How to use 呢 is a lot easier than you think! You’ll hear it everyday so best is to learn it as soon as possible. You’ll sound like a native in no time.
Beginner Chinese Grammar – How to Use 吗
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 – 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.
- A: 这是你的书包吗？
- zhè shì nǐ de shūbāo ma?
- Is this your schoolbag?
- B: 不是。
- A: 你会说中文吗？
- nǐ huì shuō zhōngwén ma?
- Can you speak Chinese?
- A: 你住在这里吗？
- nǐ zhù zài zhèlǐ ma?
- Do you live here?
- B: 嗯。
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.
- nǐ zhēn de shì lǎoshī ma?
- Are you really a teacher?
- 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…”.
- nǐ zhīdào míngtiān wǒmen qù tǐjiǎn ma?
- Do you know that we will go to the medical examination tomorrow?
- (a statement “明天我们去体检”is embedded in this structure）
- nǐ zhīdào tā jiào shénme míngzì ma?
- Do you know his name?
- (a question “他叫什么名字” is embedded in this structure)
Verb + 得 + Complement + 吗？
The verb complement with the modal particle 吗 at the end of the declarative sentence can form a question.
- zhège zhuōzi shàng fàng dé xià zhèxiē dōngxī ma?
- Can these things fit on this table?
- nǐ yīgè rén chī dé wán zhège xīguā ma?
- Can you finish this watermelon by yourself?
How to use 吗 – 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.
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.
- tā bùshì huì shuō hànyǔ ma?
- Doesn’t he speak Chinese?
- 👉 Confusion
- wǒ bùshì shuōguò bu yào dǎrǎo wǒ ma
- Didn’t I say not to disturb me?
- 👉 Dissatisfaction
- nǐ bùshì shuō nǐ yīgè rén kěyǐ de ma?
- Didn’t you say that you can do it alone?
- 👉 Sarcasm
- 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.
- 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. )
- 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.)
This structure is actually inviting a positive answer.
- nǐ bù chīfàn ma
- You’re not eating?
- (expecting a positive answer “吃饭”)
- nǐ bù huí jiā ma?
- You’re not going home?
- (expecting a positive answer “回家”)
The negative rhetorical question with modal adverb “还” expresses something expected, like “should” in English.
- 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.)
- 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 吗 – 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.
- wǒ xiǎng xiàng nǐ qǐngjiào yīgè wèntí, kěyǐ ma?
- I want to ask you a question, can I?
- B: 可以。
- 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。
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:
- How to use 的 – Possession particle
- How to use 吧 – Final particle
- How to use 呢 – Interrogative final particle
- How to use 不 – Negation
What other Chinese Grammar should we cover next time? Let us know in the comments!
HOW TO USE 吗 – 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“
吗 can be used with words such 不是 (bú shì), 能 (néng), 能不 (néng bù), 难道 (nándào) to form rhetorical questions.
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?
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!