呢 (ne) is one of the most common particles you will encounter in Mandarin Chinese. Since there is not any equivalent word in English or any other language, it could be a bit tricky for beginners in Chinese to comprehend and use the word properly.
Well, by the end of this article, you definitely won’t be confused. We’ll walk you through the various usages of 呢 (ne) in Chinese, show you how to use it correctly in different contexts, and help you avoid some common mistakes beginner learners tend to make.
Let’s get started!
Basic Usages of 呢 (ne) in Chinese
呢 (ne) can be used in a couple of ways in Chinese, but essentially, it has three most important usages: raising a “what about” question, asking whereabouts of someone or something, and expressing curiosity. It’s most often used at the end of a question.
Sounds a bit too abstract? Then let’s look at the three usages one by one in detail.
1. Use 呢 (ne) to Ask “What About…?”
你好吗？ Nǐ hǎo ma?
How are you?
我很好，你呢? Wǒ hěn hǎo, nǐ ne?
I am great, what about you?
我也很好。 Wǒ yě hěn hǎo.
I am great too.
Does it sound familiar to you? Right, this is probably the first dialogue you can find in any Chinese textbook, and it happens to serve as a perfect example to demonstrate the first common usage of 呢 (ne): raising a “what about” question.
In this dialogue, instead of repeating the question “how are you?”, which sounds redundant, the second speaker uses “你呢 (nǐ ne)?” to bounce this question back to the first speaker.
This is a simple and quick way to return the question that you’ve just been asked. We can translate it as “and you?“ or ”what about you?”.
(answer) + 你 (nǐ)/你们 (nǐmen) + 呢 (ne)?
Jīntiān nǐ máng ma?
Are you busy today?
Bù máng, nǐ ne?
No, what about you? (are you busy?)
Nǐ xiǎng chī shénme?
What do you want to eat?
Wǒ xiǎng chī miàn, nǐ ne?
I want to eat noodle, what about you? (what do you want to eat?)
Nǐmen shì nǎli rén?
Where are you guys from?
Wǒmen shì měiguó rén, nǐmen ne?
We are Americans, what about you? (where are you guys from?)
Nǐ zài nǎr?
Where are you?
Wǒ zài jiā, nǐ ne?
I am home, what about you? (where are you?)
Nǐ shì shéi?
Who are you?
Wǒ shì tā nǚpéngyou, nǐ ne?
I am his girlfriend, what about you? (who are you?)
What time do you get off work?
Nǐ jǐdiǎn xiàbān?
Qī diǎn, nǐ ne?
Seven o’clock, what about you? (what time do you get off work?)
Nǐ shénme shíhou huí měiguó ?
When will you go back to America?
Shí èr yuè, nǐ ne?
December, what about you? (when will you go back to America?)
Nǐ zěnme qù xuéxiào?
How do you go to school?
Zuò dìtiě, nǐ ne?
By metro, what about you? (how do you go to school?)
Nǐ wèishénme lái zhōngguó?
Why did you come to China?
Yīnwèi gōngzuò, nǐ ne?
Because of work, what about you? (why did you come to China?)
Nǐ xǐhuan nǎge?
Which one do you like?
Wǒ xǐhuan zhège, nǐ ne?
I like this one, what about you? (which one do you like?)
Besides forming bounce-back questions, 呢 (ne) can also be used in more general contexts, as an equivalent to the English “what about…?” or “how about…?”. The structure is easy, simply say what you want to know about (the “subject”), and add a 呢 (ne) right after it.
subject + 呢 (ne)?
Typically, native speakers would use this structure when they have already asked a similar question and don’t want to repeat the question all over again.
Jīntiān nǐ yǒu kòng ma?
Do you have free time today?
What about tomorrow? (do you have free time tomorrow?)
Zhège duōshǎo qián?
How much is this one?
What about that one? (how much is that one?)
Wǒ bú huì hànzì.
I don’t know any characters.
What about Pinyin? (do you know Pinyin?)
Wǒ bàba méiyǒu gōngzuò.
My dad doesn’t have a job.
Nǐ māma ne?
What about your mom? (does your Mom have a job?)
Zhèli bù néng tíng chē.
You can’t park the car here.
What about there? (can I park the car there?)
2. Use 呢 (ne) to Ask Whereabouts of Someone/Something
Sometimes, you will hear people seemingly use the 呢 (ne) out of the blue. When this happens, they are usually asking where someone or something is, and they expect that the person or thing to be there somewhere.
