Chinese Question Particles 吗, 呢, and 吧

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The three most common question particles in Chinese are /ma,/ne and /ba. How do they differ? How do you use them? Read more to find out!

Question particles
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There are three main similarities between them.

  1. Like all the Chinese particles, /ma, /ne, /ba are pronounced with a neutral tone.
  2. /ma, /ne, /ba should be put at the end of a sentence.
  3. All three can be used to form a question.

Here are some examples:

  • 你是学生

Nǐ shì xuéshēng ma?

Are you a student?

  • 我去电影院,你

Wǒ qù diànyǐngyuàn, nǐ ne?

I am going to the movies, how about you?

  • 这是你的

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 /ma,/ne and /ba below.

Questions with 吗 (ma)

Chinese question particles: 吗

吗 — for yes/no questions

If you add /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”. 

  • 他哥哥在中国学习中文。

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?

  • 这个房子是你的。

Zhège fángzi shì nǐ de.

This is your house.

      ⇒ 这个房子是你的

Zhège fángzi shì nǐ de ma?

Is this your house?

  • 那部电影特别有意思。

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, /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. 

  • 你想去中国,是

Nǐ xiǎng qù zhōngguó, shì ma?

You want to go to China, don’t you?

  • 咱们去逛街,好

Zánmen qù guàngjiē, hǎo ma?

Let’s go shopping, shall we?

  • 我去趟厕所,可以

Wǒ qù tàng cèsuǒ, kěyǐ ma?

I want to go to the toilet, can I?


Questions with 呢 (ne)

Chinese question particles: 呢

呢 — for bounce-back questions

In some cases, /ne at the end of a sentence will turn it into a bounce-back question and keep the conversation moving. 

  • A:你好吗?

Nǐ hǎo ma?

How are you?


Tǐng hǎo de, nǐ ne?

Pretty good, and you?

  • A:您身体怎么样?

Nín shēntǐ zěnme yàng?

How is your health?


Hěn jiànkāng, nǐ māma ne

I am in good health, what about your mum?

  • A:你在哪儿?

Nǐ zài nǎ’er?

Where are you?


Zhōngguó, nǐ jiějiě ne?

In China, what about your sister?

呢 — for “where” questions

Sometimes, /ne can be put right after the subject to ask where someone or something is.

  • 我的钱

Wǒ de qián ne?

Where’s my money?

  • 你奶奶

Nǐ nǎinai ne?

Where is your grandma?

  • 我钥匙

Wǒ yàoshi ne?

Where’s my key?

呢 — for emphasis

Unlike /ma, /ne can be used along with other question words, such as “为什么/wèishéme/why?”, “什么/shéme/what?”,  to emphasize a query.

  • 什么时候来的

Nǐ shénme shíhòu lái de ne?

So when did you come?

  • 为什么喜欢你

Tā wèishéme xǐhuān nǐ ne?

So why does he like you?

  • 你妈妈有什么喜欢吃的东西

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 /ne, but with it, they sound even more questioning.  


Questions with 吧 (ba)

Chinese question particles: 吧

吧 — for educated guesses

As a question particle, /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.

  • 这是你的书,对

Zhè shì nǐ de shū, duì ba?

        = 这是你的书

Zhè shì nǐ de shū ba?

This is your book, right?

  • 你会说普通话,对

Nǐ huì shuō pǔtōnghuà, duì ba?

        = 你会说普通话

Nǐ huì shuō pǔtōnghuà ba?

You can speak Mandarin, yeah?

  • 他是你弟弟,是?

Tā shì nǐ dìdì, shì ba?

        = 他是你弟弟

Tā shì nǐ dìdì ba?

He is your brother, isn’t he?


Hope you found this little guide helpful! Make sure to practice using /ma, /ne, and /ba in different contexts and ask native speakers for guidance 🙂