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2.9: Lesson 1 Grammar - Question Pronouns

  • Page ID
    65602
  • 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.

    Common Question Words List 

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

    • 什么
      shénme
      what
       
    • 哪里、哪儿
      nǎlǐ, nǎr
      where
       
    • 哪个
      nǎge
      which
       

    • shéi
      who
      [Note: In Chinese, this can also be pronounced as "shuí".]
       
    • 什么时候
      shénme shíhou
      when
       
    • 为什么
      wèishénme
      why
       
    • 怎么
      zěnme
      how
       
    • 多少
      duōshao
      how 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:

    • 你是谁?
      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 (nǎ lǐ) and 哪儿 (nǎr) mean the same thing. The difference is simply regional preference: 哪里 (nǎ lǐ) is preferred in the south such as in Shanghai and Taiwan, whereas 哪儿 (nǎr) is preferred in the north such as in Beijing and Xi'an.

    Structure 

    Subj. + Verb + 哪里 / 哪儿 ?

    Examples 

    • A: 你在哪里?
      Nǐ zài nǎlǐ?
      Where are you?

      B: 我在家。
      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: 你是谁?
      Nǐ shì shéi?
      Who are you?

      B: 我是他女朋友。
      Wǒ shì tā nǚpéngyou.
      I'm his girlfriend.
       
    • A: 她是谁?
      Tā shì shéi?
      Who is she?

      B: 她是我的老师。
      Tā shì wǒ de lǎoshī.
      She's my teacher.
       
    • A: 你不喜欢谁?
      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: 谁想去?
      Shéi xiǎng qù?
      Who wants to go?

      B: 我想去。
      Wǒ xiǎng qù.
      I want to go.
       
    • A: 谁想喝咖啡?
      Shéi xiǎng hē kāfēi?
      Who wants to drink coffee?

      B: 我想喝咖啡。
      Wǒ 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 follow below. To keep things simple, I've just included questions about the future. Asking questions about the past can be slightly more complicated and may involve the "shi... de" construction, which we' ll learn later.

    Examples 

    • A: 你什么时候来?
      Nǐ shénme shíhou lái?
      When are you coming?

      B: 我明天来。
      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: 你为什么学中文?
      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: 他为什么不来?
      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.

    Expressing "How" with 怎么 (zěnme) 

    Structure 

    Subj. + 怎么 + Verb (+ Obj.) ?

    Examples 

    • A: 你怎么学习中文?
      Nǐ zěnme xuéxí Zhōngwén?
      How do you study Chinese?

      B: 我上网学习中文 。
      Wǒ shàngwǎng xuéxí zhōngwén.
      I study Chinese online.
       
    • A: 你怎么上网?
      Nǐ zěnme shàngwǎng?
      How do you go online?

      B: 我用手机上网。
      Wǒ yòng shǒujī shàngwǎng.
      I use my cell phone to go online.
       
    • A: 你怎么去北京?
      Nǐ zěnme qù Běijīng?
      How do you go to Beijing?

      B: 我坐火车去。
      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: 我开车回家。
      Wǒ kāichē huíjiā.
      I‘m driving home.
       
    • A: 你怎么买票?
      Nǐ zěnme mǎi piào?
      How do you buy tickets?

      B: 我上网买票。
      Wǒ shàngwǎng mǎi piào.
      I go online to buy tickets.

    Word Order for Question Pronouns 

    How can you know whether to use a question noun, like 谁 shéi ('who'), in the beginning or ending of a question?  It's quite easy: just use it in the same position where the answer would appear.  Chinese is an SVO language, which means that subjects (S) generally come before verbs (V) and objects (O) usually come after verbs.

    Therefore, if 谁 is asking the identity of someone who is the subject of the sentence, then it should go at the beginning.  If it is asking about the identity of someone who is the object of a sentence, then it should go at the end.  Note that 谁 can also be the object of a co-verb like 给. 

    Consider these examples, and look at how the answer to the question posed by 谁 appears in the same place grammatically as the word 谁 itself:

    • 谁喜欢喝茶?
      我喜欢喝茶。
       
    • 谁姓张?
      我姓张。
       
    • 你常常给谁打电话?
      我常常给我妈妈打电话。
       
    • 那个男孩子是谁?
      那个男孩子是我弟弟。

    [some sections adapted from AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 3.0]

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    Any Questions? 

    If you have any questions about this grammar point, please ask in the class forums!