How to Ask Chinese Questions: 9 Question Words in Mandarin You Need to Know

You probably already know that if you want to create questions in Chinese, you can add(ma) to the end of your sentences.

The presence of 吗 will force the sentence into a question, requiring a question mark at the end of it.

But there are more question words to use—and that’s what we’ll be talking about here.

In this post, you’ll learn all the words you need to ask Chinese questions—when, where, how and everything in between.


1. (shéi) — Who

The two most common and simplest structures for using this question word are:

Subject + 是 +谁? (To ask a question like, “who is that?” or “who is he/she?”)

谁 + Verb?

For example:

谁去?(shéi qù?) — Who is going?

她是谁?(tā shì shéi?) — Who is she? 

你喜欢听谁的歌?(nǐ xǐ huān tīng shéi de gē?) — Whose songs do you like to listen to?

It’s always good to be able to ask about new people, especially when you’re traveling in China and meeting new people all the time.

The answer to 她是谁 has the same position as the question word, as shown in the following example:

她是小云。(tā shì xiǎo yún.) — She is Xiao Yun.

Hearing this basic question and answer sentence structure in use will help you to learn it better. Use an immersion program like FluentU to see how native Chinese speakers ask (and answer) questions.

2. 什么 (shén me) — What

什么 follows this formula:

Subject + Verb + 什么 (+ Object)?

This word can be used for objects, abstract words, actions, etc.

For example:

这是什么? (zhè shì shén me?) — What is this?

你喜欢吃什么?(nǐ xǐ huān chī shén me?) — What do you like to eat?

你开什么车?(nǐ kāi shén me chē?) — What car do you drive?

3. 哪里 (nǎ lǐ) / 哪儿 (nǎr) — Where

To ask where something is, follow this structure:

Subject + 在 + 哪里 / 哪儿?

The difference between the two variations is that 哪儿 is used in northern China, especially Beijing.

你在哪儿?(nǐ zài nǎr?) — Where are you?

你的哥哥在哪里?(nǐ de gē ge zài nǎ lǐ?) — Where is your older brother?

你把我的手机放在哪儿了?(nǐ bǎ wǒ de shǒu jī fàng zài nǎr le?) — Where did you put my phone?

4. 哪个 (nǎ ge) — Which

This is the question word that you’ll hear a lot when shopping in China, to which you’ll commonly answer with “这个 (zhè ge) — this” or “那个 (nà gè) — that.”

The typical topic structure is:

Subject + Verb+哪个 (+ Object)?

For example:

你要哪个?(nǐ yào nǎ ge?) — Which do you want?

你住在中国的哪个城市? (nǐ zhù zài zhōng guó de nǎ ge chéng shì?) — Which Chinese city do you live in?

你最喜欢哪个季节?(nǐ zuì xǐ huān nǎ ge jì jié?) — Which season is your favorite?

5. 什么时候 (shén me shí hòu) — When

The basic structure for using 什么时候 is as follows:

Subject + 什么时候 + Verb?

For example:

你什么时候回家?(nǐ shén me shí hòu huí jiā?) — When are you coming home?

他什么时候会说完?(tā shénme shí hòu huì shuō wán?) — When will he stop talking?

她什么时候会回美国?(tā shén me shí hòu huì huí měi guó?) — When will she come back to America?

6. 为什么  (wèi shén me) — Why

This question word can be used on its own to create the simple question “why” or used in a more complex structure like:

Subject + 为什么 + Verb?

为 stands for the word “for,” and in this combination, the English equivalent of “what for?”

你为什么吸烟?(nǐ wèi shén me xī yān?) — Why do you smoke?

你为什么学中文?(nǐ wèi shén me xué zhōng wén?) — Why do you study Chinese?

他为什么搬家了?(tā wèi shé me bān jiā le?) — Why did he move away?

7. 怎么 (zěn me) — How

This question word expresses a surprise in the face of an event or situation, and can also express disagreement.

Subject + 怎么 + Verb + Object?

For example:

你怎么不去上课?(nǐ zěn me bú qù shàng kè?) — How can you not go to class?

你是怎么学中文的?(nǐ shì zěn me xué zhōng wén de?) — How do you learn Chinese?

我应该怎么做这个作业?(wǒ  yīng gāi zěn me zuò zhè ge zuò yè?) — How should I do this homework/assignment?

8. 多少 (duō shǎo) — How many (>10)

This question word is used when asking about a certain amount higher than ten.

多少 + Object?

For example:

多少钱? (duō shǎo qián?) — How much money? / How much does it cost?

这个房间有多少人?(zhè ge fáng jiān yǒu duō shǎo rén?) — How many people are there in this room?

你住在这里住了多少年了?(nǐ zhù zài zhè lǐ zhù le duō shǎo nián le?) — How many years have you been living here?

9. (jǐ) — How many (<10)

This question word is used only for a small number of objects under ten.

几 + Measure Word + Object?

If you want to ask a question about a bigger amount of items, you’ll use 多少.

几 is also used when asking about the time.

现在几点? (xiàn zài jǐ diǎn?) – What time is it now?

你会说几门语言?(nǐ huì shuō jǐ mén yǔ yán?) — How many languages can you speak?

你去过几个国家(nǐ qù guò jǐ gè guó jiā?) — How many countries have you been to?


Learning this unique language is not as hard as it might seem.

Always remember that we Chinese learners are in this together.

When unsure about something, ask, ask, ask away!

And One More Thing...

If you want to continue learning Chinese with interactive and authentic Chinese content, then you'll love FluentU.

FluentU naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach, and you'll learn Chinese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos.

FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

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