Lesson 3, Topic 3
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Grammar

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Asking questions in Chinese

Essential in any conversation is the ability to ask and answer questions! Let’s discuss two common methods for forming questions in Chinese using grammatical particles 吗 (ma) and 呢 (ne).

Asking questions with 吗 (ma)

To form a question in Chinese, simply add the grammatical particle (“ma”) at the end of a phrase. You do not need to change the word order in the sentence, unlike English and many other European languages! Although we do not have a direct translation of 吗 in English, it can be roughly said to translate as “…right?” – although it has a less assuming tone.

Chinese

Pinyin

English

Statement

你好

nǐ hǎo

You good

Question
(Statement + 吗)

你好?
nǐ hǎo ma?
Are you good?
You might notice that this example we actually encountered earlier – it is used as a greeting to mean “How are you?”. However, the word-by-word translation could be written as “You good, right?” or “Are you good?” (both of which sound a little awkward in English).

Asking questions with 呢 (ne)

After responding to someone’s question, you can bounce it back to them using the reciprocal question word (“ne”). This can be roughly translated as “How about…” or “What about…“.

Chinese

Pinyin

English

你好吗?

nǐ hǎo

You good

我很好,你?
wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?
I'm good, how about you?

我也很好。

wǒ yě hěn hǎo.

I'm also good.

Here, you can see that the grammatical particle 呢 is added after the subject 你 (you) to make the phrase 你呢?(how about you?).