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So far, question words in Chinese have always appeared at the end. But with "shei" I saw sentences like

Shei shi nide baba?

So can it be used at the start or end of a sentence? Can we say

Nide baba shi shei?

as well? And also "Shei shi nage ren?" or "Nage ren shi shei?" (Who is that person?)

Is this restricted to shei or can it be extended to other question words like shenme, zenme, duoshao and nali/nar though words like ma and ne I know are always placed at the end?

Edit: I'm confused by this:

Translate this sentence
谁是你的爸爸
[your] [Wang] [individuals] [how] [mornings] [is] [dad] [Who]
(screenshot)

Translate this sentence
Who is this person?
谁是这个人?
Oops! That's not correct.
这个人是谁?
(screenshot)

  • not at the beginning (except if it is the subject) – user6065 Jun 21 '18 at 8:38
  • declarative sentence (陈述句)习近平 是这个人 question ( 疑问句):谁是这个人? declarative sentence (陈述句) 这个人是习近平,question ( 疑问句):这个人是谁?陈述句:他是你的爸爸,疑问句;谁是你的爸爸? – user6065 Jun 21 '18 at 8:50
  • 1
    In my opinion, "这个人" and "那个人" is an indefinite noun - meaning that you may never see this person before, therefore such nouns should be treated as a subject and let "谁" be treated as an object. On the other hand, "你的爸爸" is a definite noun - the person who we are asking about is clear and specific, therefore you may treated this as object or subject. – Reynaldi Jun 21 '18 at 9:58
  • <某人的姓名>是这个人 sounds odd, searching iciba with 是这个人 only yields 1 somewhat relevant example, 而且只要你一直是这个人, perhaps correspondingly 谁是这个人? does not seem very much used, submitting it to bkrs e.g. immediately converts the phrase to 这个人是谁? – user6065 Jun 21 '18 at 13:25
  • re why both 这个人是谁? and 谁是这个人? may be correct. According to "汉语水平考试词典";是[义1]表示等同("是"前后两部分一般可以互换,意思不变(be (be equal)):<红楼梦>的作者~曹雪芹(曹雪芹~<红楼梦>的作者|我们的任务~学习|这~在演戏,不是真的 it seems both are OK, note, however "实用现代汉语语法":"是"字句的结构特点(一)名词及名词短语:(1)约翰是男生。玛丽是女生。(2)李四光是一位著名的地质学家。(3)导电性最好的金属材料是铜。These examples are of type "name" 是 <noun of indefinite reference>, while 这个人 is of definite reference disagreeing with e.g. 习近平 是这个人 (hence with 谁是这个人 if name is expected as answer), however "实用现代汉语语法"also again has 表示等同和归类,主语和宾语可以互换位置,句义不变。例如:example starting with name (could be replaced by interrogative pronoun) – user6065 Jun 21 '18 at 15:30
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Chinese is one of the group languages in which question words remain exactly in place of the "questioned" word they replace.

那个人是谁 - 那个人是我妈妈

In English and some other European languages question words always move to the head of the utterance.

Who is this person? This person is my mother.

I highly suspect your examples from Memrise (or whatever that app is) are simply a result of an English speaker (not very fluent in Chinese) translating them to Chinese.

One other explanation:

谁是你爸爸 ~ “which one is your dad"

while

你爸爸是谁 ~ “and who [exactly] is your dad?"

So, at the beginner level, stick to placing question words in the same position the answer would occupy.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you so much :) It's duolingo btw.. and no the course has been designed by highly educated native speakers.. You can check it out.. the contributors too.. pretty amazing actually and WAY better than what they teach you in most schools.. it's also a really practical approach to learning a language.. – Isabel Jun 25 '18 at 6:32
  • @Isabel Duolingo have been promising a Chinese course for 5+ years and have finally released something rather average (IMHO). Their methods are good for teaching European languages to Europeans, that's all (again, IMHO) – Vitaly Osipov Jun 25 '18 at 7:17
  • I understand that's your opinion but I personally, and many others, find it extremely helpful.. more than our courses at school which were absolutely useless.. Now I could go to China to learn or make use of what I have.. Thank you for helping and sharing your opinion. – Isabel Jun 25 '18 at 8:04
  • All I can say that I learned all this not on Duolinguo and not on a school course :) Best of luck with your China adventure. – Vitaly Osipov Jun 26 '18 at 9:05
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Compare 你爸爸是谁 and 谁是你爸爸. They could have different meanings.

你爸爸是谁: who is your father?

谁是你爸爸 could be like a rhetorical question, implying I am not really your father and you might have recognized a wrong person as your father.

Hope this could help you.

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1

I'm Chinese and I would say both

这个人是谁
Zhège rén shì shéi

and

谁是这个人
Shéi shì zhège rén

are commonly used and mean the same thing.

Chinese is a language that does not pay too much attention on the order of Subject, Verb and Object. For example, 吃饭了吗?(Eat the meal yet?); 饭吃了吗?(meal eaten yet?); 吃了饭吗?( ate meal?) They all mean the same thing that people trying to ask if you have eaten or not.

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