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Lesson 4 How to ask questions in Chinese (1)

Posted by Grace Feng on December 11, 2011

Asking questions might have become your basic needs when you’re learning a new language or culture. To meet your basic need at this stage, I compiled all the commonly used Chinese question sentence patterns for you in two lessons. You’ll happily notice that question sentence patterns in Chinese are actually very easy and straight forward. You don’t need to change orders of words, or forms of words at all.

For questions asking for confirmation, all you need to do is churning out your question as a statement, and then add certain exclamatory particle, such as 吗(ma), in the end and a question mark. Done.

Let’s have a look at the right thinking process to form a question in Chinese first:

nǐ shì Zhōng wén lǎo shī ma

你是中文老师吗?

Are you a Chinese teacher?

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1) Structure your question as a positive statement first:

“你是中文老师.”

“You are a Chinese teacher.”

2) Then add exclamatory particle to the end of the sentence. And a question mark to finish it.

“你是中文老师吗?

“You are a Chinese teacher ma?”

Another example:

wǎnshang nǐ lái ma?

晚上你来吗?

Will you come tonight?

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I’ll show you again how did the question got formed. Please be aware that you need to put “when” before verb in Chinese. We’ll come to this topic in next few lessons.

1) Structure your question as a positive statement first:

“晚上你来.”

“You will come tonight.”

2) Then add exclamatory particle to the end of the sentence. And a question mark to finish it.

“晚上你来吗?

“You will come tonight ma?”

Easy, right? As long as you can work out the basic sentence, you’ll be able to turn it into a question. You know what? For a non-English, non-Chinese speaker, to grasp question sentence patterns in English should take longer than that in Chinese. You say Chinese is hard, you really don’t know how hard English is for many Chinese students. :-)

Now you might wonder exactly how many exclamatory particles you can use to form a question in Chinese. Hmn… not many though, in fact, only a few. The following is all I can think of:

ma la le
le ma de
了吗 (possessive particle: “of”)

Please be aware that they are all with fifth tone (pronounced flatly, softer than first tone).

Also four new words we’ll learn in our examples:

gē ge jiě jie rèn shi
哥哥 (elder brother)
姐姐 (elder sister) 认识 (know)
huíjiā
回家

Please use the following estroke tool to help you write them out on paper, so it’ll help you to learn and memorize them:

  • You can copy and paste a few characters together into the box. They’ll show in the animation window one by one.
  • Once the stroke animation stops, click in the animation window and hit ENTER to replay it.
  • You can use the sliding bar to control writing speed of the animation.

Well of course, just as in English, you can turn a Chinese sentence into a question by simply adding a question mark in the end. When you say it, raise the tone of the last character or word a bit to imply it’s a question, not a statement. Let’s listen to some examples, with or without exclamatory particles:

statement:

nǐ shì Mike de gē ge

你是Mike的哥哥.

You’re Mike’s elder brother.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

statement + 吗?

nǐ shì Mike de gē ge ma

你是Mike的哥哥吗?

Are you Mike’s elder brother?

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

statement + ?

nǐ shì Mike de gē ge

你是Mike的哥哥?

You’re Mike’s elder brother?

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Another example:

statement:

nǐ rèn shi tā de jiě jie

认识她的姐姐.

You know her elder sister.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

statement + 吗?

nǐ rèn shi tā de jiě jie

你认识她的姐姐吗?

Do you know her elder sister?

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

statement + ?

nǐ rèn shi tā de jiě jie

认识她的姐姐?

You know her elder sister?

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“了” and “啦” are used to question whether it has completed or not:

statement + 了 (or 啦) ?

tā huí jiā le

她回家了?

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tā huí jiā la

她回家啦?

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Has she gone home? (She’s already at home now?)

 

OK, now, let’s have a break … are you drinking tea, or coffee? Since it’s an vacation day afternoon for me, I’d like to have some snack now.

