Quoi in French: What It Means and How to Use It - Comme une Française (2023)

  • June 15, 2021
  • Classic Mistakes, French Conversation, French Culture, French Lifestyle, Insider Tips for Francophiles, , Speaking French,

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Quoi [“Kwah”] in French usually means “what.” But not always!

How can you use it in your sentences?

Let’s learn some French.

1. Quoi ?
2. Quoi : with a preposition
3. Quoi in French expressions
4. Quoi for fun with songs
5. Quoi in a nutshell : four sentences to get you started

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(Video) Comme quoi in French

1. Quoi ?

Quoi is best used in informal questions.

  • Quoi ? = What ? (When you didn’t understand something.)
  • Tu viens ou quoi ? = Are you coming or what?
  • Quoi de neuf ? = What’s new? (Very common question for French small talk!)
  • C’est quoi ? = What is it? (informal French)

In your French lessons in school, you probably learned that “What is it?” is Qu’est-ce que c’est ? It’s correct, of course! But Qu’est-ce que c’est ? is longer and more formal than “C’est quoi ?” – so this is the one we use in everyday spoken French!

In general, French people usually don’t use “Qu’est-ce que” to start a question, by the way. We just take the affirmative sentence (the answer) and add “quoi ?” at the end, where we want the answer.

Qu’est-ce que tu veux ? = What do you want ? (correct or formal French)
= Tu veux quoi ? (informal everyday French)

Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire ? = What does it mean?
= Ça veut dire quoi ? (informal everyday French)

Quoi in French: What It Means and How to Use It - Comme une Française (1)

When you didn’t hear something, try using “Pardon ?” (= Sorry?) or “Excusez-moi ?” (= Excuse me?) instead of “Quoi ?” They’re less colloquial, but more elegant!

2. Quoi : with a preposition

In correct, formal French, Quoi is used in questions after a preposition. Like à, par, vers… In this case, French people often put “quoi” at the end of the question instead, in everyday language.

For example:
À quoi est-ce que tu penses ? / À quoi penses-tu ? = What are you thinking about?
Je pense à [notre week-end à Paris.] = I’m thinking about [our week end in Paris.]
= Tu penses à quoi ? (same question, but in informal everyday French!)

Par quoi veux-tu commencer ? = What do you want to start with?
= Tu veux commencer par quoi ? (informal everyday French)

A special preposition here is pour (= for).
In French, “why” is pourquoi, and “what for” is… also pourquoi. Or sometimes, pour quoi (literally “what for.”)

Pourquoi c’est comme ça ? = Why is it that way? What is it that way for?
C’est pour quoi ? = What are you calling for? (on the phone)

You don’t have to remember all of this! But at least you won’t be too confused when it comes up. Later in this lesson, you’ll find the only four first sentences you need to start using Quoi right away.

3. French expressions with Quoi

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Oh arrête… Ça va, quoi ! = Oh stop it… It’s OK, that’s it. or It’s as simple as that.

Using quoi at the end of a sentence is a colloquial French filler word. It doesn’t translate well, but it’s used to mean “I don’t care. / In short / And that’s all. / It’s simple, let’s not dive into it too much, it’s as simple as that…”

  • Il est encore en retard ? Bon, il viendra pas, quoi. = He’s late again? Well, he’s not coming, in short.
  • Ce film est vraiment… génial, quoi. = This movie is really… well, fantastic, I mean.
  • Oh, arrête de râler. J’ai juste fait une petite erreur, quoi. = Oh, stop grumbling. I only made a small mistake, that’s all.

Quoi also comes in: Et puis quoi encore ! This French exclamation literally means And then what again? It means something like “That’s too much,” “It’s the last straw.”

And in the dismissive: N’importe quoi.” = whatever / nonsense / random stuff.

  • Pff… N’importe quoi. = Pff… nonsense.
  • Je connais pas les règles, je fais n’importe quoi. = I don’t know the rules, I’m just doing things at random.

Other French expressions with quoi :

  • Un je-ne-sais-quoi = a very subtle thing, a feeling I can’t describe
  • Il n’y a pas de quoi ! / “Ya pas d’quoi !” = There’s no need (to thank me), you’re welcome!

Quoi in French: What It Means and How to Use It - Comme une Française (2)

Some people also use quoi to mean “any stuff that’s going on” as in Je vous appelle et je vous dis quoi. = I call you and I tell you what’s going on.
But it can sound like a question, so it can be confusing even for other French people!

4. The extra mile : Quoi in songs

Don’t mistake Quoi (= “what”) with un watt (= a watt, a unit of electric power) or la ouate (= cotton wool, wadding material). As in the 80’s pop song “C’est la ouate (qu’elle préfère)” (= “Her favorite material is cotton wool.” A very philosophical song, of course.)

