Yes-no questions with "ma"
The question particle 吗 (ma) is a very simple way to form questions in Chinese. By placing 吗 on the end of a statement, you convert it into a yes/no question. Surprisingly enough, these are questions that could be answered with yes or no in English. They're also known as polar questions or binary questions.
Any statement can be converted into a yes / no question with 吗. For example:
- 你 喜欢 咖啡。 ("You like coffee.")
"You like coffee" can easily be converted into "Do you like coffee?" by adding 吗:
- 你 喜欢 咖啡 吗？ ("Do you like coffee.")
You could think of 吗 as being like a question mark you say out loud. More examples of statements and their yes/no question forms:
- 你 是 白痴。 ("You are an idiot.")
- 你 是 白痴 吗？ ("Are you an idiot?")
- 那 是 老虎。 ("That is a tiger.")
- 那 是 老虎 吗？ ("Is that a tiger?")
- 他 是 老师。 ("He is a teacher.")
- 他 是 老师 吗？ ("Is he a teacher?")
It's important to remember that you can not add 吗 to a sentence that's already a question. For example:
- 你 是 谁 吗？
- 这 是 不 是 书 吗？
These would be something like "Do you who are you?" and "Does is this a book?" in English - obviously wrong. Still if you're not careful, you may find yourself throwing a 吗 onto the end of a question that doesn't need it. Many learners make this mistake.
More Advanced Usage
However, this doesn't mean that a sentence can't have a question word and 吗. For example:
- 你 知道 这 是 什么 东西 吗？ ("Do you know what this thing is?")
This is OK because the original sentence "你知道这是什么东西" is a statement even though it contains the question word 什么. It's the same in English. "You know what this is" can be converted into the question "Do you know what this is?"