Japanese Essentials: How to Ask a Question

Thanks to our previous article, you know now how to introduce yourself properly! If you want to know more about the person you’re with, it’s time to learn how to ask a question in Japanese.
Asking a question in Japanese is very easy: you simply need to add the particle か at the end of a declarative sentence and pitch your voice slightly higher such as:
あなたはアメリカ人です。 (Are you American?)
The breakdown of this question is:

  • あなた: you
  • は: topic marker
  • です: copula, “to be”

In Japanese, topics following は or first-person pronouns are omitted most of the time if they can be inferred from the context. The same goes when asking a question because it will sound more natural if you omit the pronoun or refer to the person’s name:
アメリカ人ですか。(are you American?)
ジョンさん学生がくせいですか。(John, are you a student?)
These are both yes or no questions. You’ll learn that Japanese has a quite a few words for yes and no. The formal words are はい and いいえ but they are often combined with other phrases to soften the speech.
はい、そうです。 (Yes, that’s right.)
いいえ、学生ではありません。(No, (I’m) not a student.)
If you want to ask more precise questions, you use specific question words such as: ‘what’ and ‘where’.
仕事しごとなんですか。(What is your job?)
エンジニアです。((I’m) an engineer.)
まいはどこですか。(Where do you live?)
東京とうきょうです。((I live) in Tokyo.)
くにはどこですか。(Which country/Where are you from?)
アメリカです。((I’m from) America.)
Pitch is everything in Japanese and it’s common for native speakers to omit the question word of a sentence and state the topic if it can be obviously inferred from context.
お仕事は。((What is) your job?)
お住まいは。((Where do) you live?)
お国は。(Where/which country (are you from)?)
Remember that abbreviated questions are marked with a rising intonation.
Vocabulary Review:

  • 仕事しごと: job
  • くに: country
  • 名前なまえ: name
  • まい: home, place of residence
  • 出身しゅっしん: hometown

In polite speech, when speaking about someone else, some nouns are preceded by the prefix お or ご.  When referring to yourself, you should drop the prefix.

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