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How do you ask an A-not-A question in Mandarin Chinese?

By: Grace Zhang Thu Jan 04 2024
Mandarin chinese
Sentence Structure

To ask a yes-no question in Mandarin Chinese, it is common to use the A-not-A structure. You may have thought that we simply add  (ma), the question marker, at the end of a sentence. Although this is true, there are other ways of asking yes-no questions (such as using an A-not-A structure) in addition to adding  (ma). For example:


(Nǐ shìbushì lǎoshī?)

Are you a teacher?


(Nǐ shì lǎoshī, duìbuduì?)

You are a teacher, right/aren’t you?

In the first example, 是不是 (shìbushì, are or are not) is used in the form of A (, affirmative)-not-A (不是, negative), and is placed in the middle of the sentence. In the second example, 对不对 (duìbuduì, right/aren’t you?) is placed at the end of the sentence, which is a “tag question” (close to the English equivalent of “It’s cold today, isn't it?”). The speaker of the tag question here is almost certain that “you” are a teacher, but just asks for confirmation.

There are two patterns of A-not-A: “A- (, not)-A” and “A- (méi, not)-A.”

Let’s find out more about A-not-A questions in Mandarin Chinese.

Table of Contents

    How to use the A-不 (bù, “not”)-A structure in Mandarin?

    The affirmative-negative question is a question combining both a positive form and a negative form. Let’s compare the following sentences:


    (Nǐ yào hē shuǐ ma?)

    Do you want water?


    (Nǐ yàobuyào hē shuǐ?)

    Do you want water?

    你要喝水, 是不是?

    (Nǐ yào hē shuǐ, shìbushì?)

    You want water, right/don’t you?

    The first two sentences above are often interchangeable, although they have different forms ( vs. 要不要). The third sentence is a tag question, which means the speaker has an answer already but is double checking if the answer is correct.

    How to form tag questions with A-not-A in Mandarin?

    Unlike in English, where tag questions are formed based on the auxiliary verb of the sentence and on whether it is positive or negative, one way of forming tag questions in Mandarin is the A-not-A form. Apart from 对不对 (duìbuduì, right?) and 是不是 (shìbushì, isn’t it?), other phrases that can function as tag questions are: 好不好 (hǎobuhǎo, OK?), 有沒有 (yǒumeiyǒu, wasn’t it, didn’t you?), etc., all expressing the speaker’s request for confirmation (是不是), consent (好不好), evaluation of the truth of the sentence (对不对), or acknowledgement (有沒有). In other words, tag questions in Mandarin do not depend on the form of the verb of the sentence but rather on what the speaker wants to express.

    You can also form tag questions with the Mandarin particle 吗 (ma).


    Just in case you haven’t noticed, the tone of (, not) in an A-not-A question should be a neutral tone, which is used throughout this post.


    In the A-not-A question, A can be either a verb or an adjective. If it is an adjective, it has to go without the adverb of degree. We can't use degree adverbs such as (hěn, very) or (zhēn, really) in an A-not-A question. For example, we can say 你忙不忙? (Nǐ mángbumáng?, Are you busy?), but cannot say 你很忙不忙? (Nǐ hěn mángbumáng?, Are you very busy?). In this case, we use  (ma) instead, as in 你很忙吗? (Nǐ hěn máng ma?, Are you very busy?)


    When answering an A-not-A question, if the answer is “yes,” then you say A, if it is “no” then you say not-A. For example,

    Question: 你想不想去? (Nǐ xiǎngbuxiǎng qù?, Do you want to go?)

    Positive answer: 想。 (Xiǎng, Yes)

    Negative answer: 不想。 (Bù xiǎng, No)

    How to use A-没 (méi, “not”)-A in Mandarin?

    A-not-A can also be in the form of A- (méi, not)-A. The A--A can be used in the following two situations:

    • A--A is used for past events. For example:


      (Nǐ zuótiān qùmeiqù kàn tā?)

      Did you go to see him yesterday?

    • A--A is used with (yǒu, to have) to ask “is/are there” type of questions. The negation word for (yǒu, to have) is , not  (). When answering an A--A question, use  (yǒu) for “yes” and 没有 (méiyǒu) for “no.”


    有没有 (yǒumeiyǒu, is/are there) can be used to ask about something in the past, present, and future. For example:


    (Zuótiān yǒumeiyǒu Zhōngwén kè? )

    Was there a Chinese class yesterday?

    (lit.) Yesterday have not have Chinese class.


    (Jīntiān yǒumeiyǒu Zhōngwén kè? )

    Is there a Chinese class today?

    (lit.) Today have not have Chinese class.


    (Míngtiān yǒumeiyǒu Zhōngwén kè?)

    Will there be a Chinese class tomorrow?

    (lit.) Tomorrow have not have Chinese class.

    One-character words vs. two-character words

    The form of A-not-A may change according to the number of characters for A in A-not-A.

    Character number
    for A in A-not-A

    One character



    (Nǐ shìbushì xuésheng?)

    Are you a student?

    Two characters



    (Nǐ duànbuduànliàn?)

    Do you exercise?


    (Nǐ gāobugāoxìng?)

    Are you happy?



    (Nǐ duànliànbuduànliàn?)

    Do you exercise?


    (Nǐ gāoxìngbugāoxìng?)

    Are you happy?

    When A in A-not-A has two characters, you can follow two patterns: you can repeat the whole two-character word twice (锻炼锻炼 (duànliànbuduànliàn)) or repeat only the first character (锻炼 (duànbuduànliàn)). What is the difference between the two patterns? Well, the second pattern is said to be more common (and more elegant).

    There are other ways of asking questions. For example, you can use an alternative question, which provides alternative items combined with the conjunction A 还是 (háishì) / 或者 (huòzhě, or) B.

    To sum up

    When asking an A-not-A question, keep the following in mind:

    • A-not-A is a way of asking yes-no questions in Mandarin Chinese. For example:


      (Nǐ shìbushì xuésheng?)

      Are you a student?

    • A-not-A occurs in two positions: in the middle of a sentence or at the end of a sentence. For example:

      去不去 (in the middle) 图书馆?

      (Nǐ qùbuqù túshūguǎn?)

      Are you going to the library?


      你去图书馆, 对不对 (at the end)?

      (Nǐ qù túshūguǎn, duìbuduì?)

      You are going to the library, right/aren’t you?

    • When A in A-not-A is a one-character word, simply repeat A. For example:


      (Nǐ qùbuqù?)

      Are you going?

    • When A in A-not-A has two characters, A and B, use AB-not-AB or A-not-AB. For example:

      你喜欢不喜欢这本书?  (Nǐ xǐhuanbuxǐhuan zhèběn shū?)


      你喜不喜欢这本书 ?

      (Nǐ xǐbuxǐhuan zhèběn shū? )

      Do you like this book?

    • When (yǒu, to have) or past events are involved, we use (méi, not) instead of (, not). For example:


      (Nǐ yǒumeiyǒu xuéshengzhèng?)

      Do you have a student ID card?



      (Zuótiān nǐ yǒumeiyǒu dǎ diànhuà?)

      Did you phone yesterday?

    Ready for practice? Yep, I bet you are! Jump into the activity to practice how to use A-not-A questions in Mandarin.

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