2. Questions with the modal particle 呢
呢 does not only appear in questions. When it does appear in questions, it usually follows an elliptical sentence with the part that is understood being omitted. Therefore, it is only used in context.
(a) Asking the same question without repeating it
Wáng: Nǐ zài nǎlǐ gōngzuò?
Lǐ: Zài Zhōngguó Yínháng. Nǐ ne?
Wang: Where do you work?
Li: At the Bank of China. How about you? (Meaning: Where do you work?)
(b) Omitting the predicate
The predicate can be omitted from a question if it is understood.
Bā de yí bàn shì sì, liù de yí bàn ne? (=Liù de yí bàn shì duōshao?)
Half of eight is four; what about half of six? (Meaning: What is half of six?)
Lǎoshī: Zhè ge wèntí, Lǐ Míng, Zhāng Lì dōu huì huídá. Wáng Ān, nǐ ne? (=Nǐ huì bú huì huídá?)
Teahcer: Both Li Ming and Zhang Li can answer this question. Wang An, how about you? (Meaning: Wang An, can you answer it?)
(c) Asking about ‘whereabouts’
When one does not see who or what one is expecting to see, 呢 is used to ask ‘what happened to ?’ or ‘where did go?’.
-> Is should be noted that sometimes this question is translated as ‘where is ?’. However, it is different from ……在哪里?, which is a question about ‘location’ of something, not its ‘whereabouts’.
(Situation: Mei Ying and her boyfriend are always seen together. But today you have bumped into her in the cinema and her boyfriend is not with her.)
Méi Yīng, nǐ yí gè rén lái kàn diànyǐng ma? Nǐ nán péngyou ne?
Mei Ying, you came to see the movie by yourself? Where is your boyfriend? (=What happened to him?)
(Situation: You are back in a town you left years ago. You are standing in front of the shop which used to be your favourite coffee shop, but now it’s something else.)
咦,咖啡馆呢?(咦 is an interjection, indicating curiosity or puzzlement.)
Yí, kāfēiguǎn ne?
Hey, where is the coffee shop? (What happened to the coffee shop? Where did the coffee shop go?)
To ask the physical location of someone or something, use 在哪里?
(Situation: You are new in town and you ask someone where the post office is.)
Qǐng wèn, yóujú zài nǎlǐ?
Excuse me. Where is the post office?
The use of 呢.
(a) Asking a question in context with 呢
呢 is used to either ask a previously asked question without repeating it or to ask a question when the context clearly indicates what the question is.
Lǎoshī: Xiǎo Wáng, zhè shì shénme zì?
Wáng: Nà shì ‘dà’zì.
Lǎoshī: Duì, hěn hǎo! Zhè ge ne? (Zhè ge shì shénme zì?)
Wáng: Wǒ bù zhīdao.
Lǎoshī: Xiǎo Wáng bú rènshi zhè ge zì; Xiǎo Lǐ, nǐ ne? (Nǐ rènshi bú rènshi zhè ge zì?)
Teacher: Xiao Wang, what character is this?
Wang: That is the character ‘big’.
Teacher: Correct, good! How about this one? (=What character is this one?)
Wang: I don’t know.
Teacher: Xiao Wang does not recognize this character. Xiao Li, how about you? (Xiao Li, do you recognize this character?)
(b) 如果/要是……呢?’what if …?’
如果/要是……呢 is used to ask ‘what if’
Zhíyuán: Jīnglǐ, jīnnián de yíngxīn huì, yào bàn shénme huódòng?
Jīnglǐ: Shìwài kǎoròu.
Zhíyuán: Rúguǒ xiàyǔ ne?
Staff: Manager, what kind of activity are we going to have for this year’s welcome party?
Manager: An outdoor BBQ.
Staff: What if it rains?
(c) Asking about ‘whereabouts’ with 呢
呢 can be used to ask about ‘whereabouts’. When you expect to see something or somebody, but what you expect to see is not there, you can use 呢 to ask ‘what has happened to…?’.
Although such a phrase is sometimes translated into ‘where is…?’ its connotation is different form a question with 哪里, which is used to ask the physical location of somebody or something.
(Situation: Xiao Wang and his girlfriend are nearly always together, but today you ran into him outside the cinema and he was alone).
你:小王!怎么今天一个人来看电影?你女朋友呢?(It would not be 你女朋友在哪里? since the real meaning of the question is ‘why is she not with you?’)
