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Want to know how to ask basic mandarin questions? Chapter 18 – Ask Questions

The 6 W‘s of English question styles are all different words. However, in basic mandarin Chinese, if you have learned one word shén 么me which means “what”,  then you can almost say all the other questions. 

learn basic mandarin
She told him to buy 两个洋葱, he literally came back with 2 onions.

Learn basic mandarin

1.1. 什 (shi)

“什” has two different pronunciations.  The first pronunciation is “shi”, which means ten or many.  Actually, the right side of the character means ten (十), and the left side relates to person (人). Together its original meaning is “ten people”.   In ancient Chinese time, the smallest unit of an army consisted of ten people which was called “一什”. These ten people fought together as a team.  Also, the smallest neighbourhood unit is made of ten families (called “一什”), making it more efficient for the government to manage.

When it is pronounced “shi”, it also means many.  For example: 

“ shí 锦jǐn”, means many or mix together.  
“什shí 锦jǐn 菜cài” many kinds of vegetables.  
“什shí 锦jǐn 糖táng” different kinds of candies.  
When Chinese use numbers to talk basic mandarin, most of the time they don’t literarily mean that number.  For example, “两个” (two ) often means a few.   三、五、九、什, all of them can mean many.  I know of a couple where the wife is Chinese and the husband English, living in China.  One day, the wife asked the husband to go buy “liǎng 个 洋yáng 葱cōng” (two onions). The husband literally brought back exactly two onions and told his wife that the street vendor did not even ask him to pay for them.  The wife was not happy, and complained: 

“难怪人家没要你钱, 让你买两个洋葱你就真拿回来两个啊!”  ( No wonder the vendor did not ask you to pay. I asked you to buy two onions, and you really brought back two.)   
Actually, when she said liǎng 个 She meant a few. although unhappy, she did not overly blame him for taking her words literally, because only people who grew-up in the culture know about this tricky numbers’s manipulation.

1.2. 什 (shen)

When it is pronounced “shen”, it is always coupled with the character “me”(a light touch tone).
“什shénme” together means “what”. 
For example: 
 刚gāng 才cái 说shuō 的de 是shì shén me
What did you say just now?

1.3. Who

Once you have learned the basic mandarin “什么”(what),  “who” becomes easy. Indeed, you just need to add “人” after the “什么”. It therefore becomes “什么人”.  
For example: 
·      shén me rén jīn 天tiān 主zhǔ 持chí 会huì 议
(Who will host the meeting today?)
There is another character which also means “who”, which is the charactershuí.

For example: 
shuí 今jīn 天tiān 主zhǔ 持chí 会huì 议
(Who will host the meeting today?).  In spoken language, “谁” is often pronounced “shei” instead of “shui”.

1.4. When

If you just add “shíjiān” after “什么”: 
“什shén 么me 时shí 间jiān” you get “what time”.  For example: 她什么时间来?(when is she coming?).

1.5. Where

Again, you can just add “地点/地方” after the “什么” to get a new question form. In this case “where”. The complete formation of where is “什么地点/地方”.
For example: 
·      jīn 天tiān 我 们men 去 shén me  fāng
(Where are we going today?)

·      shén me  diǎn  以 看kàn 到dào 日 出chū
(Where can we see the sunrise?)

There is another character which also means “where”. It’s “哪” (Nǎ).
For example: 
·      jīn 天tiān 我 们men 去 
(Where are we going today?)

·       可 以 看kàn 到dào 日 出chū
(Where can we see the sunrise?)

1.6. Why

If you add “为” before “什么” together, you get “wèi 什shén 么me” which means “why”.  Actually, “为” here means “for”. 
wèi shén me  今jīn 天tiān 没méi 有yǒu 来lái 上shàng 班bān?(Why she did not come to the office today?)
  今jīn 天tiān 没méi 有yǒu 来lái 上shàng 班bānwèi shén me?(She did not come to the office today, why?

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