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As I go through my Rosetta Stone lessons, I find it would be helpful to ask a question about the picture I am seeing and then responding with the correct lesson answer. My problem lies in the fact that when I am trying to find the correct structure for the question I want to use, I use several different website translators to see what the consensus is for the correct structure of the question, however, they all give me different translations and I am befuddled as to what is correct. So, I am going to list some questions in English that I would like to use for the current lesson and I would appreciate it if any kind souls would help me with what they feel would be the most common translation that would be used by most fluent french speakers. Here is my first list....and merci beaucoup in advance!

1) What are THESE people doing?

2) What are THOSE people doing?

3) What is THIS (man, woman, boy, girl) doing?

4) What is THAT (man, woman, boy, girl) doing?

5) What am I doing?

6) What are you (informal) doing?

7) What are you (formal) doing?

8) What is (he, she) doing?

9) What are they doing?

10) What are we doing?

11) This (man, woman, boy, girl). What is (he,she) doing?

12) What is this?

13) What is that?

14) What do we have here?

15) What is happening here?

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OK, there are quite a few hidden grammar points here, including question formation which is quite complex in French.


(1) French doesn't always make a difference between "this" vs "that", "these" vs "those" (i.e. 'near' vs 'far'). So, for example, "ce" can mean either "this" or "that".

(2) With that in mind:

ce = this/that for a masculine word

cet = this/that for a masculine word beginning with a vowel sound (including "homme"-- the "h" isn't pronounced)

cette = this/that for a feminine word

ces = these/those

(3) In a fairly formal style, you can ask a "what" question, when "what" is the object of the verb, by using que at the beginning of the sentence, followed by the verb, followed by the subject, e.g. Que font ces personnes? = What are these/those people doing?; Que fait cet homme = What is this man doing?

(4) Unfortunately, inversion is rarely used when the subject is je. Instead, a different style of question is usually used, involving a special "question marker" est-ce que (which originally derives from its literal meaning of "is it that", but it's really a fixed formula nowadays). So Qu'est-ce que je fais? would usually be the way of saying "What am I doing?" For "What are you doing?", you could use either pattern: Que fais-tu? or Qu'est-ce que tu fais?; the first, with inversion, is a bit more emphatic/formal, but both are possible in principle.

(5) As in English, there are some restrictions caused simply by the "rhythm" of a sentence. So logically, Qu'est-ce que cet homme fait? is completely grammatical. But in practice, it sounds odd because it is very "top heavy", having a single-syllable verb at the end. Speakers would be more likely to say Que fait cet homme?, or (to introduce another pattern which combines the two structures) Qu'est-ce qu'il fait, cet homme?

(6) When "what" is the subject, then the formula qu'est-ce qui is generally used. So "What is happening here?" would typically be Qu'est-ce qui se passe là?

(7) For "what is this?" and "what is that?" it's a bit more complicated still. If you're saying "What is ...?", the structure used tends to be Qu'est-ce que c'est que ...? (I wouldn't even bother trying to analyse this too much-- just remember it ;-) So: Qu'est-ce que c'est que ceci/cela? = What is this/that?; What is love? = Qu'est-ce que c'est que l'amour? (though you can actually shorten to Qu'est-ce que l'amour in this case)


As I say, I think the problem you have here is that you're really mixing together a number of grammar points, some of them quite complex. Question formation in French is actually a hugely complex issue that it will take a while to master.


I hope I haven't just confused matters..., you have not confused matters at all. I enjoy reading your explanations and I marvel at your knowledge of the language. So....

What are THESE people doing?...and... What are THOSE people doing? is: Que font ces personnes?  Could it also be: Que font ces gens?


What is this/that man (woman, boy, girl) would be: Que fait cet homme? Que fait cette femme? Que fait cet garcon? and Que fait cette fille?


What am I doing will be: Qu'est-ce que je fais?....would-- Que fais-je? work as well?


What are you doing? is: (informal) Que fais-tu? and (formal) Que faites-vous?


What is he (she) doing? is: Que fait-il?...and... Que fait-elle?


What are they doing? is: Que font-ils? ...or for all feminine... Que font-elles?


What are we doing? is: Que faisons-nous?


This man (woman, boy, girl). What is he (she) doing? Would be, man--Cet homme. Que fait-il?; woman-- Cette femme. Que fait-elle?; boy--Ce garcon. Que fait-il?; and girl--Cette fille. Que fait-elle?


What is it? would be: Qu'est-ce que c'est?


What is this? would be: Qu'est-ce que c'est que ceci?


What is that? would be: Qu'est-ce que c'est que cela? ....I have also seen:  Qu'est-ce que c'est que ca? ( I can't make the cedilla that belongs under the "c" on ca in this example). 


