Cantonese Grammar Lesson 6
Choice-Type Questions







not yet




to be


to have


not have

\jung\ yi

to like


\mihng\ baahk



\hoi\ \sam\

to be happy


/ho/ /yih/




to give


to want


know how to


to go

Grammar Description

One of the first things to learn in any language is how to say "yes" or "no".  One of the first things to learn in Cantonese is that there are no words that mean "yes" or "no".  Instead, Cantonese has choice-type questions.  Choice-type questions are made by presenting a person with two choices and having them answer by choosing one of the two options.

Any question in English where a person would be asked to answer "yes" or "no" could be made into a choice-type question using a verb and its negative.  In English it would seem like an interrogation, but in Chinese such questions are the standard and not at all rude.




Did you go to the store?  

Yes. No.

Did you, or did you not go to the store?  

I did. I did not.

Is that your mother?   

Yes. No.

Is that, or is that not your mother?  

She is. She is not.

Can I come? 

Yes. No.

Can I, or can I not come?   

You can. You cannot.

Forming The Negative

To form the negative of most verbs the prefix \mh\ is added before the verb or adjective being negated.




The verb "to have" is a special case.  Instead of using the \mh\ particle to negate it, /yauh/ is d by a word with the opposite meaning: /mouh/ ("to not have").


/Ngoh/ /yauh/ \che\

 ("I have a car") becomes

 /Ngoh/ /mouh/ \che\

 ("I don't have a car")

Using Choice-Type Questions

As noted earlier, Cantonese forms most choice-type questions by offering a verb and its negative as choices.  This is done by putting the verb in its usual place in the sentence and then following it directly with its negative form.  Verbs with two syllables follow a special rule.  The positive form the second syllable is omitted while the negative form is written out in full.  This abbreviation is not a requirement, the full form can also be used, but native speakers almost always shorten the question.

Full form:




Not all choices are made from a verb and it's opposite, however.  Sometimes the two choices are just exclusive of each other.  One such choice is whether an event has occurred or has not yet (as opposed to whether it will or not).  meih means "not yet".  To make a choice-type question with meih you use the entire verb phrase as the first choice and meih as the second choice.  The sentence ending particle "a" is almost always added to end of questions in this form.

meih a?


*The sentence "/Neih/ heui \Heung\ /Gong/ meih a?"  is not asking whether someone has ever gone to Hong Kong or not.  It is asking if someone who is planning to go to Hong Kong is leaving now or not.  How to ask whether someone has ever done something is taught in a later grammar lesson.

Another choice-type question that offers choices that are not necessarily opposites uses dihng or dihng haih 定係.  When used to make a question, these terms have the equivalent meaning of "or" as in "Do you want pizza or tacos?".  The question is formed by separating the two choices with dihng or dihng haih.  Note that these terms are NOT used to make a statement with "or".  The statement "You can have either pizza or tacos." would be formed by a different term (waahk /je/ 或者).

/Neih/ /seung/

dihng haih

disallow nonsense questions


Note that some of the examples above are pretty much nonsense.  It takes a little imagination to see how the sentence "Do you want to go to Hong Kong or give him a pen?" or "Do you want to be happy or go to England?" would ever be used.  The point of leaving in the nonsense questions is to show the versatility of the grammar structure.  (In the first case, you could have someone who is very impulsive about to buy a $1000 pen as a gift for a friend.  A friend, knowing how impulsive he is, and that he wants to go to Hong Kong, offers sage advice in the form of that question...  In the second case, you have a person who has met the love of her life in Hong Kong but offered a very lucrative job in England.  When told she is about to leave, her love tries to get her to stay by asking...)


Several words and phrases introduced today are Cantonese specific and are not used as shown in standard written Chinese.  The words, their written counterparts, and the Cantonese pronunciations of those counterparts are listed below:

Oral Pronunciation

 Oral Character

 Written Pronunciation

Written Character




muht /yauh/



muht /yauh/


dihng haih


\waahn\ sih




\jung\ yi


/hei/ \fun\




Cantonese verbs must have an object (unless the object is understood).  When making a choice-type question using a verb and its negative, the \mh\ character comes between the verb and its object and the negative form of the verb and its object V-O \mh\ V-O.  However, the object is generally dropped in the positive form making it look like the pattern is V \mh\ V.

The sentence ending particle "a" is often added to the end of choice-type questions.  It partly functions to identify to the listener that a question was just asked and partly as a place to include emotion or additional meaning through intonation.

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