Learning Mandarin: 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".

Learning Mandarin

I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.

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