Beginner Chinese Grammar – How to Use

吗 (ma) is a very common question particle in Chinese, which is placed at the end of a declarative sentence to form questions.

It can also change a declarative mood into an interrogative mood, and turn the declarative sentence into a question. 

吗 (ma) is a typical interrogative particle which is used in yes-no questions, and sometimes it appears in rhetorical questions or tag questions.

How to use 吗 #1 – Yes/No Questions

How to use 吗 #2 – Rhetorical Questions

How to use 吗 #3 – Tag Questions

Beginner Grammar – More Chinese Particles

How to use 吗 – FAQ’s

How to use 吗

How to Use – Yes/No Questions

吗 (ma) is used to turn statements into yes/no questions.

A yes/no question can be answered with affirmative or negative words:是(shì) // 不是(bú shì), 对(duì) // 不对(bú duì), 会(huì) // 不会(bú huì),嗯(èn),etc.

Have a look at the structure:

Statement + 吗?

  • A: 你是老师吗?
  • nǐ shì lǎoshī ma?
  • Are you a teacher?
  • B: 是的。
  • shì de.
  • Yes.
  • A: 这是你的书包吗?
  • zhè shì nǐ de shūbāo ma?
  • Is this your schoolbag?
  • B: 不是。
  • bùshì.
  • No.
  • A: 你会说中文吗?
  • nǐ huì shuō zhōngwén ma?
  • Can you speak Chinese?
  • B:会。
  • huì.
  • Yes.
  • A: 你住在这里吗?
  • nǐ zhù zài zhèlǐ ma?
  • Do you live here?
  • B: 嗯。
  • ńg.
  • Yup.

In the yes/no questions with 吗 (ma), adverbs such as “的确 (díquè)” and “真的 (zhēn de)” can be added before the verb (phrase) to strengthen the interrogative mood.

  • 你真的是老师吗?
  • nǐ zhēn de shì lǎoshī ma?
  • Are you really a teacher?
  • 你的确住在这里吗?
  • nǐ díquè zhù zài zhèlǐ ma?
  • Do you indeed live here?

👉 Do not add 吗 (ma) to a question. 

  • ⛔️ 你是谁吗?(✅ 你是谁?)
  • nǐ shì shéi ma? (nǐ shì shéi?)
  • Who are you?
  • ⛔️ 这是不是书吗?( 这是不是书?)
  • zhè shì bùshì shū ma? (zhè shì bùshì shū?)
  • Is this a book?

Except in the structure: 知道 + statement/question + 吗?This structure is used to ask someone for information, which is the same as “Do you know…”. 


Verb + 得 + Complement + 吗? 

The verb complement with the modal particle 吗 at the end of the declarative sentence can form a question. 

  • 这个桌子上放得下这些东西吗?
  • zhège zhuōzi shàng fàng dé xià zhèxiē dōngxī ma?
  • Can these things fit on this table?
  • 你一个人吃得完这个西瓜吗?
  • nǐ yīgè rén chī dé wán zhège xīguā ma?
  • Can you finish this watermelon by yourself?

How to use – Rhetorical Questions

“吗” can be used with words such 不是 (bú shì), 能 (néng), 能不 (néng bù), 难道 (nándào) to form rhetorical questions. 

Structure: 不是……吗? 

In this structure, the questioner does not expect a direct answer. This structure is used to express the speaker’s confusion, dissatisfaction, or sarcasm or remind someone of something.

  • 他不是会说汉语吗?
  • tā bùshì huì shuō hànyǔ ma?
  • Doesn’t he speak Chinese?
  • 👉 Confusion
  • 我不是说过不要打扰我吗?
  • wǒ bùshì shuōguò bu yào dǎrǎo wǒ ma
  • Didn’t I say not to disturb me?
  • 👉 Dissatisfaction
  • 你不是说你一个人可以的吗?
  • nǐ bùshì shuō nǐ yīgè rén kěyǐ de ma?
  • Didn’t you say that you can do it alone?
  • 👉 Sarcasm
  • 你明天不是要去北京吗?
  • nǐ míngtiān bùshì yào qù běijīng ma?
  • Aren’t you going to Beijing tomorrow?
  • 👉 Reminder

Structure: 能 (不)……吗?

This structure is often used to express sarcasm in rhetorical questions. It’s positive form means the negative, while it’s negative form means the positive.

  • 你菜里放那么多盐,这菜能好吃吗?
  • nǐ cài lǐ fàng nàme duō yán, zhè cài néng hào chī ma?
  • With so much salt in your dish, can this dish be delicious?
  • (positive form, negative meaning: not delicious. )
  • 昨晚那么冷,你又穿得那么少,能不生病吗?
  • zuó wǎn nàme lěng, nǐ yòu chuān dé nàme shǎo, néng bù shēngbìng ma?
  • Yesterday was so cold and you wore so little clothes, can you not get sick?
  • (negative form, positive meaning: will be sick.)

