Take the 2-minute tour ×
Chinese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Chinese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've been using this site to get my basic foothold in Mandarin. If you scroll down you'll see a section entitled "WHAT", including some questions like "What's the matter?" and "What did you say?" and "What are you doing?"

shén-me shì
nǐ shuō shén-me
nǐ zuò shén-me

An example question which doesn't end in ma is "你再吃什么?", "What are you eating?".

I'm unclear as to why these questions don't end with the "ma" particle. Is that only necessary for turning a declarative statement into a yes/no question? Is it not used for all questions of the forms who, what, why, etc?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Your guess is correct. 吗 (ma) is usually used at the end of a narrative sentence, which without 吗 can become a declarative statement.

吗 has other usages but at this learning stage you shouldn't let them distract you.

share|improve this answer
Yes–no questions in English are called 是非疑问句 in Chinese, but most of the times you don't need to use 是 or 不是 to answer those questions. Eg. A: 你吃饭了吗? B: 还没有呢. You need to use 是 or 不是 to answer those questions that demand your confirmation or denial, and usually those questions contain 是 and/or 不是. Eg. when interrogating a suspect, a policman may ask: 我看你就是杀人凶手吧? The suspect may say: 不是 to deny. –  孤影萍踪 May 17 '13 at 0:22
@孤影萍踪 Thanks for the good information. You probably should comment on the question so the OP is notified. –  NS.X. May 17 '13 at 1:55
Forgive me for asking, but it looks like you haven't answered the question. The asker wants to know why questions like "你再吃什么?" don't end in 吗? –  xiaohouzi79 Jul 10 '13 at 6:23
@xiaohouzi79 That was added by you isn't it? My reading of OP's question is to confirm his understanding in his last statement, which is what this answer is positively acknowledging on. –  NS.X. Jul 10 '13 at 6:59
@NS.X. - His main question had 3 parts: 1. Saying he was unclear why these question don't end in ma. 2. Asking if ma was only used for turning a statement into a yes/no question. 3. Asking if ma was used for all questions. These three questions remain unedited. My personal thought was that your answer only partially answered one of his questions which is why I wanted to check my understanding. –  xiaohouzi79 Jul 11 '13 at 2:58

In general, Chinese interrogative sentences must contain a question word to be a valid question. is a question word, but doesn't necessarily have to be placed in every question.

你吃饭了吗? Have you eaten yet? (吗)
你吃了什么? What have you eaten? (什么)
你在哪里吃了早餐? Where did you eat breakfast? (哪里)
你怎么还没吃饭? How have you not eaten yet? (怎么)
你为什么要吃那个? Why do you want to eat that? (为什么)

There are quite a few other question words, and usually just putting one in a sentence is enough. Occasionally you may also see two question words in a sentence, for example the word can also be appended to the end of an interrogative sentence to add a bit more stress to the tone of the question.

share|improve this answer
It should perhaps also be noted that most interrogative pronouns can also function as indefinite pronouns, so ‘what?’ can also mean ‘something’ and ‘where?’ can also mean ‘somewhere’. Since 吗 is only used to turn declarative sentences into questions, adding 吗 to a question that contains an interrogative pronoun will turn the question itself into a declarative sentence, and the interrogative pronoun will be understood as an indefinite pronoun: 你吃什么? What will you eat? vs. 你吃什么吗? Will you have something/anything to eat? –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 16 '13 at 13:36

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.