Words that ask questions

Question Mark

I mentioned in a previous post that you can often tell if a Mandarin sentence is a question because it will end in (ma). (Similar to ka in Japanese)

But of course there are other words that indicate a question just by being there. Here are the common ones:

什么 (Shén me) – this is pretty generic but basically means "what"

为什么 (Wèi shén me) – this extends 什么 to become "why"

怎么 (Zěn me) – this is close to "how"

哪里 (Nǎ lǐ) – is "where"

(Shéi) – is the equivalent of our "who"

There are several ways of asking how many of something:

多少 (Duō shǎo) – is literally "how many"

One of the things I find odd with 多少 is that it's also used like we use "how much". For example:

多少钱?(Duōshǎo qián?) means "how much money?" but is literally "how many money"

Another common way to ask how many, is to use:


This one is normally followed by a measure word. A common example is:

几个马?(Jǐ gè mǎ?) – this is "how many horses?"

几个爸爸?(Jǐ gè bàba?) – this is "how many fathers?"

The typical answer is just the count and the measure word:

八个爸爸。(Bā gè bàba.) – in this case, eight fathers.

This character (Jǐ) is an odd one as when it's not used in a question, it's often a synonym for "several".

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