2

I was taught that one ought to use "qu'est-ce que c'est que..." to ask what something specific is. Is there any way around this construction, that is, is it possible to remove the final "que"?

I saw the sentence, "qu'est-ce qu'un dîner sans vin?" and I also saw the sentence "qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un symbole?". Are both of these sentences correct, and why? What is the rule? Thank you.

4

Removing the final que is possible but would lead to a slight pause:

Qu'est-ce que c'est, un dîner sans vin ?

Removing que c'est from the long form will raise its formality from spoken French to standard French without substantially changing the meaning:

Qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un dîner sans vin ? (or C'est quoi, un dîner sans vin ?)

Qu'est-ce qu'un dîner sans vin ?

It is possible to go even further and write:

Qu'est un dîner sans vin ?

This is formal and literary and the meaning is also slightly stronger. Here the question is rhetorical.

Same for qu'est-ce que c'est qu'un symbole ? although qu'est un symbole ? is not very idiomatic.

  • Thank you. So if I were writing an essay in French, for example, I ought to omit the "que c'est"? Also, I've heard that "quoi" is only used as an object to a preposition, but you did not use it in this way in your answer. Can "quoi" only be used after a preposition? Thank you. – CMK Nov 6 '17 at 11:08
  • Yes, dropping que c'est would improve the style. Que is used before the verb while quoi is used after the verb: Que veut cet homme ? = Cet homme veut quoi ? (informal) – jlliagre Nov 6 '17 at 11:30
  • Okay, merci beaucoup. – CMK Nov 6 '17 at 12:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.