é que portuguese questions

Using “é que” in European Portuguese Questions

You may have come across é que in a variety of Portuguese questions and wondered why these extra words are added. The pair of words is technically optional (the meaning stays the same with or without it), but including é que in Portuguese questions is so common that you should typically default to including it. This would be especially wise for beginners because there are not consistent rules for when it can be left out and excluding it can make certain sentences sound very strange.

Where to add é que

É que appears after the interrogative pronouns and adverbs you learned about previously, for example:

  • O que é que…? Play normal audio What is…?
  • Como é que…? Play normal audio How is…?, What is…?
  • Onde é que…? Play normal audio Where is…?
  • Quando é que…? Play normal audio When is…?

The rest of the question stays the same, continuing in subject, verb, object order, just like in English. É que basically translates to is it that, as in, “Where is it that you want to go?” This may sound redundant in English, but it’s perfectly natural in Portuguese.

Examples

Let’s see some examples of European Portuguese questions with and without the addition of é que:

  • Como te chamas? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio What is your name?(inf.)
    • Como é que te chamas? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio What is your name?(inf.) – Literal: What is it that you call yourself?
  • Onde estás? Play normal audio Where are you?
    • Onde é que estás? Play normal audio Where are you? – Literal: Where is it that you are?
  • O que acham? Play normal audio What do you think?(plural)
    • O que é que acham? Play normal audio What do you think? – Literal: What is it that you think?
  • Como está? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio How are you?(formal)
    • Como é que está? Play normal audio How are you?(formal) – Literal: How is it that you are?
  • Quando chegas? Play normal audio When do you arrive?
    • Quando é que chegas? Play normal audio When do you arrive? – Literal: When is it that you arrive?

 

Comments:

  • I hear the phrase Como é que te chamas? when a portuguese person is asking another Portuguese person what the name of something is in English. oe even just “Como é que te nome”?

    • “Como é que te chamas?” means “What’s your name?” (or more literally, “How are you called?”). To ask what something is called in English, there are other better options, such as “Como é que [isto/isso/aquilo] se chama?” (What’s the name of [this/that]?) 🙂

  • i think it would be helpful to have the audio on these phrases since the “e que” (sorry I can’t figure out how to get the accent marks on my computer) is such a difficult combination to pronounce the way fluent speakers do it.

    • Thanks for your message! Yes we’re working on adding audio to these. We record the audio in batches, so sometimes the articles are posted ahead of time with just written examples, and then we add in audio later. (P.S. Guide to Typing Accents )

  • I’m a little confused about pronunciation. I’ve noticed that “que” followed by a word beginning with a vowel is pronounced “kee” as opposed to “kuh” when followed by a word starting with a consonant. Is this a general pronunciation rule and if so how closely should it be followed? Or am I imagining it 😀 ?

    • No, that’s well spotted and accurate, you’re not imagining it 🙂 You can think of it as a general rule of thumb, that when you have two vowels together (at the end of a word and at the start of the next one), the pronunciation of the first vowel can be affected. This also depends on how fast you’re talking.

  • Sorry, I’m confused by the final list of examples above = is the initial version without the o que added an awkward and not preferred version? Or is asking either way okay in these examples?

    I think I saw in another note that o que can often be dropped after como, and always in “como estás”?

    • Olá 🙂 The final list of examples is just showing how the two versions (with and without “é que”) are saying pretty much the same thing and are both fine to use. “Como estás” and “Como é que estás” are both perfectly acceptable.

  • To ask what something is called in English, there are other better options, such as “Como é que [isto/isso/aquilo] se chama?” (What’s the name of [this/that]?)

    So, so would “Como see chama” isto/isso/aquilo be incorrect then?

    • Olá, Anthony. Your proposed alternative is also perfectly fine 🙂 (just make sure it’s ‘se’ and not ‘see’ – probably just a typo!)

  • Thank you for the explanations here, especially the opening paragraph and helpful comparisons. It’s just what I needed. Simple and clear!

    • You can either 1) omit any direct reference to the dog or 2) advance both possibilities:
      1) Como é que se chama? (How is it called?)
      2) Como é que se chama o cão ou cadela? (How is the male/female dog called?)

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