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”.
Are you a student?
Yes, I am.
Is this your umbrella?
No, it’s not.
Do you live here?
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.
Are you really a student?
Is this really your umbrella?
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……吗” can be used to express the speaker’s confusion, dissatisfaction, or sarcasm or remind someone of something.
He can speak Chinese, can’t he?
I told you to leave me alone, didn’t I?
You said you can do it alone, didn’t you?
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.
You put too much salt in the dish, how could it be delicious?
(The dish is not actually delicious. )
It’s so cold last night, and you didn’t wear enough clothes. How could you not get sick?
(You will be sick.)
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.
Xiao Zhang, I heard that are going to get married next month, right?
May I ask you a question?
You didn’t tell me about this, right?
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.