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Il pleut, il neige, il fait froid, il fait beau, il faut, etc. can such phrases be inverted? Are these legitimate sentences?

Pleut-il? Neige-t-il? Fait-il froid? Fait-il beau? Me faut-il un crayon?

Even if it is grammatically allowed, is it natural/normal/common? Or very rare?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It is not only possible but is the canonical formal (or written) way to ask those questions; being a placeholder pronoun is not an obstacle to inversion. That said, it is very uncommon and would sound overly formal or charmingly old-fashioned in most contexts. So you are safe using them, but would probably get you spotted as a non-native speaker. The usual forms are built on “​est-ce que

Est-ce qu'il pleut ?
Est-ce qu'il neige ?
Est-ce qu'il y a quelqu'un ?

or even

Il pleut ?

discarding est-ce que and relying on intonation to denote the interrogative nature.

But remember that this only applies to oral and that inversion is the canonical form for writing.

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Would Est-ce qu'il pleut? sound sufficiently unnatural that it could in of itself alert someone that I was not a native speaker? –  Aerovistae Apr 22 '13 at 20:31
    
Nope, “est-ce qu'il pleut ?” is how almost everybody say it, but children in school are taught that the “proper form” is “pleut-il ?”. –  Evpok Apr 22 '13 at 21:32
    
@Evpok Indeed they are. I clearly remember being taught that. –  Jean Apr 22 '13 at 21:41
    
@Evpok Waiiiitt--- so "Y a-t-il..." falls into this same category of being correct but unusual for speech, but preferred for writing? –  Aerovistae Sep 7 '13 at 13:03
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@Aerovistae Yep. –  Evpok Sep 7 '13 at 13:25
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As a French, I would say that all these sentences sound (actually are) correct.

Pleut-il ? Neige-t-il ? Fait-il froid ? Fait-il beau ? Me faut-il un crayon ?

as well as

Est-ce qu'il pleut ? Est-ce qu'il neige ? etc.

I would personally rather use

Est-ce qu'il me faut un crayon ?

than

Me faut-il un crayon ?

when talking to somebody. But both are OK. The latter would sound more formal. The former is more casual.

Also, dois-je prendre un crayon ? could be more natural, but that's just a way of saying it.

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