Yes-no questions with "ma"
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).
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 ？
- 你 喜欢 咖啡 。 statementYou 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 吗？ questionDo you like coffee?
More examples of statements and their yes/no question forms:
- 你 是 大 学生。 statementYou are a college student.
- 你 是 大 学生 吗？ questionAre you a college student?
- 他 是 老板。 statementHe is the boss.
- 他 是 老板 吗 ？questionIs he the boss?
- 你 喜欢 她。 statementYou like her.
- 你 喜欢 她 吗 ？ questionDo you like her?
- 你 想 家。 statementYou miss home.
- 你 想 家 吗？ questionDo you miss home?
- 爸爸 喜欢 喝 茶。 statementDad likes drinking tea.
- 爸爸 喜欢 喝 茶 吗？ questionDoes dad like drinking tea?
- 你们 也 去。 statementYou also go.
- 你们 也 去 吗？ questionAre you also going?
- 他 在 你们 学校 学 中文。 statementHe studies Chinese in your school.
- 他 在 你们 学校 学 中文 吗 ？ questionDoes he study Chinese in your school?
- 我 见 过 他 。 statementI've met him.
- 我 见 过 他 吗？ questionHave I met him?
- 妈妈 会 做饭。 statementMom knows how to cook.
- 妈妈 会 做饭 吗？ questionDoes mom know how to cook?
- 你 昨天 没 去 上班。 statementYou didn't go to work yesterday.
- 你 昨天 没 去 上班 吗 ？ questionDid 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 吗？谁 is a question word
- 这 是 不 是 书 吗？是不是 is a question pattern
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".
Sources and further reading
- Yoyo Chinese: Yes-no Questions with 吗