A song by Angèle is called “Balance Ton Quoi,” about the French Me Too movement. In France it was called (#) Balance ton porc – which you could translate with “Squeal on your pig”, “report your abuser.”

5. Quoi in a nutshell : four sentences to get you started

So now that you’ve seen a bit of Quoi – what it can mean, how we use it.
We could spend a lot more time diving into the topic, with Quoique or more…

But instead, it’s time for you to start using that small word.
It’s easy to start practicing: You only need to remember a few sentences at first! Then you can add more as you get more confident.

For example, try to remember:

  • Quoi de neuf ? = What’s up?
  • C’est quoi ? = What is it?
  • C’est n’importe quoi ! = That’s nonsense.
  • Y’a pas d’quoi != You’re welcome.

Try using one of them in your next French practice!

Dive deeper into French learning with my other lessons:

  • Learn French with easy words: “Déjà”
  • Understanding Spoken French (Even When It’s Fast)
  • Improve your French Accent

Click on the link to get your full free lesson.

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Join the conversation!

  • hello! what does “vivre quoi” mean?


    • Bonjour Victoria,

      Using quoi at the end of a sentence is a colloquial French filler word. It doesn’t translate well, but it’s used to mean “I don’t care. / In short / And that’s all. / It’s simple, let’s not dive into it too much, it’s as simple as that…”.

      I hope this helps. Belle journée à toi,

      Comme Une Française Team


  • Try bien madame!


  • What !! … 🙂

    Actually, many examples come to mind, including
    À quoi ça sert l’amour as sung by Édith Piaf and
    her husband Théo Sarapo. An unlikely looking
    couple if ever there was, but the song is very nice.

    Great lesson Géraldine ~ merci merci ♫


  • Salut Géraldine,
    Merci beaucoup pour ton expressions utiles chaque semaine.
    Sanae D


  • Merci Géraldine cet leçon est très utile


  • Salut Géraldine!
    I think you have confused people! I spoke to my French friends and we don’t think “n’importe quoi“ means rubbish! Yes it does colloquially if used after vous dites…
    but surely it can also mean on its own “whatever” and in a sentence “anything” – elle fera n’importe quoi…?


    • J’ai vérifié cette phrase sur Bing et DeepL et bien que ces traductions automatiques puissent donner une interprétation trop littérale, elles soutiennent toutes deux la version “Nonsense”. Linguee donne également un nombre d’exemples similaires sans l’utilisation de “vous dites”.


      • Try putting it into linqee again or ask French people….


      • You need to read what I wrote again. It is not always dismissive as the lesson suggests, it is often heard on the news in France in the sense of “anything” as in he will do anything and more often as whatever which to be clear, is mentioned in the lesson. Maybe in the SW we use it differently we have our own accent…


    • Actually Brian the first time I ever heard the phrase was when we moved here 15 years ago, and my (very French) neighbour used to use it all the time to mean rubbish or random stuff.


    • ‘N’importe quoi’ can absolutely mean rubbish. As in “C’est n’importe quoi” ; that’s rubbish (or garbage for the Americans) ; or with the meaning of ‘you’re talking rubbish’. Again, a teacher talking to a pupil who has done some very bad work : “C’est n’importe quoi. Il faut le refait”
      This is terrible, you’ll have to do it again.


      • Je suis bien d’accord. I’ve heard it used in French movies to mean just that: absolute rubbish.


        (Video) Practise your French Relative Pronouns "Qui vs Que"

  • Merci pour ça, j’apprécie votre explications.


  • C’est exactement que les non-francophones ont besoin. Merci beaucoup, Geraldine.
    Et prenez soin de vous.


  • J’aime beaucoup la petite lecon. Merci!


  • Merci beaucoup, c’est très utile.


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    How do you use quoi and Quoi? ›

    que? and quoi? are used for talking about things, and mean what? in English. que? cannot be used after a preposition; you have to use quoi? instead.

    Why do French people say Quoi so much? ›

    Note that when French people usually use quoi this way, it's not neutral. It's typically an informal way to express incomprehension or astonishment – think “What?” or “What?!”. For example: Danielle : Tu dis que tous les mecs du lycée veulent sortir avec toi, mais hier soir j'ai vu Maxence au cinéma…

    How do you use Comme in French? ›

    Comme is a French subordinating conjunction meaning "as" or "since":
    1. Il est arrivé comme je commençais à manger. Translation: He arrived as I was starting to eat.
    2. Comme il n'est pas là, je vais le faire. Translation: Since he's not here, I'm going to do it.
    Mar 17, 2019

    Can you start a sentence with Quoi? ›

    You could say, "Paul veut quoi?"( in spoken French) but never at the begining of the sentence. Normally you will hear Quoi ? , used in a single word as the interrogative pronoun What? (as in 'Pardon?') In French you will say Quoi? or more politely Comment?

