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 你 。statementI've met you.
- 我 见 过 你 吗？questionHave I met you?
- 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.
How to Answer
You can answer a Chinese yes-no question in one of two ways:
- Answer with 对 (duì) or the more casual 嗯 (ǹg).
- Answer a clearer "yes" by simply repeating the positive form of the verb, or "no" by using the negative form of the verb.
Here's the slightly tricky part: if you answer with 对 (duì) and the question is in the positive, then you're saying "yes." If you answer with 对 (duì) and the question is in the negative, then you're saying "no." Let's take a look at some examples of this sort.
- A: 你 是 大 学生 吗 ？Positive verb in the questionAre you a college student?
- B: 对 。对 (duì) affirms the positive verb.Yes, I am.
- A: 你 没 有 工作 吗 ？Negative verb in the questionDo you not have a job?
- B: 对 。对 (duì) affirms the negative verb.No, I don't.
- A: 你 昨天 没 来 吗 ？QuestionYou didn't come yesterday, did you?
- B: 我 来 了 。Repeat the verb for greater clarity.I came.
- A: 他 昨天 来 了 吗 ？QuestionYou didn't come yesterday, did you?
- B: 对 。对 (duì) affirms the negative verb.No. (I didn't come.)
- A:你 喜欢 中国菜 吗 ？Positive verb in the questionDo you like Chinese food?
- B: 喜欢 。Repeat the verb for greater clarity.Yes, I do.
- A: 你 不 喜欢 中国菜 吗 ？Negative verb in the questionDo you like Chinese food?
- C: 对 。对 (duì) affirms the negative verb.No. (I don't.)
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
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 138-40) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 1, Part 1 (3rd ed) (pp. 29-30) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 1 (新实用汉语课本1) (pp. 21) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy
- New Practical Chinese Reader 1 (新实用汉语课本1)(2nd ed) (pp. 23, 250) Anything Goes (无所不谈) →buy