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using Est-ce que vs Pouvez-vous



I am having a hard time deciding when to use Est-ce que vs Pouvez-vous.





Est-ce que literally, and for all practical purposes, means “is it that?”. However, it can be translated into English in various ways depending upon the context. Pouvez-vous simply means "are you able /  can you?".


So, for purposes of simply comparing the two phrases:


Est-ce que vous venez chez moi ? Is it that you are coming to my house? or, more simply, Are you coming to my house?

Pouvez-vous venir chez moi ? Can you come to my house?


Est-ce que vous allez m'aider ?  Is it that you are going to help me? or, more simply, Are you going to help me?

Pouvez-vous m'aider ? Can you help me?


Notice that, in both of these examples, est-ce que is just an alternative to the subject-verb inverversion that is used in pouvez-vous  when asking a question. In other words, you could just as easily say, venez-vous chez moi in the first example, and allez-vous m'aider in the second example. Or, est-ce que vous pouvez in either example, but this form strikes me as highly irregular, although grammatically correct. Native speakers generally consider subject-verb inversion to be the more formal manner of speaking.


So, you could say that the difference between est-ce que vous and pouvez-vous is that the former means are you? and the latter means can you?, but I wouldn't. Est-ce que appears in too many forms for me to recommend that simplification. For example, Est-ce que tu m'aimes ? means Is it that you love me? or, more simply, Do you love me? There are countless other examples.


Notice also that pouvez-vous will be followed by an infinitive verb. Est-ce que would never be followed by an infinitive verb.


Feel free to ask any additional questions if this isn't clear.



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