Forming inverted questions in Le Présent, special cases: puis-je, ai-je, suis-je

Simple Yes/No Questions

The forms je peux, je vais, je suis, j'ai can be inverted but these forms are rarely used nowadays, as they're considered very formal and old-fashioned:

Puis-je avoir le pain, s'il-vous-plaît?
May I have the bread, please?

Suis-je à la bonne adresse?
Am I at the right address?

Ai-je assez d'argent?
Do I have enough money?

Vais-je dans la bonne direction?
Am I going the right way?

Notice that je peux becomes irregular in the inverted form puis-je, probably to ease pronunciation. This structure is very formal as we stated before, so would only be used in polite contexts: the nearest English equivalent would be May I?

Note also that although it's rare to invert Je + verb to make a question, it does happen with some verbs.

 

More Complex Questions

You can also use all of the question words like Comment, Quand etc. at the beginning with puis-je, ai-je and suis-je:

Comment puis-je faire ça?
How can I do that?

Où suis-je?
Where am I?

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Suis-je à la bonne adresse?
Am I at the right address?


Vais-je dans la bonne direction?
Am I going the right way?


Où suis-je?
Where am I?


Comment puis-je faire ça?
How can I do that?


Puis-je avoir le pain, s'il-vous-plaît?
May I have the bread, please?


Ai-je assez d'argent?
Do I have enough money?


Q&A

Tom

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

4 replies

1st person singular inversion

From time to time, in literature, I come across forms such as "parlé-je" e.g.

"Pourquoi parlé-je de Victor Hugo?"

Is this interrogative form still in use. Is it ever used in speech (probably not) or is it reserved for literary use?

Tom

Chris

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

Inversion-type questions are formal and, as you already suspected, mostly used in writing. There are, however, a handful of inverted questions which are used "as-is" in spoken French. For example: Comment vas-tu?

Tom

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

Hi Chris,

How formal is formal? Are you suggesting a formal interdiction of inverted forms in speech?

I must sound like a pompous idiot when  I habitually say:

"Puis-je avoir quelque chose" or "Combien dois-je" when asking for the bill, usually in the informal setting of a bar.

No one has ever commented on my pomposity. Are they just too polite?

Tom

Chris

Kwiziq community member

13 December 2018

13/12/18

It's perfectly ok. One would just notice that you're not a native French speaker, that's all. I guess it's about as "wrong" as saying "Could I trouble you to give me a BicMac, please?" when ordering at a MacDonald's :))))

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

14 December 2018

14/12/18

Hi Tom,

If I may add, to me someone using 'puis-je' in an informal verbal setting would be equivalent to an English person using, "One does this, and one does that ..." in a royal kind of way.

So it does sound precious unless you are a member of the aristocracy and then it will be expected of you....

;-)

yellamaraju

Kwiziq community member

27 November 2016

4 replies

Ai-je assez d'argent ? Not why?

Inverted form of question. Is it for the purpose of pronunciation?

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

28 November 2016

28/11/16

Bonjour Yellamaraju ! Could you clarify your question, as I'm not sure what you're getting at :) Merci !

yellamaraju

Kwiziq community member

28 November 2016

28/11/16

Bonjour Aurélie ! Sorry, the later part of the question didn't come out in the print. Ai-je assez d'argent ? And not why. Is it for the purpose of pronunciation. ends with vowel and starts with vowel as in .

yellamaraju

Kwiziq community member

28 November 2016

28/11/16

Ai-j'assez as it is done J'ai

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

29 November 2016

29/11/16

I understand your question now :) You never use ellision on pronouns in inverted structures. The ellision is between the subject pronoun and the verb following, but in the case of inversion, the verb is before, so there won't be any "visual" ellision, even though you will pronounce [jassez], you will not write "j'assez". I hope that's helpful!

Chris

Kwiziq community member

27 October 2016

1 reply

Missing exercises in this area?

It seems that I have only encountered exercises for "puis-je" and none for "suis-je" or "ai-je". Are there ones for the other cases? -- Chris.

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

4 November 2016

4/11/16

Bonjour Claus ! Indeed, we've focused the testing in that lesson on the more commonly used form "puis-je" which is also the trickiest one as it changes. However, I agree that we should also have questions on the other forms, and I've now added some to this lesson. Merci beaucoup et à bientôt !

Joakim

Kwiziq community member

24 March 2016

1 reply

Informal versions

If the questions in this lesson sound formal and old-fashioned, what are the less formal modern equivalents? Perhaps you could add them to the lesson?

Laura

Kwiziq language super star

26 March 2016

26/03/16

Bonjour Joakim, There are three non-formal ways to ask questions in French: https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/my-languages/french/view/501
I'll be right with you...