Structure:……不……吗? 

This structure is actually inviting a positive answer.

  • 你不吃饭吗?
  • nǐ bù chīfàn ma
  • You’re not eating?
  • (expecting a positive answer “吃饭”)
  • 你不回家吗?
  • nǐ bù huí jiā ma?
  • You’re not going home?
  • (expecting a positive answer “回家”)

Structure: ……还(不/没有)……吗? 

The negative rhetorical question with modal adverb “还” expresses something expected, like “should” in English.

  • 都八点半了,你还不去上班吗?
  • dōu bā diǎn bànle, nǐ hái bù qù shàngbān ma?
  • It’s half past eight, aren’t you going to work?
  • (You should go to work.)
  • 这么晚了,你还没有写完作业吗?
  • zhème wǎnle, nǐ hái méiyǒu xiě wán zuòyè ma?
  • It’s so late, haven’t you finished your homework yet?
  • (You should finish your homework.)

How to use – Tag Questions

吗 (ma) is also used in tag questions to ask for advice or to ask for confirmation. Just add a confirmation word and 吗 (ma) to the end of a declarative sentence.

Statement + 好吗 / 行吗 / 对吗 / 是吗?

The tag questions, like 好吗, 行吗, 对吗, 是吗, are used after a statement to make a suggestion or request, or to ask for an idea, opinion or confirmation. These questions can be used answered with 好, 行, 对, 是 etc.

  • A: 小张,听说你下个月要结婚了,是吗?
  • xiǎo zhāng, tīng shuō nǐ xià gè yuè yào jiéhūnle, shì ma?
  • Xiao Zhang, I heard that you are getting married next month, right?
  • B: 是的。
  • shì de.
  • Yes.
  • A:我想向你请教一个问题,可以吗?
  • wǒ xiǎng xiàng nǐ qǐngjiào yīgè wèntí, kěyǐ ma?
  • I want to ask you a question, can I?
  • B: 可以。
  • kěyǐ.
  • You can.
  • A: 你没跟我说过这件事,对吗?
  • nǐ méi gēn wǒ shuōguò zhè jiàn shì, duì ma?
  • You never told me about it, did you?
  • B: 对。
  • duì
  • Correct.

MORE CHINESE PARTICLES

It wasn’t that bad, was it?!

Using 吗 is the absolute basics when asking questions in Chinese, you’ll use it and hear it every single day.

Speaking about questions, you should definitely check our article about Question Words in Chinese.

And here are a few more Chinese particles to learn:

What other Chinese Grammar should we cover next time? Let us know in the comments!

Chinese Sentence Structure

HOW TO USE – FAQ’s

What is 吗?

吗 is a very common question particle in Chinese, which is placed at the end of a declarative sentence to form questions, changing a declarative mood into an interrogative mood, and turning the declarative sentence into a question. 

吗 is a typical interrogative particle which is used in yes-no questions, and sometimes it appears in rhetorical questions or tag questions.

How to pronounce 吗?

吗 is pronounced ma.

How to use 吗?

吗 (ma) is used to turn statements into yes-no questions.

“Statement +

吗 can be used with words such 不是 (bú shì), 能 (néng), 能不 (néng bù), 难道 (nándào) to form rhetorical questions. 

“不是……吗?”

吗 is also used in tag questions to ask for advice or to ask for confirmation. Just add a confirmation word and 吗 (ma) to the end of a declarative sentence.

“Statement + 好吗 / 行吗 / 对吗 / 是吗?”

What are some examples with 吗?

– 你是老师吗?nǐ shì lǎoshī ma? // Are you a teacher?

你知道他叫什么名字吗?nǐ zhīdào tā jiào shénme míngzì ma? // Do you know his name?

– 你不吃饭吗?nǐ bù chīfàn ma // You’re not eating?

你没跟我说过这件事,对吗?nǐ méi gēn wǒ shuōguò zhè jiàn shì, duì ma? // You never told me about it, did you?

Is it necessary to learn how to read Chinese?

It is yes! It is part of the learning process.

You might not need to focus as much on the writing part but reading will be necessary to follow along your lessons in class, or even get familiar with your surroundings in China!

Learning characters are not as difficult to learn as you might think, since they follow a logical pattern composed of radicals.

Here are the most common Chinese characters to get you started.

Where can I learn more Chinese grammar?

We have a blog article summing up all common Chinese beginner structures, but we explain them in more detail in our Chinese Grammar Bank that we update regularly with new pages.

You can also book individual classes with a native professional teacher, so that you can ask all the questions you might have about the grammar and more!

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