Chinese Calligraphy

Lesson 3

The question particle 嗎 (ma)

In Chinese there are different ways of forming a question. For a yes-no question, the question particle 嗎 (ma) can be used. The question particle 嗎 (ma) has the neutral tone (fith tone) and always comes at the end of the sentence.

Question Particle

When forming a question, the word order Subject-Verb does not change to Verb-Subject as in English but remains unchanged. You can recognise a question not by a change in word order but by the question particle 嗎 (ma). 嗎 is used in cases where you either expect an affirmative or a negative answer to your question (yes-no question).

Negation using the negative particle 不 (bù)

不 is used to negate actions which take place in the present or future. 不 is placed before the verb, adjective or preposition to be negated.

Here are examples of how to negate verbs.


When negating adjectives, 不 is placed before the adjective.

Negating adjectives

When negating prepositions, 不 is placed before the preposition.

Negating prepositions

When negating sentences containing an adverb, most adverbs occur before 不 (the adverbs in our examples are underlined).

Negating adverbs

Note, however, that in some situations adverbs may occur after 不 resulting in a change in meaning.

Negating adverbs

When negating the adverb 很, the negation 不 may in some cases occur before or after the adverb without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Negating adverbs

Unfortunately, this interchangeability is not always possible as the following example shows.

Negating adverbs

Please also note that the negative particle 不 (bù) is pronounced on the fourth tone (bù) unless it is followed by another fourth tone (e.g. bù shì). The pronunciation then changes to the second tone (bú shì), see Tone Changes.


In Chinese there is a distinction between adjectives followed by a noun (e.g. a tall man) and adjectives not followed by a noun (e.g. he is tall). In this lesson we want to look at the second (easier) group of adjectives, namely those adjectives not followed by a noun. In Chinese adjectives (or more precisely: adjectival verbs) do not require the linking verb 是 (shì) as the following examples show.


The linking verb 是 (shì) is only used before adjectives or verbs, if you want to emphasise a statement and, in particular, if you want to express that the contrary of what somebody says is true (contrastive emphasis).

Linking verb