Why in Chinese

“Why” seems to be a very simple word, yet Chinese is such a complex language that it has many ways of saying it. The biggest difference here is between spoken and written Chinese. Since you have already started learning this language, you might have heard about it already: Chinese has a very rich formal language and a lot of official written forms that are very hard to grasp for a foreigner. However, you should not worry about it. Here is why:

The very good news is that you don’t have to learn flowery written Chinese. It is actually hard to learn for native speakers themselves, so no one expects a foreigner to know it. Unless you are interested in it, of course. 

The best advice for you is to keep things simple, what it is very doable with Chinese. Mandarin, despite having an opinion of being notoriously hard to learn, has a very simple grammar. When asking questions, don’t expect complicated polite forms like in Japanese, or sentence structure inversion like in English.  

With this guide, you will learn 3 simple ways to naturally ask questions in Chinese: 

  1. 为什么/ 為什麼 (Tw), [wèi shénme]: the simplest, the easiest, the most basic expression you must know. 

为什么 literally means ”for what”, and it is formed with three characters: 为, which means for, meanwhile 什 and 么 put together mean “what”. It is the easiest way to ask for an explanation, thus ask “why”

Position in a sentence:

It is used after subject, so the structure is subject + 为什么 + predicate. After 为什么 you will most often put a verb. 

Example sentences:

为什么学中文?[nǐ wèi shénme xué zhōngwén] : Why do you learn Chinese? (This question you will hear several times per day if you go to China).

为什么要来中国?[nǐ wèi shénmeyào lái zhōngguó]: Why do you want to come to China? (Another one you will hear many times). 

Other easy sample sentences:

为什么要去?[nǐ wèi shénme yào qù]: Why do you want to go?

为什么不要去?[nǐ wèi shénme bú yào qù]: Why don’t you want to go? (It is enough you put 不 or 没 before the verb to ask a negative question).

为什么想去中国旅游?[nǐ wèi shénme xiǎng qù zhōngguó lǚyóu]: Why do you want to travel in China?

Answer:

Since we ask “why”, we should also learn how to say “because”. The proper answer to 为什么 question is 因为 [yīnwei], which means because.  Note that the second character is the same as the first one, and remember it means “for”. However, be care careful: in “because”, the tone of 为 changes to neutral, since it is easier to pronounce it this way. The first character 因 means “reason”. So 因为 literally means “reason for”. Logical, isn’t it?

Position in a sentence:

It is used in the same way as English “because”, so in the beginning of the sentence where we explain the reason.  

Example sentences:

  • 为什么学中文?
  • 因为我要去中国读书。 [yīnwei wǒ yào qù zhōngguó dúshū]:Because I want to go to China to study.
  • 为什么想去中国旅游?
  • 因为中国是一个很美丽的国家。[yīnwei zhōngguó shì yīge hěn měilì de guójiā]:Because China is a beautiful country.

You can also answer in a full sentence:

我学中文,因为我要去中国读书。[wǒ xué zhōngwén, yīnwei wǒ yào qù zhōngguó dúshū]: I learn Chinese because I want to go to China to study. 

Remember, however, that you don’t have to use 因为 every time when you respond a question. Omitting that word and going straight with the answer is also acceptable, especially in a daily conversation. In fact, you may want to use 因为 whenever you want to emphasise that you are answering a question. There is nothing hard here, it works exactly the same as in English.

Example:

  • 为什么学中文?
  • 我要去中国读书。

2. 怎么/ 怎麼(Tw), [zěnme]: it means both “how to” and “why”. When used as “why”, it sounds rather informal. It is often used in negative circumstances, but not only. 

Position in a sentence:

Same as 为什么, so subject +怎么 + predicate. 

Example sentences:

你怎么没有来上学? [nǐ zěnme méiyǒu lái shàngxué]:Why didn’t you come to school?

你怎么花了那么长时间?[nǐ zěnme huāle lái name cháng shíjiān]:Why did you spend so much time? 

你怎么啦?[nǐ zěnme la]: What’s the matter with you? It is a very popular expression. 啦 is an auxiliary word that is a fusion between other auxiliary words you may have heard about already: 了 [le] and 啊 [a].

Answer:

We answer 怎么 question the same as 为什么 question, so we use 因为 (or omit it). In fact, since 怎么 is usually used in a daily conversation, you may often skip 因为 just to keep things simple. For instance:

  • 你怎么没有来上学?
  • 我生病了 [wǒ shēngbìngle]。I was sick. 
  • 你怎么了?
  • 我感觉不舒服 [wǒ gǎnjué bùshūfu]: I am not feeling well. In this sentence we don’t use 因为, since it is not a “why” question.

3. 为何/ 為何 (Tw), [wèihé]: it has the same meaning as 为什么 but is sounds more formal, since何 is a formal equivalent of 什么. You will hear 为何 in spoken conversations less often than 为什么, but you may come across it in written texts.

Position in a sentence:

Same as 为什么, so subject + 为何+ predicate. 

Example sentences:

我们为何而活?[wǒmenwèihéér huó] :Why do we live? Or better, what do we leave for? Quite a philosophical question. 而 [ér] here indicates a causal relation. 

为何如此 [wèihérúcǐ]: it is a useful structure that means “why… that way/ that much/so much etc.”

For instance: 我为何如此爱你?[wǒ wèihérúcǐ àinǐ]: Why do I love you so much?

Answer: 

We answer 为何 question the same as 为什么 question, so we use 因为 (or omit it). For instance:

  • 我为何如此爱你?
  • 因为。。。(well, I don’t know what would be the correct answer to such a question). 

Chinese may be a rather hard language to learn, but we can make it as easy as possible for you. In Maayot, we specialise in Chinese reading and we can help you with grammar, vocabulary and learning new characters. If you want to know about Chinese, check out other articles on Maayot: