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2.2: Placement of question words

  • Page ID
    30630
  • Who, what, when, where, why, and how: these question words are all used when forming questions in Chinese. The important thing to remember is that word order is the same in Chinese for questions and statements.

    Overview

    Common Question Words List

    In English, question words are also known as wh-words, as the majority of them begin with wh:

    • 什么shénmewhat
    • 哪里 、 哪儿nǎlǐ, nǎrwhere
    • 哪个nǎgewhich
    • In spoken Chinese, people normally say "shéi," not "shuí"shéiwho
    • 什么时候shénme shíhouwhen
    • 为什么wèishénmewhy
    • 怎么zěnmehow
    • 多少duōshaohow many / how much

    Rules

    In English, question words have to be placed at the beginning of the sentence. This involves changing the word order to allow this rearrangement. In Chinese, using question words is a lot simpler. You simply place a question word in the place of the thing you want to ask about. Nothing needs to be rearranged.

    So if the statement is

    • 我 是 小李 。Wǒ shì Xiǎo Lǐ.I am Xiao Li.

    the question form - "who are you?" - has the same word order:

    • 你 是 ?Nǐ shì shéi?Who are you? (you are who?)

    This works for whatever it is you want to ask about. The question form has the same word order as the statement form.

    Expressing "What" with 什么 (shénme)

    Structure

    Subj. + Verb + 什么 + (Noun) ?

    Examples

    • A: 这 是 什么?Zhè shì shénme?What is this?
    • B:这 是 我 的 iPad。Zhè shì wǒ de iPad.This is my iPad.
    • A:你 喜欢 吃 什么 菜?Nǐ xǐhuan chī shénme cài?What kind of food do you like?
    • B:我 喜欢 吃 中国 菜。Wǒ xǐhuan chī Zhōngguó cài.I like Chinese food.
    • A:你 用 什么 手机?Nǐ yòng shénme shǒujī?What kind of cell phone do you use?
    • B:我 用 iPhone。Wǒ yòng iPhone.I use an iPhone.
    • A:你 在 看 什么 书?Nǐ zài kàn shénme shū?What kind of book are you reading?
    • B:我 在 看 小说。Wǒ zài kàn xiǎoshuō.I am reading a novel.
    • A:他 开 什么 车?Tā kāi shénme chē?What kind of car does he drive?
    • B:他 开 宝马。Tā kāi Bǎomǎ.He drives a BMW.

    Expressing "Where" with 哪里 (nǎlǐ) / 哪儿 (nǎr)

    The words 哪里 (nǎlǐ) and 哪儿 (nǎr) mean the same thing. The difference is simply regional preference: 哪里 (nǎlǐ) is preferred in the south (Shanghai, Taiwan), whereas 哪儿 (nǎr) is preferred in the north (Beijing, Xi'an).

    Structure

    Subj. + Verb + 哪里 / 哪儿 ?

    Examples

    • A:你 在 哪里?Nǐ zài nǎlǐ?Where are you?
    • B:我 在 。Wǒ zài jiā.I'm at home.
    • A:你 要 去 哪儿?Nǐ yào qù nǎr?Where are you going now?
    • B:我 要 去 洗手间。Wǒ yào qù xǐshǒujiān.I'm going to the bathroom.
    • A:我们 在 哪儿?Wǒmen zài nǎr?Where are we?
    • B:我们 在 南京西路。Wǒmen zài Nánjīng Xī Lù.We are at West Nanjing road.
    • A: 这 个 周末 你 想 去 哪儿?Zhège zhōumò nǐ xiǎng qù nǎr?Where do you want to go this weekend?
    • B:我 想 去 公园。Wǒ xiǎng qù gōngyuán.I want to go to the park.
    • A: 你好,你 要 去 哪儿?Nǐhǎo, nǐ yào qù nǎr?Hello, where do you want to go?
    • B:我 要 去 外滩。Wǒ yào qù Wàitān.I want to go to the Bund.

    Expressing "Which" with 哪个 (nǎge)

    Structure

    Subj. + Verb + 哪个 (+ Noun) ?

    Examples

    • A:你 要 哪个?Nǐ yào nǎge?Which one do you want?
    • B:我 要 这个。Wǒ yào zhège.I want this one.
    • A:你 喜欢 哪 个 菜?Nǐ xǐhuan nǎge cài?Which dish do you like?
    • B:我 喜欢 这 个 菜。Wǒ xǐhuan zhège cài.I like this dish.
    • A: 我们 去 哪 个 饭店?Wǒmen qù nǎge fàndiàn?Which restaurant are we going to?
    • B: 我们 去 你 妈妈 的 饭店。Wǒmen qù nǐ māma de fàndiàn.We are going to your mom's restaurant.
    • A: 你 在 哪 个 房间?Nǐ zài nǎge fángjiān?Which room are you in?
    • B: 我 在 你 的 房间。Wǒ zài nǐ de fángjiān.I'm in your room.
    • A: 你 住 在 哪 个 区?Nǐ zhù zài nǎge qū?Which district do you live in?
    • B: 我 住 在 静安 区。Wǒ zhù zài Jìng'ān Qū .I live in Jing'an District.

