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 ?)
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.