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How to Use Question Words in Chinese

Here are the basic question words you’ll need to know in Chinese:

 

什么
shénme
what

哪里 哪儿
nǎlǐ/nǎr
where

哪(个)
nǎ (ge)
which


shéi or shuí
who

什么时候
shénme shíhou
when

为什么
wèishénme
why

怎么
zěnme
how

多少
duōshao
how many/much

Unlike in English, ‘what, who, where, which, how much’ don’t go at the beginning of the sentence in Chinese. They go in the same place as the thing you are asking about if the sentence was a statement.

这是一条鱼
Zhè shì yī tiáo yú
This is a fish

这是什么?
Zhè shì shénme?
What is this?

‘What’ goes in the same place as ‘a fish’ (at the end of the sentence)

你在上海
Nǐ zài Shànghǎi
You are in Shanghai

你在哪里?
Nǐ zài nǎlǐ?
Where are you?

‘Where’ goes in the same place as ‘Shanghai’ (at the end of the sentence)

你是我的同事
Nǐ shì wǒ de tóngshì
You are my colleague

你是谁?
Nǐ shì shéi?
Who are you?

‘Who’ goes in the same place as ‘my colleague’ (at the end of the sentence)

你喜欢这个颜色
Nǐ xǐhuan zhège yánsè
You like this colour

你喜欢哪个颜色?
Nǐ xǐhuan nǎge yánsè?
Which colour do you like?

‘Which’ goes in the same place as ‘this colour’ (at the middle/end of the sentence)

你邀请了七个人
Nǐ yāoqǐng le qī gè rén
You invited seven people

你邀请了多少人?
Nǐ yāoqǐng le duōshao rén?
How many people did you invite?

‘How many/much’ goes in the same place as ‘seven people’ (close to the end of the sentence)

In Chinese, ‘When / why / how’ go just after the subject. They are often the second ‘unit of meaning’ in the sentence.

你什么时候去中国?
Nǐ shénme shíhòu qù zhōngguó?
When are you going to China?

Literally: you what time go China

‘When’ goes after the subject ‘you’, as the 2nd unit of meaning in the sentence

你为什么要走?
Nǐ wèishénme yào zǒu?
Why do you have to leave?

Literally: you why have to leave

‘Why’ goes after the subject ‘you’, as the 2nd unit of meaning in the sentence

你怎么知道我的名字?
Nǐ zěnme zhīdào wǒ de míngzi?
How do you know my name?

Literally: you how know my name

‘How’ goes after the subject ‘you’, as the 2nd unit of meaning in the sentence.