For instance, you have a dinner meeting with your two of your friends – Tom and Jerry, and when you go there, only Tom shows up. In this case, you can ask him “Jerry 呢 (ne)?” (You expect Jerry to be there too, but now he’s missing, so you want to find out his whereabouts)
missing person/thing + 呢 (ne)?
Where’s dad (who’s supposed to be around here)?
Wǒ de shǒujī ne?
Where’s my mobile phone (which is supposed to be around here)?
Nǐ de chē ne?
Where’s your car (which is supposed to be around here)?
Nǐ de māma ne?
Where’s your mom (who is supposed to be around here)?
Nǐ de zuòyè ne?
Where’s your homework (which is supposed to be around here)?
Alert! Don’t use this structure to ask for directions!
Just to be clear, this structure is used to express “How come it’s not here? What happened to it? Where did it go?”. To ask for directions, use the question word 哪里 (nǎli) or 哪儿 (nǎr) instead.
Compare these two:
Wèishēngjiān zài nǎli?
Where is the restroom? (tell me how to get there)
What is with the restroom? (it’s supposed to be here, but now it’s vanished! What happened to it?)
3. Use 呢 (ne) to Express Curiosity (in a Good Way)
You can use 呢 (ne) in a choice question or open question in Chinese to emphasize that you are curious, interested, happy, or eager to find out the answer. It produces a casual, relaxed, and friendly tone to the question.
In this case, 呢 (ne) can be loosely translated as “I am wondering” or “I am interested to know”. (most often, however, this meaning would not be explicitly stated in English)
呢 (ne) with Choice Question
You can put a 呢 (ne) at the end of a choice question (a question that gives answer options in itself for others to choose from).
choice question + 呢 (ne)?
zhège hǎo bu hǎochī ne?
I am wondering if this is tasty or not?
Míngtiān wǒmen shàng bu shàngkè ne?
I am wondering if we’ll have lessons tomorrow or not?
Zhōumò huì bu huì xiàyǔ ne?
I am wondering if it will rain over the weekend or not?
Nǐ xǐhuan zúqiú háishì lánqiú ne?
I am wondering if you like soccer or basketball?
Wǒmen yào bu yào dài kǒuzhào ne?
I am wondering if we need to wear a face mask or not?
呢 (ne) with Open Question
You can also use 呢 (ne) after an open question to add a query element.
open question + 呢 (ne)?
Nǐ yào nǎge ne?
I am wondering which one you want?
Nǐmen qù nǎr ne?
I am wondering where you guys are going?
Wǒmen zěnme qù chāoshì ne?
I am wondering how we can get to the supermarket?
Wǒmen jǐdiǎn jiànmiàn ne?
I am wondering what time we shall meet?
Nǐ wèishénme bù xué zhōngwén ne?
I am wondering why you don’t learn Chinese?
All these questions would still be grammatically correct without 呢 (ne), but by adding 呢 (ne) at the end, the speakers imply that they are genuinely curious about the answer and are eager to find it out. They’ve added an “I am interested to know, so tell me, tell me, tell me” touch to the questions.
(taking order in a restaurant)
Nǐ yào chī shénme?
What do you want to eat? (just my job to ask, not that I care)
Nǐ yào chī shénme ne?
What do you want to eat? (I am interested in what you order, and I am happy to serve you)
Alert! Don’t use 呢 (ne) in a 吗 (ma) question!
- √ 你今天来吗？
Nǐ jīntiān lái ma?
Will you come today?
- × 你今天来吗呢？
Nǐ jīntiān lái ma ne?
Never use 呢 (ne) with 吗 (ma) together!
- × 你今天来呢？
Nǐ jīntiān lái ne?
Don’t try to replace 吗 (ma) with 呢 (ne) either!
- √ 你今天来不来呢？
Nǐ jīntiān lái bu lái ne?
Will you come today or not? (choice question + 呢 ne)
- √ 你今天来还是明天来呢？
Nǐ jīntiān lái háishì míngtiān lái ne?
Will you come today or tomorrow? (choice question + 呢 ne)
- √ 你什么时候来呢？
Nǐ shénme shíhou lái ne?
When will you come? (open question + 呢 ne)
Quick Recap: How to Use 呢 (ne)
呢 (ne) is a very important particle in Chinese. It’s most often used at the end of a question. You can use 呢 (ne) whenever you want to:
- raise a “what about” question
- ask whereabouts of someone or something
- express curiosity (in a good way)
Chinese speakers use 呢 (ne) frequently in daily conversation. Now that you know how to use this particle correctly, try slipping a few 呢 (ne) into your speech as well, then guaranteed, you’ll sound more native and fluent!
All right, that’s everything you need to know about 呢 (ne) in Chinese! Don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel. Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together!