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Tips on Learning Chinese Interrogative Sentences

Asking questions in Chinese is as important as learning basic survival sentences. Chinese is a tonal language so when you ask a question, it is not as simple as raising your tone at the end of an interrogative sentence like people do in English. When a tone changes in Chinese, the very meaning of the word will change too. With this in mind, you may ask simple questions in Chinese by using an interrogative particle, the affirmative-negative sentence structure, or a question word. This article will introduce some particles and structures that are commonly used to help you correctly learn how to ask questions in Mandarin. (Besides, you can also check the video summary about the interrogative sentences as well as more HSK1 related grammar tutorial videos at here.)

1. You may be very familiar with particles “吗” and “呢”. In Chinese, you can just put them at the end of a sentence to ask questions, such as:

你是老师吗?(Nǐ shì lǎo shī ma) Are you a teacher?

今天是星期一吗?(Jīn tiān shì xīng qī yī ma) Is it Monday today?

你干什么呢?(Nǐ gàn shén me ne?) What are you doing?

我喜欢这本书,你觉得呢?(Wǒ xǐ huān zhè běn shū, nǐ jué de ne?)
I like this book and what do you think?

2. Besides “吗” and “呢”, we can add “好” or “可以” and make “好吗” or “可以吗” at the end of sentence. “好吗” is used to ask suggestions from others and “可以吗” is used to ask for permission, such as:

我们明天一起去长城,好吗?(Wǒ men míng tiān yì qǐ qù cháng chéng, hǎo ma?)
Shall we go to the Great Wall together tomorrow?

借我一下你的笔,可以吗?(Jiè wǒ yí xià nǐ de bǐ,kě yǐ ma?)
Can I borrow your pen?

3. The particles“什么”, “怎么”, “哪里”, “谁” and“为什么” are used to ask “what”, “how”, “where”, “Who” and “why” in Chinese. If you want to ask something specific, these particles are really helpful, such as:

你想吃什么?(Nǐ xiǎng chī shén me?) What do you want to eat?

你叫什么名字?(Nǐ jiào shén me míng zi?) What is your name?

去故宫怎么走?(Qù gù gōng zěn me zǒu?) How can I get to the Imperial Place?

这道题怎么做?(Zhè dào tí zěn me zuò?) How can I solve this question?

哪里能买到汉语词典?(Nǎ lǐ néng mǎi dào hàn yǔ cí diǎn?)
Where can I buy a Chinese dictionary?

你要去哪里?(Nǐ yào qù nǎ lǐ?) Where would you want to go?

他是谁?(Tā shì shuí?) Who is he?

谁是美国人? (Shuí shì měi guó rén?) Who is an American?

他为什么没来?(Tā wèi shén me méi lái?) Why doesn’t he come?

4. When you want to ask how much or how many about something or somebody in Chinese, you can use “几”, “多”, such as:

这件衣服多少钱?(Zhè jiàn yī fu duō shǎo qián?) How much are these clothes?

这孩子多大了?(Zhè hái zi duō dà le?) How old is this child?

现在几点了?(Xiàn zài jǐ diǎn le?) What is the time now?

你要几个苹果?( Nǐ yào jǐ gè píng guǒ) How many apples do you want?

5. Another construction for a question is the “ Verb-不-Verb” format, that is to say, a verb is followed by “不”(bù) which means not, no or don’t and the verb is repeated. This construction is used to confirm something that people are not very sure about and the examples are as follows:

你是不是医生?( Nǐ shì bú shì yī shēng?) Are you a doctor or not?

小明吃不吃香蕉?(Xiǎo míng chī bù chī xiāng jiāo)
Does Xiaoming eat bananas or not?

妈妈看不看电视?(Mā ma kàn bú kàn diàn shì?) Does mother watch TV or not?

6. Some associated statements, like “(是)…还是”(shì…hái shì)(…. Or….), are good for you to give people some choices and ask them which one is better, such as:

你是吃中国菜还是吃美国菜?( Nǐ shì chī zhōng guó cài hái shì měi guó cài)
Do you eat Chinese food or American food?

这是梨还是苹果?(Zhè shì lí hái shì píng guǒ?) Is this pear or apple?

Helen Fang

Helen is a master of Teaching Chinese as A Foreign Language. She worked in South Korea for one year to teach Chinese in Confucius Institute. She has published some thesis relating to teaching Chinese on “Chinese teaching and research”. Many years learning and teaching make her put the theories into practice. Now, she is working as senior Mandarin teacher at TouchChinese.

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