    What is the difference between quoi and Quelle? ›

    Whereas que/quoi/qui will be used to define something, to ask what they are, quel is used in the context of a choice, an alternative: what is that, relative to other elements? Note also that Quel is an adjective, so it always relates to a noun (thing/person).

    How do you respond to Quoi de neuf? ›

    Otherwise you can move the conversation along by replying rien de nouveau ('nothing new'), rien de special ('nothing special') or simply pas grand chose ('not much. ')

    Why do French people say je ne sais quoi? ›

    The French phrase je ne sais quoi was borrowed into English as early as the 1650s to characterize some inexpressible, indefinable, or ineffable quality, such as some element that makes an engaging work of art or charismatic person special.

    What does De quoi mean? ›

    What does it mean? Pas de quoi literally translates to not of what, which is similar to the English not of worth, as in it is not worth mentioning it, or not worth making a fuss about it.

    What do you call someone who loves everything French? ›

    Francophiles. A Francophile is a person who loves France, French things, and French people. If you start wearing a beret and carrying a baguette around with you, your friends will assume you're a Francophile.

    What is Quoi de Neuf? ›

    Phrase. quoi de neuf ? (informal greeting) what's new, what's up, how's it going.

    What is the hardest French word to say? ›


    Brace yourself: The hardest French word to pronounce is the word for locksmith – “serrurerie“. It was the most commonly repeated response.

    What does Comme si comme sa mean? ›

    comme ci comme ça (not comparable) Neither good nor bad; so so; tolerable, passable, indifferent. synonyms ▲ Synonyms: average, fair, meh, mediocre, middling, lackluster, okay, so-so. The dessert was pretty good, but the meal was comme ci comme ça.

    What is comme tu es belle? ›

    Translation of "comme tu es belle" in English. how beautiful you are. how pretty you look. how lovely you are. how beautiful you look.

    What is the meaning of comme? ›

    : conforming to accepted standards : proper.

    Is je ne sais quoi meaning? ›

    Noun. je ne sais quoi (uncountable) An indefinable quality that makes something distinctive or attractive. quotations ▼ She has a certain je ne sais quoi about her.

    Do people say je ne sais quoi? ›

    It's hard to really translate it because French doesn't always work out when converted to English words. But je ne sais quoi is a fairly common French phrase that we use in English, and most people have a vague idea that it translates to “I don't know what.”

    Why do the French say chouette? ›

    Chouette in French literally means owl. That means the cool kids on the streets are running around saying “Dude, that's so owl!” We do it in English too—when I say something is cool, I mean that it's interesting, not that its temperature is somewhere between warm and chilly!

    Do the French say je ne sais quoi? ›

    But the French also use it as we do in English: a quality you cannot describe. We connect je ne sais quoi to the adjective describing it with de, like this: Cette fille a je ne sais quoi de fascinant. "There is something fascinating about that girl."

    When should you use est ce que? ›

    The phrase est-ce que is used to ask a question. Word order stays just the same as it would in an ordinary sentence. Est-ce que comes before the subject, and the verb comes after the subject. So to turn the sentence Tu connais Marie (meaning You know Marie) into a question, all you need to do is to add est-ce que.

    How do you respond to tu fais quoi? ›

    If you're in a bar and you just say Tu fais quoi ? the other person could be caught off guard and answer “Nothing, why?” or “Huh…

    How do you answer Merci beaucoup? ›

    Merci Beaucoup – Thank you very much

    You can reply to this phrase by saying De rien (You are welcome), if it's an informal engagement, or Je vous en prie (You are welcome), in a formal setting.

    How do you respond to Tres bon? ›

    What is this? To answer any question asking how you're doing, you can also answer by simply saying, “Très bien !”. You can also respond, “Je vais très bien, merci”, which translates to “I am doing very well, thank you”. Equally, you can respond, “Ça va très bien, merci”, which means “I am very well, thank you”.

    How do you use je ne sais quoi in a sentence? ›

    Example Sentences

    Although the sculpture had flaws, it also had a certain je ne sais quoi that made it very appealing.

