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Advanced yes-no questions with "ma"

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:

Confirmation + Question + 吗 ?

The "Confirmation" part include typically contains some kind of "verb of understanding" such as 知道 (zhīdào),了解 (liǎojiě), 明白 (míngbai), 认识 (rènshi), etc. Examples of common question words to use in the "Question" part include 什么 (shénme), 谁 (shéi), and 哪里 (nǎlǐ). Then "吗" (ma) can still be added at the end of the question, turning the whole structure into a kind of confirmation yes/no question.

Examples

  • 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 symbol mean?
  • 你们 明白 这个 标志 是 什么 意思 Nǐmen míngbai zhège biāozhì shì shénme yìsi ma?Do you all understand what this symbol 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 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 start 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?
  • 老板 的 孩子 多大 了?Lǎobǎn de háizi duō dà le?How old is the boss's child now?
  • 知道 老板 的 孩子 多大 了 zhīdào lǎobǎn de háizi duō dà le ma?Do you know how old the boss's child is now?

See also

Sources and further reading

Books