You might be a beginner or have been learning French for a while and you’re still unsure about the correct French interrogative expression for ‘what’ or ‘which’. Que, quoi, quel(s), quelle(s) or qu’est-ce que (qui) ? Which one should you use?
Let’s try to clarify…
When ‘what’ precedes a noun, you need to use the interrogative adjective quel or quelle (f) in front of the noun. Quel(le) can be used with the inversion construction form or with est-ce que to make the question:
Quel animal vois-tu ? = Which/what animal do you see?
Quel animal est-ce que tu vois ? = Which/what animal do you see?
Quel(le) will also be used directly with the verb être (to be).
Quelle est votre destination ? = What is your destination? (Note that it is still an interrogative adjective and must agree with the noun).
Quel(le) can also be used as an exclamatory adjective – used for emphasis. In this instance, quel(le) is again followed by a noun and another adjective can also be used for further emphasis. Used this way it means ‘what’ or ‘what a’. Note that there is an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence:
Quelle histoire ! = What a story!
Quel bel homme ! = What a handsome man!
Que and its longer form qu’est-ce que are interrogative pronouns and are used as direct objects in a sentence. They are used to ask questions about things. As the object of a question, que may be followed by either inversion or with est-ce que.
Que préfères-tu ? = What do you prefer?
Qu’est-ce que tu préfères ? = What do you prefer?