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My French teacher said that est-ce que comes before a what question, but I'm confused on what it really means.

Can someone explain to me what it really means?

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  • If you want to know what it literally means , (Est = is ) , (ce = it or this), (que = that) ... it means something like : is it that ... and it is pronounced : Eh-s-keuh – SmootQ Feb 26 '19 at 16:49
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First, a correction: "est-ce que" comes before yes/no questions. "qu'est-ce que" or "qu'est-ce qui" (depending on if the "what" in the question is the object or subject, respectively) comes before what questions.

It's usually best not to try to directly equate phrasings of one language to phrasings of another. What "est-ce que" really "means" is that "what's about to follow is a yes/no question." It denotes yes/no questions and it's easiest, as a foreign language student, to just accept that fact instead of trying to seek reasoning where they may not be any. However, if you insist on a direct English translation, luckily "est-ce que" does fit into English's logical framework (albeit, rather unnaturally).

The direct, word-for-word translation of "est-ce que" would be "is it that". As one could imagine, it is perfectly correct to pose questions such as "is it that you are sick?". (Of course, native English speakers would probably never say that, although it is correct, and rather opt for "Are you sick?")

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    +1 -- is it that (is it the case that; is it true that;...) – Drew May 27 '14 at 3:57
  • Actually "Is it that..." is frequently used in a question in English. It occurs when you're sounding someone out on a possibility. For example, "Why haven't you had a wash this morning? Is it that you can't find the soap, or are you just too lazy?" For a discussion, see here: [ell.stackexchange.com/questions/7351/…. I'm sure you'll find many examples if you Google (in quotes) "is it that". [1]: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/7351/… – Harry Audus Dec 31 '20 at 1:51
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est-ce que if you beak down it literally means est=is ce= this que what/ that. then in Où est-ce que tu habites? will be "where is it that you live?" which is simply where do you live. We need no literal translation, but the gist of it.

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