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The instructive statement below is from a wiki article.

... For example "Quel est le problème ?" is preferred to "Quel est-ce que le problèm ?" ...

I would say that "Quel est-ce que le problèm ?" is plain wrong, because 'que' needs to be object of some verb, which verb is missing!

( Compare 'Qu'est-ce que c'est?' - ´que' is clearly object of the second 'est.' )

Would you care to shed light.

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 Yes you are right : "Quel est-ce que le problème" is indeed plain wrong.

You can also say "Qu'est-ce que c'est que le problème"

It might seem a strange construction .I think the "que in "que le problème" may be a little ungrammatical  or at least it is not a grammar that I quite understand  but it is a very common way of speaking.


I don't think you would have that que  before le problème.  Just Qu'est-ce que c'est le problème? (Literally 'what is it that is the problem?' = "What is the problem?" = 'What's the problem?')

My apologies .I was fairly sure I was right  but  I was wrong it seems.

There are ways you can have that construction  as in " "Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça" .

 "Qu'est-ce que c'est que la France" ,  "Qu'est-ce que c'est que cette merde" and  many other examples  I have found.

I don't understand why my particular example  seems to have been wrong but  perhaps there is a slight difference  in sense when the extra "que" is used .

Perhaps it makes the question more "generic"  but I really can't say -except that , as you say it doesn't work  with  "Qu'est-ce que c'est que le problème"

It's a way I never have thought before.

Depending on the pronoun, there are many meanings, but I think it is not easy to understand each situation. The context is important.

"qu'est ce que c'est que la philosophie ?" = it's a question about the profound meaning of  philosophy, all about the discipline "philosophy" : To have an answer that explain philosophy, history of the philosophy, philosophers ....

and with the same meaning/way you could have "qu'est ce que c'est que le droit ?".

So "qu'est ce que c'est que le probleme ?"  could exist but in fact the word/notion "probleme" is rarely to explain, it's not a general discipline and it would be rather used with the pronoun "un".

"Qu'est ce que c'est que ce chien ?" as another meaning. It's to have an explain about the dog your son comes with. in fact it's the same meaning as "quel est le problème ?" (because the real good sentence would be "quel est ce chien ?") = someone wants to know exactly everything  about a special situation.

I read my reply and see something to add : other ways to say the same thing with the same meaning :

"qu'est ce que c'est que la philosophie ?"

= "qu'est ce que la philosophie ?"

= "qu'est ce que c'est "la philosophie ?" 

Charles, the one you propose looks ... je ne sais quoi. Somehow I have doubt-
Qu'est-ce que c'est le problème?

Though I can't quite analyze it exactly, the reason for my doubt is very simple: if you remove some key element from that statement, you come up with these below, which should be indisputably correct:

Qu'est-ce que c'est ?
Est-ce que c'est le problème?

In other words, your statement appears to cary with it one key **extra** element. How might that be justified?

Merci beaucoup.

Qu'est-ce que c'est le problème? this way could be heard, not read. it's not a right way, not really wrong but it's a verbal way. With the good tone. and cut like that Qu'est-ce que c'est / le problème? you could hear that. The question is "qu'est ce que c'est ?" and to add precision "le problème".

Est-ce que c'est le problème? is a question yes/no => not the same structure.

Qu'est-ce que c'est ? => it's a general question. only in verbal conversation.

Would you say that "qu'est ce que c'est que la philosophie ?" is actually short for "qu'est ce que c'est qu'est la philosophie ?" (perhaps an old fashioned way of speaking) ?

Are all those little "que"s before the noun that follows   short for "que + the noun +  est" ?

Would you say that "qu'est ce que c'est que la philosophie ?" is actually short for "qu'est ce que c'est qu'est la philosophie ?" (perhaps an old fashioned way of speaking) ?

this one seems too complicated (lourd in french). I never heard that way.

"qu'est ce que c'est ... " is a common way to replace "quel est ce ..." a little too literary in verbal form.

So how would you explain the use of that  "que"  then ?

To my ears it  doesn't have a grammatical function .It is not the same "que " as in "plus... que" for example.

Is it for "euphonie"? To make the sentence  less "overgrown" ?

huuuummmm .... I don't explain ;-)

maybe euphonie is the best explanation.

No seriously I don't know. I am not sure about the grammatical function of each word in this kind of expression. (3 "que" / 7 words)

the most used is maybe "qu'est ce que c'est, la philososophie ?" : it's a good sentence to begin a conference.

but nobody would be surprised hearing "qu'est ce que c'est que la philosophie"

there is maybe a slight difference : the first one sounds a little more like a question and the second like the beginning of a declaration (expecting the rest).

So let's say that that is acceptable as casual use-
Qu'est ce que c'est que la philosophie?

Then, is this also ok as casual use?
Qu'est ce que la philosophie?

And if so, why is this so bad, after all?
Quel est-ce que le problèm ?


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