What do we have here? would be: Qu'est-ce que nous avons la`? .....or would you use ici?....Qu'est-ce que nous avons ici?


What is happening here? would be: Qu'est-ce qui se passe la`? ....or again, could ici be used? Qu'est-ce qui se passe ici?


Do these look correct? Any corrections, comments or opinions are greatly appreciated! and...sorry for my long-winded messages!!




In most of the cases, french doesn't make any different between "these" and "those" or "this" and "that" (in the way you use it in your sentences)


For instance, "ceci" and "cela" have no different meanings. The only difference is the order of designation. You can say as much "Qu'est ce que ceci" as "qu'est ce que cela", but you will say "Je vais prendre un peu de ceci, et un peu de cela" (I'll take a little of this, and a little of that). Ceci will always be first in order.


For "What do we have here?" you can just say "Qu'avons nous ici?", no need for the "Qu'est ce que" form


And for "What is happening here?", I think "ici" would be better than "là"



First--thank you very much for taking the time to respond. I appreciate your input.


So....were I to say--"Qu'est-ce que cici?" would be taken as: "What is this?"  and "Qu'est-ce que cela"...would be taken as "What is that?" ....and "Qu'est-que c'est?" taken as "What is it?"  OR....I can just say "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" and it could be taken as any of the three, it, this or that, depending on the context of the situation?


I really like "I'll take a little of this and a little of that."  I understand fully what you meant by using "cici" and "cela" in order in such a situation.


"Qu'avons nous ici?" seems much simpler than what I was using. I see where yours translates as: "What have we here?" opposed to my: "What do we have here?" 


And last,....I read in the grammar section of this website on how to distinguish between this and that through the use of "La`"  and  "la`-bas".  In the question: "What is happening here?" using "la`" would infer what is happenning right here at a certain point close by, whereas using "la`-bas" would infer what is happening at a point far away, and using "ici" would infer what is happening in a general situation. So,...


"Qu'est qui se passe la`?" would be-- what is happening (right here in front of me)?

"Qu'est qui se passe la`-bas?" would be-- what is happening (over there)?

"Qu'est qui se passe ici?" would be--what is happening (around us)?


Does all this seem correct? Again, any and all comments, corrections and opinions are greatly appreciated! Thank You!

First, be careful, it's "cEci" not "cIci"


"Qu'est ce que ceci/cela" is actually a very formal form, not really used nowadays, especially in oral french. You can either way say "Qu'est ce que c'est?".

In french, we can't really express the same subtlety than what "This/that/those/there" imply. 


In a similar way, I don't think "Qu'est-ce qui ce passe là" is really used. You would say "Qu'est ce qui se passe ici" for a global situation, or the situation in front of you, or "Qu'est ce qui se passe là-bas" in order to point a place.


I can't say enough that all can't always be translated with the same degree of subtlety.

Lauris. Once again, thank you for the input. It is all very helpful.


I see that I am expecting to be able to say everything in French with the absolute clarity that I can in my fluent English. I must remember that I am just beginning and I must also realize that not everything will be able to be translated exactly as I would want to hear it in English.

Keep an eye out for more (many more) questions as I move on to the next lesson! LOL!

I must add that you will learn some rules, habits, or ways to use some forms with practice. Some things can't be learned in grammar books ;)

And don't hesitate, I'm happy to help people that learn french (and I think I'm not the only one here)

Thanks again!

Your sentences are correct, with just a couple of remarks:

- as I think I mentioned, que fais-je? wouldn't be that common in reality; Qu-est-ce que je fais? would be the more common way of phrasing this question.

- ça is basically an informal (and common) form of cela; yes, you can say Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça?

- You can indeed say "Qu'est-ce qui se passe ici?". This version would be more emphatic about stressing the notion of "here". If you say "Qu'est-ce qui se passe là?", is't the equivalent of saying "What's going on (here)?", where "here" is almost a "throwaway" word at the end of the sentence-- it's not that you're really saying "What's happening in this place?". I assumed that was the meaning you intended. But if you really want to stress the notion of "here as opposed to some other place", you can use ici.

(From that point of view, I think I disagree slightly with @lauris -- it's not that one word is intrinsically "better" than the other, just that they tend to be used to emphasise slightly different things.)

Neil. Thank you.  Keep an eye out for me. I will be here often!
Neil....Would "Que font ces deux?" translate as: What are these two doing? or would "Quels sont ces deux faire?" be more correct? 

"Que font ces deux ...?" is correct, although people would generally either add a noun "Que font ces deux personnes?" or say "Que font ces deux là?".


"Quels sont ces deux?" would mean something like "Which are these two?". Putting the "faire" at the end makes no sense, though.


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