Who, when, where, what, why, how?

We’ve discussed several ways to form a question in Chinese. So, how would you translate “Do you know?” into Chinese?

It’s true that (zuò) means “to do”, and one may be tempted to say: 做你知道? (Zuò nĭ zhīdào?) Dead wrong.

In “Do you know?”, the word “do” is not a verb but an auxiliary verb that helps for a question in English. In Chinese, you would simply drop this helping verb and add the interrogative particle 吗? (ma) to the main statement to get:
你知道吗? (Nĭ zhīdào ma?) If you remember, this is the most straighforward way of asking a question that was mentioned in my 5/4/11 post.

Hem, following are a few additional ways to ask questions.

VI e) Use the interrogative word particle 呢? to ask for opinion

Such questions are practically coverd by the following examples, all of which translate to: “What do you think?”, “What do you say?”, or “What’s your opinion?”

你看呢? (Nĭ kàn ne?)
你说呢? (Nĭ shuō ne?)
你以为呢? (Nĭ yǐwéi ne?)
你认为呢? (Nĭ rènwéi ne?)

VI f) Use the word particle 吧? to request confirmation
In the following questions, the presumed answer is presented for confirmation.

Tā huì lái ba?
He will come., won’t he?

Nĭ bùhuì shēngqì ba?
You won’t get mad, will you?

VI g) Use body language to help pose a question
A questioning facial expression or tone will automatically turn a statement into a question. Look at the following sentences and imagine how each is delivered.


Tā zhēnde yào qù.
He really wants to go.

Tā zhēnde yào qù?
He really wants to go?

VI h) Use the five W’s (and one H) to form a question

Just as with English, you can form a questions by using such words as: Who, when, where, what, why, and how. And don’t forget about how much and how many. These words are generally placed at the start of a question in English. As you can see from the following examples, such is not the case with Chinese. Notice how the placement of a noun or a pronoun determines whether it is the subject or the object.

Shéi kànjian nĭ ?
Who saw you?

Nĭ kànjian shéi?
Wom did you see?

Nĭ shénme shíhòu chūfā?
When do you start off?

Nĭ kànjian shénme?
What did you see?

Nǎr kāfēidiàn?
Where can I find a café?

Yóujú zài nǎr?
Where is the post office?

Wèishénme zhè jiǎozi bùhǎo chī?
Why does this dumpling not taste good?

Zhè yào zěnme zuò?
How to do this?

这要多少钱?Zhè yào duōshǎo qián?
How much will this cost?

means many or much, while means few or little. The combination poses a question “Many or few?”, or “Much or little?”, corresponding to “How many?”, or “How much?”, respectively.

Chapter 17 of the book “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” provides numerous examples of how to answer questions containing the adverbs “when”, “where”, “how” and “why”.

The sentimental song, 情人的眼泪 (qíngrén de yǎnlèi), or “Lover’s Tears“, begins with a question. The original music was composed by 姚敏 (Yáo Mǐn), the original lyrics by 陈蝶衣 (Chén Diéyī). Listen carefully so you won’t miss the first syllable, which is sung to a very low note.

Following are some of the words used in the first stanza of the song.

(yào) means to want, to ask for, or to be important. It is also used as an auxiliary verb that corresponds to “want to” or “be going to do somthing” in English.
(duì) means to be correct, to correspond to, to match or to be directed at.
(diào) is to drop or to lose.
眼泪 (yǎnlèi) are tears.
难道 (nán dào) translates to “Are you saying that you …”
明白 (míngbai) means to be plain and clear, to be clear on something, or to understand. 不明白 (bù míngbai) means not to understand.
为了 (wèile) means “for the sake of”.
只有 (zhǐyǒu) means “only”.
有情人 (yǒu qíng rén) are lovers, or people with affection.
珍贵 (zhēnguì) means “precious”. (zuì) means “the most”. 最珍贵 (zuì zhēnguì) means “the most precious”.
一颗 (yī kē) is a unit of measure for small discrete things, like tears, bullets, marbles or eggs. 一颗颗 (yī kē kē) means each and every one of the small items.

Here is my translation of these first lines:

Why am I shedding tears in your face?
Don’t tell me you don’t know it’s all for love.
Only the lover’s tears hold the highest place,
‘Cause every tear drop stands for love, stands for love.


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