Quoi in French: What It Means and How to Use It

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

How can you use it in your sentences?

Let’s learn some French.

Index:
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

Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?

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)

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

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!

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!

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À tout de suite.
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Join the conversation!

  • 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!
    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…?
    Cordialement
    Brian

    • 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”.

      • 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…

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

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