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What does ‘quoi’ mean? The answer is (partly) in the title!

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

Quoi crops up again and again in French conversation and has several meanings. First and foremost, it means what. It can be used in the abrupt way we use what in English to mean pardon, or to express surprise.

E.g. Paul : ‘J’ai gagné 5000€ !’ Sarah : ‘Quoi?’

It is also a question word and can be a substitute for ‘que’, although the word order changes and the tone is more familiar. So, you could say, ‘Que veux-tu manger ce soir ?’ or ‘tu veux manger quoi ce soir’.

Quoi is also widely used as a tag at the end of phrases in colloquial French. The nearest equivalent in English is ‘like’ or ‘innit’.

So here’s an example, Paul: ‘tu voudrais aller au cinéma ce soir ? Sarah : ‘Je ne sais pas. J’ai plein de choses à faire, quoi.’

Furthermore, quoi is used in certain expressions and idioms. In my opinion, these are what make a foreign language interesting, but also tricky, as the expressions cannot be translated literally. ‘A quoi bon…’ is a useful and common expression, meaning ‘what’s the point of…’ We often see in our crib sheets the phrase, ‘Quoi de neuf?’ meaning ‘What’s new?’ and this a great way to encourage the person you’re engaged in conversation with to talk to you (and so you become the listener.) A common way of saying ‘You’re welcome’ is ‘De rien’, but why not add variety to your French and use the synonym ‘Il n’y a pas de quoi’. It sounds beautiful… And finally, in our last crib sheet, we had the expression, ‘Tu as de quoi noter?’ meaning ‘Do you have something to write with?’ The de quoi used here is very handy as it can be used with many verbs. For example, you could say, ‘Je rentre plus tard. Il y a de quoi manger dans le frigo, d’accord ?’ meaning ‘I’m coming home later. There’s something to eat in the fridge, okay ?’

So there you have it – another small word in French with a myriad of meanings! J’espère que vous avez trouvé cet article utile, quoi :)

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