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In Cantonese, how does one construct a phrase/sentence involving “whether or not”?

For example: We don’t know if they are husband or wife.

I came across this conversation: 係唔係老公老婆呢就唔知啦!

I wanted to know what the function of “呢就” is.

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呢就 is not a single term. They are two word particles attach to different part of the sentence

The sentence construction of ”係唔係老公老婆呢就唔知啦!"is as follow:

[係唔係老公老婆][], [][唔知啦!]

[about] [are (they) husband and wife?], [just] [(we) don't know!]

In this context:

XXX呢 = about XXX

就YYY = just YYY

Other example:

人呢(about man), 就係生嘅 (is just alive - therefore flexible)

規矩呢(about rule), 就係死嘅 (is just not alive - therefore rigid)

租金呢(about rent), 就一人一半 (would just be half and half between us)

You can do without the particles in the sentences. That make them more direct and also more blunt:

"係唔係老公老婆?" "唔知!"

"人係生嘅, 規矩係死嘅" (it is a very common Cantonese expression)

"租金一人一半"

  • Thank you for a comprehensive explanation. Now tell me, why did they omit the comma in between the two characters? Fortunately there is an audio accompaniment to this and we can hear how they are spoken. – cgo Aug 27 at 3:57
  • @cgo As recent as two hundred years ago Chinese text didn't even use punctuation. As for the example didn't use comma, it might just be an editor's choice. The two clauses are closely related, one cannot make sense without the other, therefore the writer treated it as a single unbroken sentence instead of divide the two clauses with a comma – Tang Ho Aug 27 at 5:47
  • I just had an epiphany. This is the same character most locals pronounce as 'le'. Suddenly it doesn't seem foreign anymore and everything makes perfect sense. Thanks. – cgo Sep 3 at 4:41
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Do you know how "呢" is being pronounced here?

Tang Ho is reading it as "係唔係老公老婆呢,就唔知啦!", with "呢" pronounced as ne1.

However, it is also possible that it is "係唔係老公老婆,呢就唔知啦!", with "呢" pronounced as ni1, where "呢" is short for "呢個", meaning "this" in Cantonese. So in that reading, it would mean "Are they husband and wife, this [question] we don't know [the answer to]!", equivalent to "是不是老公老婆,這就不知道了" in Mandarin.

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