Mandarin Grammar Lesson 6
Choice-Type Questions






hai2 mei2

not yet

還 沒

hai2 shi4


還 是

ming2 bai2


明 白 


to have

mei2 you3

not have 沒 有

xi3 huan1

to like

喜 歡



kuai4 le4

to be happy

快 樂

ke3 yi3

can 可 以


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 Mandarin  is that there are no words that mean "yes" or "no".  Instead, Chinese 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 bu4 is added before the verb or adjective being negated.





The verb "to have" is a special case.  Instead of using the bu4 particle to negate it, you3 is negated by: mei2 ("to not have").


wo3 you3 che1

 ("I have a car") becomes

 wo3 mei2 you3 che1

 ("I don't have a car")

Using Choice-Type Questions

As noted earlier, Mandarin 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).  mei2 沒  means "not yet".  To make a choice-type question with mei2 you use the entire verb phrase as the first choice and mei2 as the second choice.



Another choice-type question that offers choices that are not necessarily opposites uses hai2 shi4  還 是.  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 hai2 shi4.  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 (huo4 shi4 或 是 ).

Ni3 yao4

hai2 shi4


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 China 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.  (If you really need justification, 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 China 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...)


Most Chinese verbs must have an object (unless the object is understood).  When making a choice-type question using a verb and its negative, the bu4 character comes between the verb and its object and the negative form of the verb and its object V-O bu4 V-O.  However, the object is generally dropped in the positive form making it look like the pattern is V bu4V-O.

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