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Advanced yes-no questions with "ma"

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The question particle 吗 (ma) is a very simple way to convert simple statements into "yes/no" questions, and beginners will learn not to use 吗 with other question words, because it's redundant. More advanced students, however, will note that 吗 has some more complicated structures that do involve combining 吗 with question words in order to ask very specific types of confirming questions.

Structure

You'll remember that this is the simple pattern for yes/no questions:

Statement + 吗 ?

If you embed a question that uses a question word instead of a statement, you can create a more complex kind of "confirming" 吗 (ma) question:

[Question Word] + 吗 ?

Examples of common question words include 什么 (shénme), 谁 (shéi), and 哪里 (nǎlǐ).

Examples

Note that the following examples typically contain some kind of "verb of understanding" such as 知道 (zhīdào),了解 (liǎojiě), 明白 (míngbai), 认识 (rènshi), etc. Then "吗" (ma) can still be added at the end of the question, turning it into a kind of confirmation. For example:

  • 这 是 什么 ?Zhè shì shénme?What is this?
  • 知道 这 是 什么 zhīdào zhè shì shénme ma?Do you know what this is?
  • 他 是 谁 ?Tā shì shéi?Who is he?
  • 知道 他 是 谁 zhīdào tā shì shéi ma?Do you know who he is?
  • 他 叫 什么 名字 ?Tā jiào shénme míngzi?What is his name?
  • 知道 他 叫 什么 名字 zhīdào tā jiào shénme míngzi ma?Do you know what his name is?
  • 她 住 在 哪儿 ?Tā zhù zài nǎr?Where does she live?
  • 说 过 她 住 在 哪儿 shuō guo tā zhù zài nǎr ma?Did she say where she lives?
  • 这个 标志 是 什么 意思 ?Zhège biāozhì shì shénme yìsi?What does this sign mean?
  • 你们 明白 这个 标志 是 什么 意思 Nǐmen míngbai zhège biāozhì shì shénme yìsi ma?Do you understand what this sign means?
  • 我们 想 要 什么 ?Wǒmen xiǎng yào shénme?What do we want?
  • 问 过 我们 想 要 什么 wèn guo wǒmen xiǎng yào shénme ma?Did he care to ask what we want?
  • 你 的 问题 是 什么 ?Nǐ de wèntí shì shénme?What is your question?
  • 你 能 再 说 一 遍 你 的 问题 是 什么 Nǐ néng zài shuō yī biàn nǐ de wèntí shì shénme ma?Can you repeat what your question is?
  • 他 是 什么 时候 开始 学 中文 的 ?Tā shì shénme shíhou kāishǐ xué Zhōngwén de?When did he started to learn Chinese?
  • 知道 他 是 什么 时候 开始 学 中文 的 zhīdào tā shì shénme shíhou kāishǐ xué Zhōngwén de ma?Do you know when he started to learn Chinese?
  • 这 是 在 哪儿 买 的 ?Zhè shì zài nǎr mǎi de?Where did you buy this?
  • 你 能 告诉 我 这 是 在 哪儿 买 的 Nǐ néng gàosu wǒ zhè shì zài nǎr mǎi de ma?Can I tell me where you bought this?
  • 我 老板 的 孩子 多大 ?Wǒ lǎobǎn de háizi duō dà?How old is my boss' child?
  • 知道 我 老板 的 孩子 多大 zhīdào wǒ lǎobǎn de háizi duō dà ma?Do you know how old my boss' child is?

See also

Sources and further reading

Books