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The three most common question particles in Chinese are 吗/ma，呢/ne and 吧/ba. How do they differ? How do you use them? Read more to find out!
There are three main similarities between them.
- Like all the Chinese particles, 吗/ma, 呢/ne, 吧/ba are pronounced with a neutral tone.
- 吗/ma, 呢/ne, 吧/ba should be put at the end of a sentence.
- All three can be used to form a question.
Here are some examples:
Nǐ shì xuéshēng ma?
Are you a student?
Wǒ qù diànyǐngyuàn, nǐ ne?
I am going to the movies, how about you?
Zhè shì nǐ de ba?
It is yours, isn’t it?
Different contexts call for different question particles. Take a look at the detailed comparison between 吗/ma，呢/ne and 吧/ba below.
Questions with 吗 (ma)
吗 — for yes/no questions
If you add 吗/ma at the end of a statement, the statement will become a “yes/no question”, also known as a polar question – the kind you can answer with a “yes” or “no”.
Tā gēge zài Zhōngguó xuéxí zhōngwén.
His brother is learning Chinese in China.
Tā gēge zài Zhōngguó xuéxí zhōngwén ma?
Is his brother learning Chinese in China?
Zhège fángzi shì nǐ de.
This is your house.
Zhège fángzi shì nǐ de ma?
Is this your house?
Nà bù diànyǐng tèbié yǒuyìsi.
That movie is very interesting.
Nà bù diànyǐng tèbié yǒuyìsi ma？
Is that movie very interesting?
吗 — for tag questions
Except for the yes/no question, 吗/ma also can be used to form a tag question, such as “好吗/hǎo ma/okay?”, “对吗/duì ma/right?”, and “可以吗/kěyǐ ma/can I?”, for checking information that the speaker thinks he or she knows is true or for softening a suggestion.
Nǐ xiǎng qù zhōngguó, shì ma?
You want to go to China, don’t you?
Zánmen qù guàngjiē, hǎo ma?
Let’s go shopping, shall we?
Wǒ qù tàng cèsuǒ, kěyǐ ma?
I want to go to the toilet, can I?
Questions with 呢 (ne)
呢 — for bounce-back questions
In some cases, 呢/ne at the end of a sentence will turn it into a bounce-back question and keep the conversation moving.
Nǐ hǎo ma?
How are you?
Tǐng hǎo de, nǐ ne?
Pretty good, and you?
Nín shēntǐ zěnme yàng?
How is your health?
Hěn jiànkāng, nǐ māma ne？
I am in good health, what about your mum?
Nǐ zài nǎ’er?
Where are you?
Zhōngguó, nǐ jiějiě ne?
In China, what about your sister?
呢 — for “where” questions
Sometimes, 呢/ne can be put right after the subject to ask where someone or something is.
Wǒ de qián ne?
Where’s my money?
Nǐ nǎinai ne?
Where is your grandma?
Wǒ yàoshi ne?
Where’s my key?
呢 — for emphasis
Unlike 吗/ma, 呢/ne can be used along with other question words, such as “为什么/wèishéme/why?”, “什么/shéme/what?”, to emphasize a query.
Nǐ shénme shíhòu lái de ne?
So when did you come?
Tā wèishéme xǐhuān nǐ ne?
So why does he like you?
Nǐ māmā yǒu shé me xǐhuān chī de dōngxī ne?
So what does your mother like to eat?
These questions are grammatically correct even without 呢/ne, but with it, they sound even more questioning.
Questions with 吧 (ba)
吧 — for educated guesses
As a question particle, 吧/ba is often used to confirm the speaker’s guess. It’s common to add “对吧/duì ba/right?”, “是吧/shì ba/correct?”, or just 吧/ba at the end of the sentence.
Zhè shì nǐ de shū, duì ba?
Zhè shì nǐ de shū ba?
This is your book, right?
Nǐ huì shuō pǔtōnghuà, duì ba?
Nǐ huì shuō pǔtōnghuà ba?
You can speak Mandarin, yeah?
Tā shì nǐ dìdì, shì ba?
Tā shì nǐ dìdì ba?
He is your brother, isn’t he?
Hope you found this little guide helpful! Make sure to practice using 吗/ma, 呢/ne, and 吧/ba in different contexts and ask native speakers for guidance 🙂