Softening the tone of questions with "ne"

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We have seen before that 吧 can be used to soften the tone of statements, or make commands feel more like suggestions. 呢 works in same way, but it is used to make questions more indirect and uncertain in tone.

呢 used successively with 还是

呢 can be used successively in questions using 还是.

Structure

Option 1 + 呢 + 还是 + Option 2 + 呢?

Examples

  • 我 去 缅甸 还是 泰国?我 得 想 一 想!Wǒ qù Miǎndiàn ne, háishì Tàiguó ne? Wǒ děi xiǎng yī xiǎng!Should I go to Myanmar or Thailand? I have to think a bit!
  • 咱们 打 游戏 还是 泡吧 ,我 都 可以!Zánmen dǎ yóuxì ne, háishì pào bā ne, wǒ dōu kěyǐ!Should we play video games or go to the bar? I'm OK with either!

The example sentences above almost have a tone that the speaker is talking to him/herself, as the question is not directly asked of the listener. A second verb is only necessary if different from the first verb.

呢 with Questions Involving Interrogative Pronouns

Interrogative pronouns, of course, include 哪儿,谁,怎么,什么, 为什么, 什么时候, etc.

Structure

⋯⋯Interrogative Pronoun⋯⋯ + 呢?

Examples

  • 这 是 谁 的 笔 ?Zhè shì shéi de bǐ ne?I wonder whose pen this is?
  • 他 去 哪儿 了 呢Tā qù nǎrle ne?I wonder where he's going?
  • 怎么 会 Zěnme huì ne?How could that be?

In the previous examples, the speaker has a tone of conjecture, a bit like saying "I wonder" in English. Again, as in the first usage, the question is not directly asked of the listener. Overusing 呢 in your questions can sound a bit feminine, though, so keep this in mind.

呢 with "Verb 不 Verb" Questions

If a "verb 不 verb" question is posed without 呢, it can appear as though the speaker is a bit impatient, or is ordering the listener to do something. Tone of voice used is also an important factor here, and adding 呢 can give a tone of uncertainty, which sounds less demanding and more polite.

Structure

Subj. + Verb 1 + 不 + Verb 1 + (Verb 2) + 呢?

Examples

  • 去 不 去 逛街 ?Said as though demanding an answer, potentially in a hurry.qù bù qù guàngjiē?Well are you going to go shopping or what?
  • 去 不 去 逛街 Less intense, just asking a question.qù bù qù guàngjiē ne?Are you going to go shopping?
  • 牛奶 你 喝 不 喝Said to a child, with the implication that if the milk isn't drunk, there will be consequences, with emphasis placed on 喝Niúnǎi nǐ hē bù hē?Are you gonna drink the milk or not?
  • 牛奶 你 喝 不 喝 Perhaps said to a friend, with no implication of coercion. Perhaps you want to clear away their cup.Niúnǎi nǐ hē bù hē ne?Did you want to drink that milk?
  • 你 周末 加 不 加班Perhaps a manager asking a subordinate. This seems like an order, perhaps implying there will be consequences for not working overtime.Nǐ zhōumò jiā bù jiābān?You're working this weekend, right?
  • 你 周末 能 不 能 加班 ?Perhaps a manager asking a subordinate. This is not super direct, as 能 has been added.Nǐ zhōumò néng bù néng jiābān?Can you come into work on the weekend?
  • 你 周末 能 不 能 加班 Much more indirect than the above example, implying the person really does have a choice.Nǐ zhōumò néng bù néng jiābān ne?Would you mind coming in on the weekend?")

Remember: the exact meaning of the above sentences depends on the full context, and tone of voice is very important as well. The interpretations given are just possible examples.

See also

Sources and further reading

HSK5