In this article, we are going to talk about 7 question words in Chinese, which includes where, why, when, how, which, who, and what in Chinese. As a Chinese teacher, I admit Chinese is not an easy language to learn. But, I will give credit to the question sentence structure in Chinese. They are so much easier to learn and to understand, compared to the structure in English. Why is it easier in Chinese? Let’s find out.
Before we jump into all 7 question words, let’s talk about something they have in common. If you would like to ask a question in Chinese, (you sort of need to think in reverse.)
First, what question you would like to ask. For example, you would like to know:
What does he like to eat?
Second, if he likes to eat fruit then think about how to say the statement sentence. It will be:
Tā xǐhuān chī shuǐguǒ.
He likes to eat fruit.
OK. This is a statement sentence.
Third, simply replace “fruit” with the question word, which is “what” in this case, at the SAME spot. The sentence will become:
Tā xǐhuān chī shénme?
That’s it! You got the answer. This is the sentence for “what does he like to eat” in Chinese.
OK. Once you have this concept, the content below will be much easier for you.
What 什么 shénme
“What” in Mandarin Chinese is “什么 shénme.” See two examples below:
A: 你 喜欢 吃 什么？ Nǐ xǐhuān chī shénme?
A: What do you like to eat?
B: 我 喜欢 吃 牛肉。 Wǒ xǐhuān chī niúròu.
B: I like to eat beef.
(As you can see from the example above, “什么 shénme, what” is in the same place as “牛肉 niúròu, beef.” It is like you translate the English sentence to “you like to eat what?” Pretty simple, right? And don’t forget to change the subject from you to I. Common sense. Let’s see one more example.)
A: 她 在 做什么？ Tā zài zuò shénme?
A: What is she doing?
B: 她 在 做功课。 Tā zài zuò gōngkè.
B: She is doing homework.
(A is saying: she is doing WHAT? And the answer just replaces WHAT with HOMEWORK.)
Where 哪里 nǎlǐ／哪儿 Nǎ'er
Both 哪里 nǎ lǐ and 哪儿 nǎ er mean “where” in Chinese.
A: 你 周末 要 去 哪里？ Nǐ zhōumò yào qù nǎlǐ?
A: Where are you going on the weekend?
B: 我 周末 要 去 我奶奶家。Wǒ zhōumò yào qù wǒ nǎinai jiā.
B: I am going to my grandma’s house.
(哪里 nǎlǐ and “我奶奶家 wǒ nǎinai jiā” are in the same place in the sentences. One is “where,” one is a location.)
A: 你 住在 哪里？ Nǐ zhù zài nǎlǐ?
A: Where do you live?
B: 我 住在 纽约市。Wǒ zhù zài niǔyuē shì.
B: I live in New York City.
Why 为什么 wèishéme
This one is a bit different since you need to give a reason to answer a “why” question. “Because” in Chinese is “因为 yīnwèi.” We usually place it at the beginning of the sentence.
A: 你 为什么 不喜欢 喝茶？ Nǐ wèishéme bù xǐhuān hē chá?
A: Why don’t you like to drink tea?
B: 因为 我觉得 茶 很苦。 Yīnwèi wǒ juédé chá hěn kǔ.
B: Because I think tea is bitter.
A: 为什么 她 不在家？ Wèishéme tā bù zàijiā?
A: Why is she not home?
B: 因为 她 去 朋友家 吃饭 了。 Yīnwèi tā qù péngyǒu jiā chīfànle.
B: Because she went to her friend’s house to have a meal.
When 什么时候 shénme shíhòu
什么时候 shénme shíhòu can refer to both small and large time frames. It can be used to ask about times as small as a minute, or as large as a year.
A: 你 什么时候 要 去 中国？ Nǐ shénme shíhòu yào qù zhōngguó?
A: When are you going to China?
B: 我 下个月 要 去。 Wǒ xià ge yuè yào qù.
B: I am going next month.
(“什么时候 shénme shíhòu, when” and “下个月 xià ge yuè, next month” are in the same place in sentences.)
A: 她 什么时候 结婚？ Tā shénme shíhòu jiéhūn?
A: When is she getting married?
A: 她 这个周末 结婚？ Tā zhègezhoūmò shíhòu jiéhūn?
B: She is getting married this weekend.
(Note: We have another word for asking “what time,” which is 几点 jǐ diǎn.)
Which 哪 nǎ + measured word
When asking “which,” the form looks like this:
“哪 nǎ + measured word”
I list a few examples below:
Which one: 哪个 nǎge
Which kind: 哪种 nǎ zhǒng
Which side: 哪边 nǎ biān
A: 我们 去 哪个 餐馆？ Wǒmen qù nǎge cānguǎn?
A: Which restaurant are we going to?
B: 我们 去 我朋友 开的 餐馆。 Wǒmen qù wǒ péngyǒu kāi de cānguǎn.
B: We are going to the restaurant that my friend opened.
(哪个餐馆 nǎge cānguǎn, means which restaurant. “个 ge” is the measurement word for “餐馆 cānguǎn.”)
A: 你 想 喝 哪种 茶？ Nǐ xiǎng hē nǎ zhǒng chá?
A: What kind of tea do you want to drink?
B: 我 想 喝 红茶。 Wǒ xiǎng hē hóngchá.
B: I want to have black tea.
How 怎么 zěnme
When answering a “how” question in Chinese, replace “怎么 zěnme” with a solution or an answer.
A: 你 明天 怎么 去 学校？ Nǐ míngtiān zěnme qù xuéxiào?
A: How will you go to school tomorrow?
B: 我 坐 校车 去。 Wǒ zuò xiàochē qù.
B: I will take the school bus.
(How is “怎么 zěnme” and the solution is in the same place, which is “坐 校车 zuò xiàochē, take the school bus” in this case.)
A: 你 怎么 认识 他 的？ Nǐ zěnme rènshì tā de?
A: How do you know him?
B: 我 在 网上 聊天 认识 的。 Wǒ zài wǎngshàng liáotiān rènshì de.
B: I met him online.
Who 谁 shéi / shuí
Both pronunciations, shéi and shuí, are correct. But “shéi” is more commonly used now. “谁 shéi” can be either subject or object. See the two examples below:
A: 她 是 谁？ Tā shì shéi?
A: Who is she?
B: 她 是 我前女友。 Tā shì wǒ qián nǚyǒu.
B: She is my ex-girlfriend.
A: 谁 会 买 晚饭？ Shéi huì mǎi wǎnfàn?
A: Who will buy the dinner?
B: 妈妈 会 买 晚饭。 Māmā huì mǎi wǎnfàn.
B: Mom will buy the dinner.
Question Words in Chinese Simplified Chinese Version Infographic
Question Words in Chinese Traditional Chinese Version Infographic
Question Words in Chinese Video
Question Words in Chinese Worksheets
Question words in Chinese Can-do checklist
Use the “can-do” list to check if you learned this grammar.
⃞ I can tell the structural difference between English and Chinese question sentences.
⃞ I can say “what, where, why, when, which, how and who” in Chinese.
⃞ I can recognize the Chinese characters for “what, where, why, when, which, how and who.”
⃞ I can write “what, where, why, when, which, how and who” in Chinese pinyin/Chinese characters.
⃞ I can recognize “what, where, why, when, which, how and who” when people speak in Chinese.
⃞ I can ask questions with “what, where, why, when, which, how and who” in Chinese.