As part of A1.1 level French language training, my teacher introduced the following sentence:

Il faut faire quel exercice ?

and translated it into English as:

Which exercise should we do?

I know that il maps to it and quel maps to what.

My question: If I map the words from the French statement to the English statement, I do not understand the meaning of faut, faire, il and quel. How are these two sentences related?

  • 3
    a more literal translation would be "what exercise must be done?"
    – hunter
    Apr 27, 2015 at 12:44
  • Part of the problem comes from the "mapping" process. When translating, the smallest meaningful unit should be the sentence. Jun 23, 2015 at 18:31
  • As a side remark, I regret that the French sentence is not using the interrogative form : "Quel exercice faut-il faire ?". Even though this form tends to disappear, I would hope for a French course to use a correct (and more formal) gramatical form, especially in written language...
    – Laurent S.
    Jun 24, 2015 at 12:56
  • @Bartdude Don't you think people learning a language would aim to speak it like actual people rather than books? When French courses impose formal French on students (which is the case most of the time), they have a hard time getting understood in conversation and/or sound funny : « Où la gare se trouve-t-elle ? »...
    – GAM PUB
    Jun 28, 2015 at 16:39
  • @GAMPUB > I totally agree with that, but I actually also regret the disparition of the interrogative form in usual language. "Où est la gare ?" sounds better as "La gares est où ?". for example, while not being that formal... so in some case the interrogative form makes more sense than others. For someone learning a language, I also find it easier to refer to grammatical rules to identify the different parts of a sentence. Maybe the use of interrogative form in the present example would have helped the OP as the order would have been closer to the English translation
    – Laurent S.
    Jun 29, 2015 at 8:51

2 Answers 2


Faut and faire here correspond to should and do. You are mistaken that quel translates what (the correct pronoun is usually que or quoi). It in fact corresponds to which.

Il here serves as a dummy subject, because falloir is an impersonal verb in french. It gives you trouble because although the English sentence is an accurate and idiomatic translation, the literal french form (which is grammatical, but seen as very stilted because contemporary spoken french avoids using nous) would be Quel exercice devons-nous faire?.

  • "Quelle EST votre profession?" In this question, "quelle" translates to "what". So, how come in the above answer "quel" is "which"? Similarly, "c'est a quelle page?" What is "quelle" here? This is very confusing!!! Apr 27, 2015 at 11:11
  • 1
    @overexchange Might not be as confusing if you consider "which" to be defined as "being what one or ones out of a group"? Then quel can kiiiind of always be "what".
    – Kareen
    Apr 27, 2015 at 15:24
  • @Circeus To make your already great answer even clearer, maybe you could tell that an impersonal sentence is somehow a passive structure, which would probably not be translated as such (every proofreader I use blames me each time a passive structure is found).
    – Chop
    May 7, 2015 at 6:32
  • @overexchange You should open a thread for this, because it could interest many people. I replied to your "which/what" translation question in my answer, because here, there's no room.
    – Quidam
    Jun 23, 2015 at 11:07

"Il faut" is a whole expression, you have to use it as a whole. The il is the impersonal form. It's not always it, it can be one sometimes.

An equivalent could be "On doit" (translated in English by "one should", "one must" depending on the sentence).

Il faut faire un exercice = We have to do an exercise. We must do an exercise. In French, it will be the same "il faut" for an advice and for a strong obligation.

So "Quel exercice faut-il faire/doit-on faire ?" (the more formal and correct form) or "Quel exercice il faut faire ?", etc, are constructed with "Quel exercice" + the whole "il faut" or "faut-il" expression.


Faut-il faire l'exercice de math ?
Doit-on faire tous les exercices de la page ?
Dois-je faire...
Devons-nous faire...

All these forms are formal.


On doit apprendre cette leçon ?
Est-ce qu'on doit faire les exercices ?

Il faut faire quel exercice ? and Quel exercice il faut faire ? are the same but the first one is very informal.

Second question:

Quel translate to what OR which, depending on the sentence.

  • Which exercise should we do? = Quel exercice devons nous faire ?

Because lequel is only used when you have a clear choice:

  • Je prends un crayon sur la table. Lequel ? (which one?).

Lequel is NEVER a question word. So, it's easy when you have which in a question, it's always quel.

To know how to translate,

  • ask yourself whether there is a clear choice between several things.
  • and whether it's a question word.

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