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A Beginner’s Guide to Asking Questions in Chinese: Particles and Sentence Patterns

Asking questions in Chinese is not only a vital component of language learning but also a fundamental skill for effective communication.

Mandarin, being a tonal language, requires more than simply raising the pitch at the end of a sentence, as commonly done in English. In Chinese, a change in tone can completely alter the meaning of a word. Therefore, understanding the various particles, structures, and question words used in Mandarin is crucial to ensure accurate and meaningful questioning.

In this article, we will explore commonly used particles and structures that will equip you with the necessary knowledge to confidently ask questions in Mandarin. Additionally, we will provide a video summary of interrogative sentences, as well as other HSK-related grammar tutorial videos to further support your learning journey.

1. Using 吗 and 呢 particles

In Mandarin, you can ask questions by adding the particles 吗(ma) or 呢(ne) at the end of a sentence.

For example:

你是老师?(Nǐ shì lǎoshī ma?)
Are you a teacher?

今天是星期一?(Jīntiān shì xīngqī yī ma?)
Is it Monday today?

你干什么?(Nǐ gàn shénme ne?)
What are you doing?

我喜欢这本书,你觉得?(Wǒ xǐhuān zhè běn shū, nǐ juéde ne?)
I like this book and what do you think?

2. Using 好吗 and 可以吗 for suggestions and permissions

In addition to 吗(ma) and 呢(ne), we can use 好(hǎo) or 可以(kěyǐ) to form 好吗(hǎo ma) or 可以吗(kěyǐ ma) at the end of a sentence. 好吗(hǎo ma) is used to seek suggestions, while 可以吗(kěyǐ ma) is used to ask for permission.

For example:

我们明天一起去长城,好吗?(Wǒmen míngtiān yìqǐ qù chángchéng, hǎo ma?)
Let’s go to the Great Wall together tomorrow, okay?

借我一下你的笔,可以吗?(Jiè wǒ yíxià nǐde bǐ, kěyǐ ma?)
Can I borrow your pen?

3. Using 什么,怎么,哪里,谁, and 为什么

In Mandarin, you will also come across the particles 什么(shénme, what), 怎么(zěnme, how), 哪里(nǎlǐ, where), 谁(shéi, who) and 为什么(wèishénme, why). These particles are particularly useful when you want to inquire about something specific.

For example:

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

你叫什么名字?(Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?)
What is your name?

去故宫怎么走?(Qù gùgōng zěnme zǒu?)
How can I get to the Imperial Place?

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

哪里能买到汉语词典?(Nǎlǐ néng mǎi dào hànyǔ cídiǎn?)
Where can I buy a Chinese dictionary?

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

他是?(Tā shì shéi?)
Who is he?

是美国人? (Shéi shì Měiguó rén?)
Who is an American?

为什么没来?(Tā wèishénme méi lái?)
Why didn’t he come?

4. Using 几 and 多 for how much or how many

In Mandarin, when you need to inquire about the quantity or amount of something, you can utilize the particles 几(jǐ) and 多(duō).

For example:

这件衣服多少钱?(Zhè jiàn yīfu duōshǎo qián?)
How much are these clothes?

这孩子大了?(Zhè háizi duō dà le?)
How old is this child?

现在点了?(Xiànzài jǐ diǎn le?)
What time is it now?

你要个苹果? (Nǐ yào jǐgè píngguǒ?)
How many apples do you want?

5. Using 不 to form affirmative-negative questions

Another question construction involves using the “Verb-不-Verb” format. This structure includes repeating the verb, with the addition of 不 (bù), which means “not,” “no,” or “don’t.” It is used to confirm uncertainties.

For example:

是不是医生?(Nǐ shìbúshì yīshēng?)
Are you a doctor or not?

小明吃不吃香蕉?(Xiǎomíng chībùchī xiāngjiāo?)
Does Xiaoming eat bananas or not?

妈妈看不看电视?(Māma kànbúkàn diànshì?)
Does mother watch TV or not?

6. Using (是)…还是 to form selective questions

The sentence pattern (是)…还是 (shì…hái shì) is a useful tool to offer choices and inquire about preferences. It allows you to ask which option is better or preferred.

For example:

吃中国菜还是吃美国菜?( Nǐ shì chī Zhōngguó cài háishì Měiguó cài?)
Do you eat Chinese food or American food?

还是苹果?(Zhè shì lí háishì píngguǒ?)
Is this a pear or an apple?

Congratulations! You have now gained valuable insights into the art of asking questions in Mandarin. By mastering the essential techniques, particles, and structures we’ve explored, you will be equipped to navigate the nuances of this tonal language and engage in meaningful conversations. As you continue to practice and refine your Mandarin skills, don’t shy away from asking questions whenever you have the opportunity. We hope this guide has provided you with the necessary tools and confidence to embark on a remarkable linguistic adventure.

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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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