When we were young and the teachers tried to cram all the geography, history, mathematics and, yeah, Chinese lessons into us, we secretly wished for shorter school days and less to learn. Now that we’re older and wiser, we’ve come to realize that there is so much that we’d like to know more about; there is so much out there to learn. One way to obtain information is to ask questions. Ask someone who knows, or search for the information on the Internet. Following are a few words that you could use to initiate a question.
To ask what something is, start with 什么 (shénme).
什么人 (shénme rén) means what person or who.
Shénme rén gàosù nǐ de?
Who told you this?
Zhè shì shénme rén de dōngxi?
Whose thing is this?
Please note that the following three sentences could be uttered with a positive or negative connotation.
Zhè shì shénme yìsī?
What does this mean?
(What’s this supposed to mean?)
When someone wants to go out of his or her way to do you a favor, you could make a gesture to refuse it by saying that that would be absurd. The other party would insist on helping you, and you would then graciously accept the good will. On the other hand, when someone says something that is absurd, you could use the very same sentence to express your displeasure.
Zhè shì shénme huà?
What are you saying? (Preposterous!)
什么话! (Shénme huà!)
为什么 (wèishénme) means why.
Wèishénme tā hái méi lái?
Why has she not come yet?
哪个 (nǎge) means which. 哪一天 (nǎ yītiān) means which day. Some people use the short form 哪天 (něi yītiān).
怎么 (zěnme ) and 如何 (rúhé) both mean how. 如何 (rúhé) is the formal form.
怎么做 (zěnme zuò) and 怎么弄 (zěnme nòng ) both mean how to do or handle something.
Zhè jiàn shì zěnme zuò bǐjiào hǎo?
What’s a good way to get this done?
A more formal way to communicate the above would be:
Zhè jiàn shì rúhé jìnxíng bǐjiào qiàdàng?
What’s an appropriate way to proceed with this matter?
Xīfàn zěnme zhǔ?
How to cook rice gruel?
怎么说 (zěnme shuō) can be interpreted in two different ways.
zhègè zì de yīngyǔ zěnme shuō?
How to say this word in English?
How do you mean? (Could you elaborate?)
怎么样 (zěnmeyàng) also means how or in what manner. It is often shorted as 怎样 (zěnyàng).
Nǐ juéde zěnmeyàng?
What do you think?
(How do you feel about this? How do you feel?)
Nothing special. (I’m not impressed.)
Zěnme huí shì?
What’s the matter? (What happened?)