que vous dîtes", we use que(and not qui), because the "that" that we are asking about is, the thing that you're saying, and the thing that you're saying is an OBJECT because it is having the verb "say"/dîtes" done to it.

    Fourthly - Qui- is used when the "that" part of the phrase is a SUBJECT/the thing doing the verb. Thus, in "Qu'est-ce qui se passe?", we use qui(and not que)because the "that" that we are asking about is the thing that is doing the verb. I suppose the subject here is "something", because it is "something" that is "doing" the "happening" (of course, we don't know exactly what that "something" is yet)
  25. ngeorgiev Junior Member

    UK, Durham
    heya guys there is something that has been bothering me.

    Qui est-ce qui a casse la fenetre?
    Qui est-ce que vous avez vu?

    I know that we use qui when we have a question directed to the subject and que when have question directed to direct object. It seems to me that in these two questions above both should use qui, no??

    merci d'avance
  26. Donaldos

    Donaldos Senior Member

    French - France

    Who broke the window? (subject) => Qui est-ce qui ...
    Who(m) did you see? (object) => Qui est-ce que ...
  27. oxcigene New Member

    Please help me understanding these two words ("qu'est que" and "qu'est qui") correctly and completely. Though i could understand, i am not able to use them correctly?

    What is their exact meaning and when to use them.

    For example, i came across this sentence:

    Japan:un an après le séisme, qu'est-ce qui a changé ?

    What is the literal translation in english?
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 18, 2014
  28. paysage Junior Member

    qu'est-ce que/qui = what

    Qu'est-ce qui se passe? What's going on?
    Qu'est-ce qui ne va pas? What's wrong?
    Qu'est-ce que tu fais? What are you doing?
    Qu'est-ce qui a changé? What has changed?
  29. snarkhunter

    snarkhunter Senior Member

    France, Région parisienne
    French - France
    Basically, you need to understand that "qui" is related to the subject of the coming verb, whereas "que" is related to an object.
  30. oxcigene New Member

    Thanks snarkhunter.
    That's a helpful tip.
    I have some clarity now.:thumbsup:
  31. paysage Junior Member

    oui mais cela ne marche pas avec la tournure "qu'est-ce que/qui"
  32. snarkhunter

    snarkhunter Senior Member

    France, Région parisienne
    French - France
    ... Mais bien sûr que si, voyons !

    "Qu'est-ce que... ?" : "que" est complément (d'un verbe qui est exprimé ensuite)

    "Qu'est-ce qui... ?" : "qui" est le sujet du verbe à venir

    ... C.Q.F.D. !
  33. atcheque

    atcheque mod errant

    Česko - Morava
    français (France)

    "Qu'est-ce que tu vois ? un lampadaire
    "Qu'est-ce qui éclaire la rue ? un lampadaire.
  34. persona67 Senior Member

    Mais attention ! Qu'est-ce qu'il se passe ( et non qu'est-ce qui se passe).
  35. hydras15 New Member

    Austin, TX
    I'm having a really hard time understanding when to use each. I know that Qui refers to a person, and that Que refers to a thing, but when do you use the endings of these questions? I have a native french speaker as a teacher, and she doesn't know how to explain it to me, it seems like. She grasps for how to explain it in English, and my book isn't very clear either.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2013
  36. J.F. de TROYES Senior Member

    In the common usage qui... ? is replaced by the phrase qui est-ce qui ... ? when the interrogative pronoun is a subject and by qui est-ce que ... ? when the interrogative is an object :

    Referring to a person : Qui / Qui est-ce qui téléphone ? ( subject ) Qui attends-tu ? / Qui est-ce que tu attends ?

    Referring to a thing : Que is replaced by the phrase by qu'est-ce que... ? :

    Qu'est-ce que tu comptes faire ? / Que comptes-tu faire ? ( or even : Tu comptes faire quoi ? )

    Qu'est-ce qui is used only to refer to an impersonal subject :

    Qu'est-ce qui est arrivé ? ( il est arrivé un accident ) ; Qu'est-ce qui ne va pas ? - Mais ça va bien !
    Qu'est-ce qui se passe ? = Que se passe-t-il ?

    These pronominal forms take the place of the impersonal forms il or ça : Il ne s'est rien passé ; ça se passe bien.

