In this article, we are going to talk about two important Chinese question particles: 呢 ne and 吗 ma. What is 吗 ma? And what is 呢 ne? In short, 吗 ma is used to ask a yes-no question. And the meaning of 呢 ne is asking a “how about…” bounce back question. Let’s start!
Chinese Question Particle: 呢 ne
What does 呢 ne mean? 呢 ne is a Chinese question particle that is used in a question responding to another question. 呢 ne also can be used in questions related to a statement. It immediately follows, like the English phrase “how, how about, or what about.” We place “呢 ne” at the end of the sentence.
A: 你今天好吗？ Nǐ jīntiān hǎo ma?
A: How are you today?
B: 我很好，你呢？ Wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?
B: I am fine. How about you?
(After B answers A’s question, he asks “你呢 nǐ ne,” which means how about you. It makes the question bounce back to A. A may answer “我很好 Wǒ hěn hǎo” as well.)
A: 我喜欢吃中国菜，你 呢？ Wǒ xǐhuān chī zhōngguó cài, nǐ ne?
A: I like eating Chinese food. How about you?
(Same as example 1, A says a statement and would like to know whether the person she is talking to has the same or an opposite opinion. So, the question bounces back to the topic of food.)
A: 你妈妈是老师，你爸爸 呢？ Nǐ māmā shì lǎoshī, nǐ bàba ne?
A: Your mom is a teacher; what about your dad?
(The topic is about the occupations of someone’s parents. The question “你爸爸 呢 nǐ bàba ne” is related to the statement that was just mentioned.)
A: 我知道你去过中国好多次，日本呢？ Wǒ zhīdào nǐ qùguò zhōngguó hǎoduō cì, rìběn ne?
A: I know you have been to China many times, how about Japan?
(A statement was addressed at the beginning and followed by a question related to the topic. So we use 呢 ne.)
Chinese Question Particle: 吗 ma
What does 吗 ma mean? It is another Chinese question particle that can make a yes-no question. In other words, if a question ends with “吗 ma,” the answer to that question will be either yes or no. In Chinese, there are two common ways to make yes-no questions. Let’s talk about it.
Place “吗 ma” at the end of a statement sentence.
When you form a yes or no question sentence with “吗 ma,” the sentence should come from a statement sentence. For instance:
Here is a statement sentence:
Tā xǐhuān lǜsè.
He likes green.
When you add “吗 ma” at the end of the sentence, it becomes,
Tā xǐhuān lǜsè ma?
The translation becomes: Does he like green (color)?
Let’s see a couple more examples!
李友 常常 看 电影。 (Statement)
Lǐ yǒu chángcháng kàn diànyǐng.
Li You often watches movies.
李友 常常 看 电影 吗？ (Question)
Lǐ yǒu chángcháng kàn diànyǐng ma?
Does Li You often watch movies?
The same idea can also be used in a negative sentence. Let’s see two examples below:
Tā bú shì lǎoshī.
He is NOT a teacher.
Tā bú shì lǎoshī ma?
Isn’t he a teacher?
Wǒ juédé zhōngwén bù nán.
I think Chinese is not hard.
Nǐ juédé zhōngwén bù nán ma?
Do you think Chinese is not hard?
(By adding 吗 ma at the end of a negative statement sentence it can also become a yes-no question.)
Let’s see some more examples with answers.
A: 你喜欢喝茶吗？ Nǐ xǐhuān hē chá ma?
A: Do you like drinking tea?
B: 我很喜欢！ Wǒ hěn xǐhuān!
B: Yes, I like it!
A: 他喜欢吃中国菜吗？ Tā xǐhuān chī zhōngguó cài ma?
A: Does he like Chinese food?
B: 不，他不喜欢。 Bù, tā bù xǐhuān.
B: No, he does not.
A: 你妈妈是英文老师吗？Nǐ māmā shì yīngwén lǎoshī ma?
A: Is your mom an English teacher?
B: 是 (的)，她是高中英文老师。 Shì (de), tā shì gāozhōng yīngwén lǎoshī.
B: Yes, she is. She is a high school English teacher.
A: 你去过中国吗？ Nǐ qùguò zhōngguó ma?
A: Have you been to China before?
B: 没有，我没去过。 méi yǒu. wǒ méi qùguò.
B: No, I have not been there.
A-not-A sentence structure
Another way to make a yes-no question sentence in Chinese is the structure we call A-not-A sentence structure. Since it is not the focus of this article, we will just briefly talk about it. And of course, we have this A-not-A grammar post and infographic you can study.
The basic structure looks like this
Verb + 不 + verb
Adjective + 不 + adjective
Let’s use a couple of the same examples from above.
你妈妈 是 英文老师。Nǐ māmā shì yīngwén lǎoshī. (Statement)
Your mother is an English teacher.
你妈妈 是 英文老师 吗？Nǐ māmā shì yīngwén lǎoshī ma? (Using 吗 ma to make a yes-no question sentence)
Is your mother an English teacher?
你妈妈 是不是 英文老师? Nǐ māmā shì bùshì yīngwén lǎoshī? (Using A-not-A to make yes-no question sentence)
Is your mother an English teacher?
(You can think this way, the literal translation will look like this, your mother is or is not an English teacher?)
中文很难。Zhōngwén hěn nán. (Statement)
Chinese is hard.
中文很难吗？Zhōngwén hěn nán ma? (Using 吗 ma to make yes-no question sentence)
Is Chinese hard?
中文难不难？Zhōngwén nàn bù nán? (Using A-not-A to make yes-no question sentence)
Is Chinese hard?
Chinese Question Particles 呢 ne 吗 ma Practice Questions
Are you becoming familiar with this grammar? Here are some questions and you can find the answers in the infographics below. We have answers for both simplified and traditional Chinese versions.
- A: My surname is Li. How about you?
- A: Is your older sister a college student?
B: No, she is not.
- A: Do you like her?
B: Yes, I do.
- A: I am studying Chinese. How about you?
B: I am studying Latin.
Chinese Question Particles 呢 ne 吗 ma Simplified Chinese Version Infographic
Chinese Question Particles 呢 ne 吗 ma Traditional Chinese Version Infographic
Chinese Question Particles 呢 ne 吗 ma Video
Chinese Question Particles 呢 ne 吗 ma Can-do Checklist
Use the “can-do” list to check if you learned this grammar.
⃞ I understand when to use the question particle “呢 ne.”
⃞ I understand when to use the question particle “吗 ma.”
⃞ I can use both “呢 ne” and “吗 ma” correctly in sentences.
⃞ I can orally answer both “呢 ne” and “吗 ma” questions correctly in conversation.
⃞ I can answer both “呢 ne” and “吗 ma” questions correctly in written form.