    How do you say just say yes in French? ›

    Oui is the standard way to say yes in French. It's simple and straightforward, and you can use it in all instances where you wish to express a positive answer. Example: « Tu peux venir ici s'il te plait ? » (“Can you come here please?” )

    Do the French say je sais pas? ›

    In French, the meaning of “Je ne sais pas” (pronounced juh nun say pah) is “I don't know”. Slang variations of “Je ne sais pas” include “Je sais pas”, J'sais pas” and “Chais pas”.

    What does Alors Quoi de Neuf meaning? ›

    Alors, quoi de neuf. ? Me too! So, what's up?

    What is the most romantic word in French? ›

    Je t'adore – I adore you. In French, it means something more like “I like you very very much” and is used as something in between “Je t'aime” and “Je t'aime bien.” Je t'aime passionnément – I love you passionately. Je t'aime à la folie – I love you like crazy.

    What do you call a French lady? ›

    235. In France men are addressed as Monsieur and women as Madame or Mademoiselle. While a Monsieur is a monsieur no matter what, a Madame is a married woman and a Mademoiselle an unmarried woman.

    How do you reply to Bonjour? ›

    What is the proper response to bonjour? It's more than sufficient to simply say bonjour back in response to those who greet you, but if you want to go a step beyond, you can respond with comment allez-vous, which is the French equivalent of asking how it's going.

    What is neuf trois? ›

    So if you refer to someone as a neuf trois you're basically saying that their style is a bit ghetto or a bit gangsta, like the group below (and if you like what you see check out the Facebook group 'Rap du neuf trois' for more groups from the area).

    What is the easiest French word to learn? ›

    Bonjour is the most common and basic greeting. It means “Hello” and “Good morning” and can be used with any person you meet.

    Why is there no word for 70 in French? ›

    In French, there is no version of what we know as 70. Instead, the French use their number for sixty and ten, soixante and dix, to represent the number 70 as soixante-dix. After that, you get sixty-eleven, sixty-twelve, and so on until you reach 80.

    What is the easiest French word? ›

    Basic French words at a glance

    Bonjour. Hello. Merci. Thank you. Merci beaucoup.

    What are the 3 ways to ask a question in French? ›

    Asking questions in French
    • There are 3 main ways to ask a question in French: • Formal: (question word quand, où, etc) + verb + subject + ? ...
    • • Neutral: (question word) + est-ce que + subject + verb + ? Est-ce que vous connaissez Victor Hugo ? ...
    • • More informal: subject + verb (+ question word) + ?

    How do the French use je ne sais quoi? ›

    In French, je ne sais quoi literally means "I don't know what." It's used to capture an indescribable, special distinguishing feature, or to name some unnamable quality. You could say, for example, "Ms. McMane's English class isn't like any other class I've taken — it has a certain je ne sais quoi."

    What does the French saying je ne sais quoi mean? ›

    Noun. je ne sais quoi (uncountable) An indefinable quality that makes something distinctive or attractive.

    Do French people say je ne sais quoi? ›

    As you can see, it is a rather bland statement. And indeed in France, we mostly use the phrase in this context. The verb is savoir which in French means to know. What is this?

    What are some basic French questions? ›

    Common French Questions: 19 Big Ones for Everyday Use
    • Comment vous appelez-vous ? / Comment tu t'appelles ? ...
    • Comment allez-vous ? / Comment ça va ? / Ça va ? ...
    • Comment ça s'écrit ? ...
    • D'où venez-vous ? / D'où viens-tu ? ...
    • Quel âge avez-vous ? / Quel âge as-tu ? ...
    • Qu'est-ce que vous étudiez ? / Qu'est-ce que tu étudies ?
    Jun 19, 2022

    Can you list three ways to say hello in French? ›

    The most common greeting in French is the very useful “bonjour”, and “bonsoir”. The first can be used throughout the day, and the second in the evening. “Salut” is also widely used in a more informal setting. These are the most basic greetings that will commonly be learned in lessons for French for kids.

    What is the most common way to ask a question in French? ›

    Est-ce que

    This is the most common way to ask questions. Est-ce que vous aimez voyager ? Do you like traveling? Est-ce qu'il est prêt ?

    How do you use Quoi de Neuf? ›

    Quoi de neuf? from someone you saw recently as a casual way ask 'How are you? ' at the beginning of a conversation. You might also hear it used with the preposition de or à attached, for example Quoi de neuf de ton coté? (what's new from your side? ') or Quoi de neuf à Paris? (How are things in Paris?)

    Can je ne sais quoi be used in English? ›

    But je ne sais quoi is a fairly common French phrase that we use in English, and most people have a vague idea that it translates to “I don't know what.” However, it's more along the lines of, “I am of the not knowing,” but to us English speakers, that doesn't really make sense.


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