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Yes-no questions with "ma"

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The question particle 吗 (ma) is a simple way to form questions in Chinese. By placing 吗 (ma) on the end of a statement, you convert it into a yes/no question (questions that could be answered with "yes" or "no" in English).

Basic Usage

Structure

Any statement can be converted into a yes/no question with 吗 (ma). You could think of 吗 (ma) as being like a question mark you say out loud. So the basic structure is:

[Statement] + 吗 ?

Examples

  • 你 喜欢 咖啡 。 statementNǐ xǐhuan kāfēi.You like coffee.

The sentence "You like coffee" can easily be converted into the question "Do you like coffee?" by adding 吗 (ma):

  • 你 喜欢 咖啡 questionNǐ xǐhuan kāfēi ma?Do you like coffee?

More examples of statements and their yes/no question forms:

  • 你 是 大 学生。 statementNǐ shì dàxuéshēng.You are a college student.
  • 你 是 大 学生 questionNǐ shì dàxuéshēng ma?Are you a college student?
  • 他 是 老板。 statementTā shì lǎobǎn.He is the boss.
  • 他 是 老板 questionTā shì lǎobǎn ma?Is he the boss?
  • 你 喜欢 她。 statement Nǐ xǐhuan tā.You like her.
  • 你 喜欢 她 questionNǐ xǐhuan tā ma?Do you like her?
  • 你 想 家。 statementNǐ xiǎng jiā.You miss home.
  • 你 想 家 questionNǐ xiǎng jiā ma?Do you miss home?
  • 爸爸 喜欢 喝 茶。 statementBàba xǐhuan hē chá.Dad likes drinking tea.
  • 爸爸 喜欢 喝 茶 questionBàba xǐhuan hē chá ma?Does dad like drinking tea?
  • 你们 也 去。 statementNǐmen yě qù.You also go.
  • 你们 也 去 questionNǐmen yě qù ma?Are you also going?
  • 他 在 你们 学校 学 中文。 statementTā zài nǐmen xuéxiào xué Zhōngwén.He studies Chinese in your school.
  • 他 在 你们 学校 学 中文 questionTā zài nǐmen xuéxiào xué Zhōngwén ma?Does he study Chinese in your school?
  • 我 见 过 他 。 statement Wǒ jiàn guo tā.I've met him.
  • 我 见 过 他 questionWǒ jiàn guo tā ma?Have I met him?
  • 妈妈 会 做饭。 statementMāma huì zuòfàn.Mom knows how to cook.
  • 妈妈 会 做饭 questionMāma huì zuòfàn ma?Does mom know how to cook?
  • 你 昨天 没 去 上班。 statementNǐ zuótiān méi qù shàngbān.You didn't go to work yesterday.
  • 你 昨天 没 去 上班 questionNǐ zuótiān méi qù shàngbān ma?Did you not go to work yesterday?

It's important to remember that you do not normally add 吗 (ma) to a sentence that's already a question. For example:

  • 你 是 谁 谁 is a question wordNǐ shì shéi ma?
  • 这 是 不 是 书 是不是 is a question patternZhè shì bu shì shū ma?

These would be something like "Are you who are you?" and "Is this is a book?" in English, both obviously ungrammatical. Still, if you're not careful, you may find yourself throwing a 吗 (ma) onto the end of a question that doesn't need it. Many learners make this mistake, so don't worry if it happens every once in a while, just catch it and remember it the next time.

More Advanced Usage

However, this doesn't mean that a sentence can't ever have a question word and 吗 (ma). If a sentence contains verbs 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. You will later learn more about these advanced yes-no questions with "ma".

See also

Sources and further reading

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