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N’est-ce pas?: How to make question tags in French

Celine Segueg

Adding a few words to a sentence can completely change its meaning, isn’t that right? Or should I say, n’est-ce pas? This French expression is quite common at the end of a sentence, and its purpose is to turn the statement into a question; most often, a rhetorical one.

In this post, let’s see the meaning of n’est-ce pas?, how to translate it into English, and how commonly it is used in the French language.

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N’est-ce pas? in English: literal meaning

Literaly, the french expression n’est-ce pas? can be translated to is it not? in English.

Yet, to get the correct n’est-ce pas? translation, one should rather understand it as isn’t it?, isn’t that so?, isn’t that right?, or right?. Moreover, n’est-ce pas in English can also be translated to don’t you, didn’t she, aren’t we, and other forms of question tags.

Taken bite by bite, n’est-ce pas is composed of: n est ce pas? The letter n’ with an apostrophe is short for ne, and it works with pas to create the negation. Est is the verb être conjugated in the third person of the singular. And ce is a demonstrative that is used with the verb être. And of course, as it’s always a question, it ends with a question mark.

To learn everything to know about that essential verb, être, check our post about the conjugation and meaning of the verb être.

While most often translated to right?, it’s important to note that n’est-ce pas in French is rather formal. In spoken French, people often use other informal options at the end of their sentences to turn them into rhetorical questions, just as you might use huh? in English. A couple of comparable expressions in French are hein?, c’est pas vrai?, or pas vrai?

As for the pronunciation, n’est-ce pas? has nothing challenging: it is pronounced in two syllables like “ness pa” (/n‿ɛs pa/). Note that writing n’est ce pas by omitting the dash is incorrect.

N’est-ce pas? Meaning in French

N’est-ce pas? is strictly used to create tag questions. By this, we mean that by adding n’est-ce pas?, an affirmative sentence is turned into an interrogative one, usually for a yes-or-no question. The point is to transform the affirmation into a question, in order to confirm the statement.

If you suddenly doubt whether something has been done, but you want to make the hypothesis that it has, you may say something like:

  • You sent the bill, right? – Tu as bien envoyé la facture, n’est-ce pas?

Note that you should not conjugate n’est-ce pas? to any specific subject like you might do in English. Likewise, you shouldn’t repeat the sentence’s subject or verb within the question tag as you might in English.

Take these examples, which are incorrect in French:

  • She is funny, isn’t she? – Elle est drôle, n’est-elle pas?
  • They are Parisians, aren’t they? – Ils sont Parisiens, ne sont-ils pas?

Instead, the n’est-ce pas? always keeps the same form. These French translations are correct:

  • She is funny, isn’t she? – Elle est drôle, n’est-ce pas?
  • They are Parisians, aren’t they? – Ils sont Parisiens, n’est-ce pas?

How to use N’est-ce pas?

Using n’est-ce pas? isn’t rocket science, and is accessible to any French level. It is used when the person speaking expects some sort of response, or is making a rhetorical question. It’s a bit formal, however, so you’ll find it mainly in written form unless the speaker wants to be sarcastic. Let’s see a few examples to understand it better.

First, remember that it is used, most of the time, at the end of a statement in order to make it a question and get a confirmation:

  • His birthday is this Thursday, right? – C’est ce jeudi son anniversaire, n’est-ce pas?
  • You watered the plants, didn’t you? – Tu as arrosé les plantes, n’est-ce pas?
  • His behaviour is strange, right? – Son comportement est étrange, n’est-ce pas?

As French people use sarcasm a lot, it comes without a surprise that n’est-ce pas? can be used in a sarcastic way. Usually, to imply something that is the opposite of the statement:

  • You’re gonna wait for me to take care of it, aren’t you? – Tu vas attendre que je m’en occupe, n’est-ce pas?
  • Don’t bother studying since you already know everything by heart, don’t you? – C’est pas la peine que tu révises puisque tu connais déjà tout par coeur, n’est-ce pas?

Likewise, you can use n’est-ce pas? when you want something to happen in the future, but instead of asking for it directly, you’re being a bit sarcastic to make your request:

  • He’s going to pick up his things from my place, right? – Il va récupérer ses affaires chez moi, n’est-ce pas?
  • You’re gonna let it slide and carry on, got it? – Tu vas laisser faire sans réagir, n’est-ce pas?

N’est-ce pas? can also be used as a standalone, to answer someone’s statement by confirming it. Imagine a friend is amazed by the weather and tells you what a lovely day it is. You could approve by answering:

  • N’est-ce pas? – Isn’t it?

Conclusion

When it comes to making question tags, French is actually easier than English, which is rare enough to be highlighted!

The French expression n’est-ce pas? can simply be added to the end of an affirmative sentence, whether to elicit a basic response of confirmation, or to make it into a simple rhetorical question.

Adding to its simplicity, n’est-ce pas? doesn’t even need to be conjugated or to agree with any subject or gender, but is always rather used as is. Easy!

Now you’re all set to use this expression like a native French speaker, n’est-ce pas?

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