How to Use 吗 (ma) in Chinese Grammar

吗(ma) is a commonly used interrogative particle in Chinese grammar, which is often added to end of declarative sentences to make interrogative questions, including yes-no questions, rhetorical questions and tag questions. We put together the uses of 吗(ma) in this article which can help you learn more about it.

Yes-No Questions with 吗 (ma)

吗(ma) is often placed at the end of a declarative sentence to form a yes-no question. A yes-no question can be answered with words that indicate affirmation or negation, such as 是(shì)/不是(bú shì), 对(duì)/不对(bú duì), 嗯(èn), etc.

Here are some example sentences with “吗”.

A: 你是学生吗?

Nǐ shì xuésheng ma?

Are you a student?

B: 是的。

Shì de.

Yes, I am.


A: 这是你的雨伞吗?

Zhè shì nǐ de yǔsǎn ma?

Is this your umbrella?

B: 不是。

Bú shì.

No, it’s not.


A: 你住在这里吗?

Nǐ zhù zài zhèli ma?

Do you live here?

B: 嗯。

Ǹg.

Mmm.

Note: 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.

你真的是学生吗?

Nǐ zhēn de shì xuésheng ma?

Are you really a student?

 

这真的是你的雨伞吗?

Zhè zhēn de shì nǐ de yǔsǎn ma?

Is this really your umbrella?

 

你真的住在这里吗?

Nǐ zhēn de zhùzài zhèli ma?

Do you really live here?

Rhetorical Questions with 吗 (ma)

In everyday spoken Chinese, people often ask questions which they already know the answer to, that is, rhetorical questions. 吗 can be used with words such 不是(bú shì), 能(néng), 能不(néng bù), 难道(nándào), etc. to form rhetorical questions. “不是(bú shì)……吗” and “能(不)……吗” are very common collocations.

“不是…… can be used to express the speaker’s confusion, dissatisfaction, or sarcasm or remind someone of something.

Examples

他不是会说汉语吗?(confusion)

Tā bú shì huì shuō Hànyǔ ma?

He can speak Chinese, can’t he?

 

我不是说过不要打扰我吗?(dissatisfaction)

Wǒ bú shì shuōguo bú yào dǎrǎo wǒ ma?

I told you to leave me alone, didn’t I?

 

你不是说你一个人可以的吗?(sarcasm)

Nǐ búshì shuō nǐ yīgèrén kěyǐ de ma?

You said you can do it alone, didn’t you?

 

你明天不是要去北京吗?(remind)

Nǐ míngtiān bú shì yào qù Běijīng ma?

You are going to Beijing tomorrow, aren’t you?

 

能(不)……吗” is often used to express sarcasm in rhetorical questions. It’s positive form means the negative, while it’s negative form means the positive.

Examples

你菜里放那么多盐,这菜能好吃吗?

Nǐ cài li fàng nàme duō yán, zhè cài néng hǎochī ma?

You put too much salt in the dish, how could it be delicious?

(The dish is not actually 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 de nàme shǎo, néng bù shēng bìng ma?

It’s so cold last night, and you didn’t wear enough clothes. How could you not get sick?

(You will be sick.)

 

你每天吃那么多东西,又不运动,能不胖吗?

Nǐ měi tiān chī nàme duō dōngxi, yòu bú yùn dòng, néng bú pàng ma?

You eat so much every day and don’t exercise. How can you not get fat?

(You will get fat.)

Tag Questions with 吗 (ma)

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.

Examples

小张,听说你下个月要结婚了,是吗?

Xiǎo Zhāng, tīngshuō nǐ xià ge yuè yào jié hūn le, shì ma?

Xiao Zhang, I heard that are going to get married next month, right?

 

我想向你请教一个问题,可以吗?

Wǒ xiǎng xiàng nǐ qǐngjiào yí ge wèntí, kěyǐ ma?

May I ask you a question?

 

你没跟我说过这件事,对吗?

Nǐ méi gēn wǒ shuōguo zhè jiàn shì, duì ma?

You didn’t tell me about this, right?

 

Conclusion

To sum up, 吗(ma) is a typical interrogative particle which is used in yes-no questions, and sometimes it appears in rhetorical questions or tag questions. If you have any other questions about the use of 吗(ma), welcome to let us know in the comments and we would like to answer for you.



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