I know that it means "What are you listening to?" but I'm curious as to what the 呢 is supposed to do.

2 Answers 2


呢 is a final particle. It denotes interrogative form in your example sentence. (it has other usages in other context)

You can just use a question mark e.g. "你在听什么?" (what are you listening ) to mark the sentence as a question

"呢" in "你在听什么呢?” asks the question of "what" are you listening to

"嗎" in "你在什么?” asks the question of "are" you listening to something

  • Thanks! One last question: Is the 在 optional? I've heard people use both with and without 在 and I'm wondering if its existence changes anything.
    – Sean
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 6:26
  • 1
    @Seankala 在 functions similar to ~ing in English here. 你听什么呢? = you listen to what? ; 你在听什么呢? = you are listening to what?
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 6:29
  • @TangHo What's the difference between 你听什么 and 你听什么呢 then? Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 22:32
  • @Enrico Brasil "你听什么?" sounds blunt ; "你听什么呢?" ends the speech with a softer tone, plus, it stresses the pronoun '什么', make sure people understand you are asking 'what' is being listened to; Not "are you listen to something?"
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 23:29

Use of 呢 due to presence of interrogative pronoun 什么(similar to 吗 for yes-no questions) quoting e.g. 图解基础汉语语法:


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