Posts tagged: ask questions mandarin chinese

Dec 27 2009

Mandarin Chinese Question Words + Grammar (Who, What, Where, Why, When, How)

Allow me to introduce the most common question words and some examples on how to use them.

Who = shei2 or shui2 (shei2 I believe is more common and is what I personally use)

In English “who” is normally the first word in a question whereas in Chinese it can appear at the end or beginning depending on the question.  Here are some examples :

Who are you ? = ni3 shi4 shei2 ? (literally = you are who ?)

Who would like to eat lunch ? = shei2 xiang3 chi1 wu3fan4 ? (literally = who would like eat lunch – here the grammar and word order is identical to English)

Who is the best ? = shei2 shi4 zui4hao3de ? OR zui4hao3de shi4 shei2 ? (literally = who is best ? OR best is who ?)

What = shen2me

In English “what” is normally the very first word in a question, however in Mandarin it is commonly the last word.

For example the question :

What are you doing tomorrow ?

In Chinese is :

Ni3 ming2tian1 hui4 zuo4 shen2me ? (literally = you tomorrow will do what?”)

Some more examples :

What is this ? = zhe4 shi4 shen2me ? (literally = this is what?)

What would you like to eat ? = ni3 xiang3 chi1  shen2me ? (literally = you would like eat what ?)

What is your problem ? = ni3de wen4ti2 shi4 shen2me ? (literally = your problem is what ?)





Dec 20 2009

Mandarin Chinese Question Words

Here are the most common question words in Chinese

Wh0 – shei2 / shui2 (shei2 is most common but shui2 is used by some people depending on where they are from)

What – shen2me

Where – na3li3

When – shen2me shi2hou4 (literally “what time”)

Why – wei4shen2me (literally “for what”)

How – zen3me

How about / What about – zen3me yang4

When using the question words above you wouldn’t need to use the question tag “ma” because by using a question word we already know it’s a question being asked.  You could however optionally use the “ne” at the end of a sentence using one of the question words above, but “ne” would be optional.  Perhaps similar to how is English we might say “huh” or “eh” at the end of a sentence.

However if you were asking the following question :

Do you know where the post office is ?

Asking this question in Chinese WOULD require the use of “ma” because you aren’t asking WHERE the post office is, you are asking if the person KNOWS where it is.  So the real question is “Do you know something”.

If you didn’t use “ma” at the end of the question then you would literally be TELLING the listener that they know where the post office is.  The “ma” is required to make the statement “You know where the post office is” into a question.  So you would literally say ?

You know post office located where “ma” ?

That is the word order.  You could of course use the other way of asking questions in mandarin and avoid the “ma” by saying :

You know don’t know post office located where ?

By using the “know don’t know” phrase you don’t need to use “ma”.  All “ma” questions can also be asked by stating both the positive and negative in the question instead.

Dec 05 2009

How To Ask Questions in Mandarin Chinese

Asking questions in Chinese couldn’t be easier.  Let’s first compare English statements to questions

He is big

Is he big ?

In English we need to reverse the order of the verb and the pronoun in order to create a question.  However we also have another way to ask questions and that is using intonation.  If we were to make the statement “he is big” but at the end of the sentence raise our voice this conveys the idea of asking a question.  It’s not grammatically a question as the tone cannot be conveyed on paper unless of course we write the question mark like “he is big?”.

In mandarin however they have what I like to think of as a verbal question mark.  In Mandarin Chinese any statement can be turned into a question by simply saying the word “ma1” (1st tone) at the end.  So in the example above you would have :

He big

He big “ma” ?

I think this is a great feature of Mandarin Chinese making it very easy to learn.  Also notice the lack of the verb “to be” in the examples above.  In English we really overuse the verb “to be”.  We have to say “He IS big” but in mandarin it isn’t necessary as it is logically implied.  If we say “he” and then an adjective, logic implies that he IS that adjective.

There is also another way to make a question and that is to say the following :

He big not big ?

So if you don’t want to put “ma” at the end of a sentence to make it a question you can simply give the positive and negative options.  This and the use of “ma” are essentially only useable with yes/no questions.

Finally there is one more way to ask questions that is probably less common and I didn’t know until moving here.  Therefore this method may only be idiomatic or “street chinese” so it may not sound good to every Chinese speaker.  Similar to putting “ma” at the end of a sentence to make it a question you can also put “mei2you” or even just simply “mei2”.   So using our example above you could ask :

He big mei2you ?

He big mei2 ?

But remember this is something I heard after moving here so it could be street slang or whatever.  Use this method carefully.

So there you have it.   Asking a question in Mandarin Chinese is as simple as making a statement and adding the question tag word “ma” at the end or just stating both the positive and negative in the same sentence.

Of course when using actual question words like “who,what, when, where, why, how” etc you wouldn’t use any of the above structures because by using question words it’s already obvious you are using a question.  This is a mistake many foreigners make when speaking Chinese.  They get so used to saying “ma” at the end of a question that they even say “ma” when asking a who,what, when, where, why, or how question.  So try to be careful of that bad habit.

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