    Hope it helps.
  37. Oddmania

    Oddmania Senior Member


    I see where your confusion comes from (it's hardly surprising). The thing is, the first Qui.../Que... and the last ...qui/...que stand for different things.

    * The first ones refer to the "gender" of the noun (is it a person or a thing?), so it should be Qui est-ce... with people and Qu'est-ce... with things.
    * The last ones refer to the function of the noun (is a subject or a complement of a verb?), so it should be ...est-ce qui with a subject and ...est-ce que with
    ...a complement. For instance:

    Qui est-ce qui fait X ? → Who is doing X?
    The first qui implies you're talking about a person ("who") while the second qui implies it performs the action of the verb: this person is doing X (Who is doing X? "WHO" is).

    Qui est-ce que tu as vu ? → Whom or Who did you see?
    The qui implies you're talking about a person ("who" or "whom") while the que implies it is the complement of the verb to see: you saw someone. Note that the English language requires (theoretically, in formal contexts) two different words too: Who = Qui + qui while Whom = Qui + que.

    Qu'est-ce qui marche ? → What is working?
    The que implies you're talking about a thing ("what") while the qui implies it performs the action of the verb: the thing is working (What is working? "WHAT" is).

    Qu'est-ce que tu as vu ? → What did you see?
    The first que implies you're talking about a thing ("what") while the second que implies it is the complement of the verb to see: you saw something.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2013
  38. Nino83 Senior Member

    For persons:
    subject: qui/qui est-ce qui --> Qui téléphone? Qui est-qui téléphone? --> Who is calling?
    direct object: qui/qui est-ce que --> Qui as-tu vu? Qui est-ce que tu as vu? --> Who did you see?
    prepositional object: qui/qui est-ce que --> À qui penses-tu? À qui est-ce que tu penses? --> Who(m) are you thinking about?

    For things:
    subject: qu'est-ce que --> Qu'est-ce qu'il se passe? --> What's happening?
    direct object: que/qu'est-ce que --> Que as-tu vu? Qu'est-ce que tu as vu? --> What did you see?
    prepositional: quoi/quoi est-ce que --> À quoi penses-tu? À quoi est-ce que tu penses? --> What are you thinking about?

    Hope it helps
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  39. lebanna Junior Member

    Vancouver Island
    English - Canada
    Ma réponse est pour TROYES, ODDMANIA. MAIS SURTOUT NINO83;

    Comme Hydras, j'ai trouvé ce sujet très difficile à comprendre. Après avoir serré lu les premier deux réponses à Hydras, je commence à comprendre, mais quand j'ai lu ta réponse j'ai trouvé une irrégularité. Ci-dessus tu as dit For things: qu'est-ce que, e.g. Qu'est-ce qu'il se passé? J'ai compris que pour le sujet, on doit écrire qui à la fin, pas qu... Est-ce que tu peux me dire si c'est correct? Si tu es d'accord, peut-être c'est un petit signe que finalement je comprends plus.

    Merci Troyes, Oddmania et Nino83, lebanna
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 18, 2014
  40. Oddmania

    Oddmania Senior Member

    You're right, that's because impersonal verbs are sort of exceptions. You can write qui se passe or qu'il se passe indifferently. Here's what I've found on the web:

    * When the verb is always impersonal (such as falloir for example), only qu'il is correct. Thus, you need to write Qu'est-ce qu'il faut...? instead of Qu'est-ce qui faut...?
    * When the verb is being impersonal but can be "personal" in other contexts (such as se passer), then you can write both.

    When you say Qu'est-ce qu'il/qui se passe? ("What's going on?"), the verb is being used impersonally, but it can be used like any other verb if you say Tout se passe comme prévu ("Everything is going as planned"), with tout as the subject. Thus, both ways are possible according to the rule.
  41. Nino83 Senior Member

    It's true that it is an exception, but in interrogative sentences it's usual to use qu'est-ce as subject with impersonal verbs.
    The other use I know is with verbs which take the dative construction, like faire mal, plaisir.
    For example: Qu'est-ce qui te fait mal? or Qu'est-ce qui te plaît?

    Oddmania, est-ce que vous connaissez autres cas où est obligatoire employer qu'est-ce qui?

    Last edited: Oct 22, 2013

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