    Expressing "Who" with 谁 (shéi)

    Structure

    Subj. + 是 + 谁 ?

    谁 + Verb ?

    Examples

    • A:你 是 ?Nǐ shì shéi?Who are you?
    • B:我 是 他 女朋友。Wǒ shì tā nǚpéngyou.I'm his girlfriend.
    • A:她 是 ?Tā shì shéi?Who is she?
    • B:她 是 我的老师。Tā shì wǒ de lǎoshī.She‘s my teacher.
    • A:你 不 喜欢 ?Nǐ bù xǐhuan shéi?Who do you not like?
    • B:我 不 喜欢 我 的 老板。Wǒ bù xǐhuan wǒ de lǎobǎn.I don't like my boss.
    • A: 想 去?Shéi xiǎng qù?Who wants to go?
    • B: 想 去。 xiǎng qù.I want to go.
    • A: 想 喝 咖啡?Shéi xiǎng hē kāfēi?Who wants to drink coffee?
    • B: 想 喝 咖啡。 xiǎng hē kāfēi.I want to drink coffee.

    Expressing "When" with 什么时候 (shénme shíhou)

    Structure

    Subj. + 什么时候 + Predicate ?

    Examples for asking and telling when (to keep things simple, we'll just include questions about the future; asking questions about the past can be slightly more complicated and may involve the "shi... de" construction).

    Examples

    • A:什么时候 来 ?Nǐ shénme shíhou lái?When are you coming?
    • B:明天 来。Wǒ míngtiān lái.I'm coming tomorrow.
    • A:你们 什么时候 走?Nǐmen shénme shíhou zǒu?When are you guys leaving?
    • B:我们 下 个 月 走。Wǒmen xià gè yuè zǒu.We're leaving next month.
    • A:我们 什么时候 吃饭?Wǒmen shénme shíhou chīfàn?When are we eating?
    • B:我们 6 点 吃饭。Wǒmen liù diǎn chīfàn.We're eating at 6:00.
    • A:爸爸 什么时候 回来?Bàba shénme shíhou huílái?When is dad coming back?
    • B:爸爸 周末 回来。Bàba zhōumò huílái.Dad is coming back this weekend.
    • A:你 的 飞机 什么时候 到 上海?Nǐ de fēijī shénme shíhou dào Shànghǎi?When is your airplane arriving in Shanghai?
    • B:晚上 八点。Wǎnshang bā diǎn.Eight o'clock this evening.

    Expressing "Why" with 为什么 (wèishénme)

    Structure

    Subj. + 为什么 + Predicate ?

    Examples

    • A:为什么 学 中文?Nǐ wèishénme xué Zhōngwén?Why do you study Chinese?
    • B:因为 我 在 中国 工作。Yīnwèi wǒ zài Zhōngguó gōngzuò.Because I'm working in China.
    • A:他们 为什么 不 喝 咖啡?Tāmen wèishénme bù hē kāfēi?Why don't you drink coffee?
    • B:因为 咖啡 很 苦。Yīnwèi kāfēi hěn kǔ.Because coffee is bitter.
    • A:为什么 不 来?Tā wèishénme bù lái?Why isn't he coming?
    • B:因为 他 很 忙。Yīnwèi tā hěn máng.Because he is busy.
    • A:你 早上 为什么 不 在?Nǐ zǎoshang wèishénme bù zài?Why were you not here this morning?
    • B:因为 我 出去 见 朋友 了。Yīnwèi wǒ chūqù jiàn péngyou le.Because I went out to meet some friends.
    • A:这些 外国人 为什么 不 喜欢 中国?Zhèxiē wàiguó rén wèishénme bù xǐhuan Zhōngguó?Why do these foreigners not like China?
    • B:因为 中国 人 太多。Yīnwèi Zhōngguó rén tài duō.Because China has a lot of people.

    Expressing "How" with 怎么 (zěnme)

    Structure

    Subj. + 怎么 + Verb (+ Obj.) ?

    Examples

    • A:怎么 学习 中文?Nǐ zěnme xuéxí Zhōngwén?How do you study Chinese?
    • B:用 Grammar Wiki 学习 中文 。Wǒ yòng Grammar Wiki xuéxí Zhōngwén.I use the Grammar Wiki to study Chinese.
    • A:怎么 上网?Nǐ zěnme shàngwǎng?How do you go online?
    • B:用 手机 上网。Wǒ yòng shǒujī shàngwǎng.I use my cell phone to go online.
    • A:怎么 去 北京?Nǐ zěnme qù Běijīng?How do you go to Beijing?
    • B:坐 火车 去。Wǒ zuò huǒchē qù.I take the train.
    • A:你们 怎么 回家 ?Nǐmen zěnme huíjiā?How are you guys going to get home?
    • B:开车 回家。Wǒ kāichē huíjiā.I‘m driving home.
    • A:怎么 买 票 ?Nǐ zěnme mǎi piào?How do you buy tickets?
    • B:上网 买 票 。Wǒ shàngwǎng mǎi piào.I go online to buy tickets.
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