I was thinking about how we end questions with the word 吗 and how, as babies, the first people you ask questions of are mum and dad. I was wondering if there is some connection to the origin of how we use 吗 and 吧 as question indicators?

3 Answers 3


Interesting Question.

But I believe that the Chinese characters "吗" (ma) and "吧" (ba) are not directly related to "妈" (mā) and "爸" (bà).

They are particles used in Chinese to form interrogative and imperative sentences.

  1. "吗" (ma): Used to turn a declarative sentence into a general question, similar to a question mark in English. For example, "你好" (nǐ hǎo) is a declarative sentence, meaning "hello," but when you add "吗" (ma), it becomes a question, "你好吗?" (nǐ hǎo ma?), meaning "Are you well?"

  2. "吧" (ba): Used to express a polite request or suggestion, typically in imperative sentences. For example, "来吧" (lái ba) means "come," indicating an invitation or suggestion.

However, it is not directly related to "妈" (mā) or "爸" (bà).


No, they are not related. Even though 爸 and 妈 are the current formal way to say dad and mom, they were not so common in the history, and different dialects use different words. In classic Chinese, father is 父, mother is 母.

Regarding 吗, it probably comes from 麽 (me) in oral language, which could be spoken in different tones. Now the usage for questions becomes 吗, which in fact was a variant of 骂 character repurposed. The non-question usage became 么.

吧 probably comes from 罢, which means end/finish in classic Chinese but often used in words to mean giving-up like 作罢. So when used in words like 来吧, it is like persuading the listener to give up saying no, especially when you emphasize 吧. On the other hand, if you pronounce 吧 lightly, you are just trying to be polite, because saying a single verb 来 is like a command.


吗 and 妈 has the same sound designator, thus they sound the same - they ought to.

As for 爸 and 吧, that's just a coincidence. Typically, multiple Chinese characters in Chinese have the same sound. This is esp true in Putonghua since it has only 4 tones instead of 6 or however many in, say, Cantonese.

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