Am I right to assume that the question is about the other person's personal method of studying English? And would omitting the 是 make the question more general?

(Is this an example for the topic-comment structure: http://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Topic-comment_sentences)

up vote 1 down vote accepted

是的 constructs are for emphasizing.

你是怎么学习英语的? = How did you learn English?

你是什么时候来的? = When did you come here?

我是来看病的 = I have come to get a medical exam (as opposed to a social visit).

  • I see. But In your second example it's also necessary to make clear that one is referring to the past right? – ddd Dec 27 '15 at 22:22
  • Yes, 是的 is referring to the past. Nominal "How did you learn English?" is really "How was it that you came to learn English". "When did you come here?" is then "When was it that you came here?" And finally "I have come to get a medical exam" is already in past tense, as opposed to 我想看病. – user4452 Dec 27 '15 at 22:56

"是。。。的" is used to emphasizes the time, the place, the way (solution) of doing something or the agent who does the action. What is emphasized must be something that has already happened. So basically in this question "你是怎么学习英语的?" the person who said it wanted to know exactly the method of studying that the person was mentioned (你) had used. When omitting this structure the question will be: "你怎么学习英语?", the action “学习英语” does not be emphasized and it might has not happened yet. I think the difference between this two are just the matter of tense.

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