Enjoy your tea, or coffee, or whatever refreshment you’re taking… stay healthy and see you in next lesson!

 

Related posts:

Reading, Listening and Speaking practice 4
Lesson 30 How to describe the beginning of a period of time in Chinese?
Reading, Listening and Speaking practice 8

 

Category: JLC Chinese grammar lessons

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9 Responses to “Lesson 4 How to ask questions in Chinese (1)”

  1. nothing

    Zhen Ni:

    09-30-2013 7:29 am

    This is a really awesome website. Thank you so much for creating it. It’s very hard to have the smaller things pointed out to you in Chinese. I have been trying so many methods to study and I really needed something to explain some grammar. Great work here?

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      09-30-2013 3:46 pm

      Glad to help, Zhen Ni. Thank you for your kind words! Please don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have.

      希望你持之以恒, 加油!

      Grace

      Reply

      • nothing

        Ryan:

        11-15-2014 2:52 pm

        Hello Grace,
        I’m new to Chinese and I had a question.
        In Chinese you say that the “when” comes before the verb, so the question you framed was “wanshang ni lai ma” does the “when” usually come before the subject as well.

        For example if I said “I eat at night”.
        Would it be Wo wanshang chi. or Wanshang wo chi?
        Thank you!

        Reply

        • nothing

          Grace Feng:

          11-16-2014 5:11 am

          Hi Ryan,

          That’s a very good question you asked – “does the ‘when’ usually come before the subject as well?”

          The answer is “No”.

          Basically, “晚上你来吗?“ and “你晚上来吗?” means the same thing. Both are correct. If you want to emphasize on the “when”, then you can move it before subject.

          If it’s a statement, you can say “晚上你来” or “你晚上来”. No difference.

          “I eat at night.” – You can say, “我晚上吃“ or ”晚上我吃“。Both are valid.

          It makes more sense to put your example into a conversation:

          你吃钙片吗?(Do you eat calcium pills?)
          我晚上吃。 (I eat at night.)
          or 晚上我吃。(I eat at night.)

          Hope it helps …

          Grace

          Reply

  2. nothing

    YRabbit:

    05-14-2015 12:56 am

    Grace, 你好! (*)

    “Also three new words we’ll learn in our examples:” four new words actually :)

    (*) These are two of 40 words I know so far:)

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      05-14-2015 2:43 am

      YRabbit, you’re right, it’s four. I initially thought to list three, but added the fourth when I finished. Good eyes! Thanks.

      Don’t worry, everyone of us started our journey from word number one. It doesn’t matter where you begin, it matters how often you stopped.

      我们一起努力吧!

      Grace

      Reply

  3. nothing

    Kim Wright:

    05-09-2016 2:09 pm

    你好 Grace

    Thank you for your help and I must say first that your website is absolutely brilliant. I just need a little clarification. With regards to tā huí jiā la 她回家啦? translated means “Has she gone home? (She’s already at home now?)” is a little confusing to me. You see in the English language the translation of the closed brackets (she is already at home now) is a totally different meaning to “has she gone home?”. The closed brackets mean you definitely know she has gone home and the open brackets mean you don’t know if she has gone home hence you are asking if she has gone home (to know if she has for sure).

    So if someone asked me a question “has she gone home?” and I replied “she has already gone home”. How is this conversation translated in Chinese Mandarin? I’m guessing the first part of the conversation would be translated as you put it above “她回家啦” but surely the reply would be different. Also, I think maybe I’m tripping over myself as what I’m asking, one would need to use ma? (question participle). Thank you in anticipation of shedding any light on the matter. xie(4) xie

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      05-11-2016 4:54 am

      Hi Kim, that’s a very good question. Sure you did put lots of thoughts in it. :-)

      So the mandarin translation of your question would be:

      “has she gone home?”
      她回家啦? or 她回家了?

      “she has already gone home”
      她已经到家了.

      Hope this helps…

      Reply

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