Nǐ: Xiǎo Wáng! Zěnme jīntiān yí ge lái kàn diànyǐng? Nǐ nǚ péngyou ne?
Xiǎo Wáng: Tā jīntiān bú tài shūfu.
You: Xiao Wang! How did you come to the movie by yourself today? Where is your girlfriend?
Xiao Wang: She is not feeling well today.
(Situation: You are new in town and want to know where the library and the Bank of China are.)
Nǐ: Qǐngwèn, túshūguǎn zài nǎli?
Dāngdì rén: Qiánmiàn nà dòng báisè de dà lóu jiù shì túshūguǎn.
Nǐ: Xièxie. Zhōngguó yínháng ne? (Zhōngguó yínháng zài nǎli?)
Dāngdì rén: Běn shì méiyǒu Zhōngguó yínháng.
You: Excuse me. Where is the library?
Local person: That white building up ahead is the library.
You: What about the Bank of China?
Local person: There is no Bank of China in this city.
(Situation: You have returned to the town you left years ago and you are standing in front of the place you your favourite coffee shop used to be. Now it’s something else.)
Nǐ: Wǒ yǐqián cháng qù de nà jiā kāfēiguǎn ne?
Dāngdì de péngyou: Nà jiā kāfēiguǎn yǐjīng bān zǒu le.
Nǐ: Shì ma? Bān dào nǎli le?
You: What happened to the coffee shop that I often used to go?
Local friend: That coffee shop has moved.
You: Is that so? Where did it moved to?
(d) Softening the tone of a question with 呢
呢 can be used at the end of the question (other than a 吗 question) to soften the tone and make the question sound less harsh or blunt. In this case, 呢 does not have a grammatical function; its use is optional.
Lǐ xiǎojiě: Wáng xiānsheng, zhēn duìbuqǐ, míngtiān de yuēhuì, wǒ bù néng lái le.
王先生:哦?为什么呢?(Without 呢, the utterance sounds harsh.)
Wáng xiānsheng: Ò? Wèishénme ne?
Miss Li: Mr. Wang, I’m really sorry, I can’t come to our date tomorrow.
Mr. Wang: Oh? Why’s that?
你不是说六点就会回家吗?怎么现在才回来呢?(Without 呢,the question may sound like an accusation.)
Nǐ bú shì shuō liù diǎn jiù huí jiā ma? Zěnme xiànzài cái huílai ne?
Didn’t you say you would be home by 6 o’clock? How come you came back now?
An optional 呢 is often used when the sentence has 还 in it, although its connotation is indefinable.
Lǐ tàitai: Nǐ érzi dàxué bìyè le méiyǒu?
Zhāng tàitai: Hái méiyǒu ne! Tā hái yǒu liǎng nián ne! Nǐ érzi ne? (=Nǐ érzi dàxué bìyè le ma?)
Lǐ tàitai: Wǒ érzi hái zài shàng gāozhōng ne!
Mrs. Li: Has your son graduated from university?
Mrs. Zhang: Not yet. He still has two years. How about your son?
Mrs. Li: My son is still in high school.
Wáng xiānsheng: Zhè ge fángzi bú cuò, gòu dà! Wǔ ge wòfáng, sān ge xǐshǒujiān.
Fángdìchǎn shāng: Nín kàn, hòumiàn hái yǒu yí ge dà huāyuán ne!
Mr. Wang: This house is not bad, big enough! Five bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Property salesman: Look! There is also a big garden behind it!
(f) Using 呢 with the progressive aspect
An optional 呢 can be used when the sentence indicates an action in progress.
Māma: Xiǎomíng, Zěnme hái bú qù xǐ wǎn? Nǐ zài zuò shénme?
Bàba: Tā zài xiě gōngkè. Wǒ qù xǐ ba.
Mother: Xiaoming, how come you still have not washed the dishes? What are you doing?
Father: He is doing his homework. Let me go do the dishes.
(Situation: You have a date with your girlfriend. She is waiting for you to pick her up at her house. You arrive at her house, but her younger brother is the one who opens the door.)
你:你好!你姐姐呢?(呢 in this question is asking the ‘whereabouts’ of his older sister, not her actual physical location, since you expected to see her.)
Nǐ: Nǐ hǎo! Nǐ jiějie ne?
Dìdi: Tā zài huàzhuāng ne!
You: Hello! Where is your sister?
Little brother: She is putting on make-up.