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Questions in polite form
The question marker is covered here because it is primarily used to clearly indicate a question in polite sentences. While it is entirely possible to
express a question even in polite form using just intonation, the question marker is often attached to the very end of the sentence to indicate a
question. The question marker is simply the hiragana character 「か」 and you don't need to add a question mark. For
you must not use the declarative 「だ」 with the question marker.
田中さん： お母さんはどこですか。- Where is (your) mother?
鈴木さん： 母は買い物に行きました。- (My) mother went shopping.
キムさん： イタリア料理を食べに行きませんか。 - Go to eat Italian food?
鈴木さん： すみません。ちょっと、お腹がいっぱいです。- Sorry. (My) stomach is a little full.
Here the question is actually being used as an invitation just like how in English we say, "Won't you come in for a drink?"
「すみません」 is a polite way of apologizing. Slightly less formal is 「ごめんなさい」 while the casual version is simply 「ごめん」.
The question marker in casual speech
It makes sense to conclude that the question marker would work in exactly the same way in casual speech as it does in polite speech. However, this is not case.
The question marker 「か」 is usually not used with casual speech to make actual questions. It is often used to consider whether something is true or not.
Depending on the context and intonation, it can also be used to make rhetorical questions or to express sarcasm.
It can sound quite rough so you might want to be careful about using 「か」 for questions in the plain casual form.
- Do you think [he/she] will really eat this type of thing?
- Do I look like I would have something like that?!
or nothing at all except for a rise in intonation, as we have already seen in previous sections.
- Are you really going to eat something like this?
- Do you have something like that?
「か」 used in subordinate clauses
Another use of the question marker is simply grammatical and has nothing to do with the politeness. A question marker attached to the end of
a subordinate clause makes a mini-question inside a larger sentence. This allows the speaker to talk about the question. For example, you can talk about
the question, "What did I eat today?" In the following examples, the question that is being considered is in red.
（１） 昨日何を食べたか忘れた。- Forgot what I ate yesterday.
（２） 彼は何を言ったかわからない。- Don't understand what he said.
（３） 先生が学校に行ったか教えない？ - Won't you inform me whether teacher went to school?
In sentences like （３） where the question being considered has a yes/no answer, it is common (but not necessary) to attach 「どうか」.
This is roughly equivalent to saying, "whether or not" in English. You can also include the alternative as well to mean the same thing.
（１） 先生が学校に行ったかどうか知らない。- Don't know whether or not teacher went to school.
（２） 先生が学校に行ったか行かなかったか知らない。- Don't know whether teacher went to school or didn't.
Using question words
While we're on the topic of questions, this is a good time to go over question words (where, who, what, etc.) and what they mean in various
contexts. Take a look at what adding the question marker does to the meaning of the words.
A certain one from many
As you can see by the following examples, you can treat these words just like any regular nouns.
（１） 誰かがおいしいクッキーを全部食べた。- Someone ate all the delicious cookies.
（２） 誰が盗んだのか、誰か知りませんか。- Does anybody know who stole it?
（３） 犯人をどこかで見ましたか。- Did you see the criminal somewhere?
（４） この中からどれかを選ぶの。- (Explaining) You are to select a certain one from inside this [selection].
Question words with inclusive meaning
The same question words in the chart above can be combined with 「も」 in a negative sentence to mean "nobody" （誰も）, "nothing" （何も）, "nowhere" （どこも）, etc.
「誰も」 and 「何も」 are primarily used only for negative sentences.
Curiously, there is no way to say "everybody", and "everything" with question words. Instead, it is conventional to use other words like
The remaining three words 「いつも」 (meaning "always")
and 「どれも」 (meaning "any and all"), and 「どこも」 (meaning everywhere)
can be used in both negative and positive sentences.
Nobody (negative only)
Nothing (negative only)
Any and all
（１） この質問の答えは、誰も知らない。- Nobody knows the answer of this question.
（２） 友達はいつも遅れる。 - Friend is always late.
（３） ここにあるレストランはどれもおいしくない - Any and all restaurants that are here are not tasty.
（４） 今週末は、どこにも行かなかった。- Went nowhere this weekend.
(Grammatically, this 「も」 is the same as the topic particle 「も」 so the target particle 「に」 must go before the topic particle 「も」 in ordering.)
Question words to mean "any"
The same question words combined with 「でも」 can be used to mean "any". One thing to be careful about is that
「何でも」 is read as 「なんでも」 and not 「なにでも」
Words for "Any"
（１） この質問の答えは、誰でも分かる。- Anybody understands the answer of this question.
（２） 昼ご飯は、どこでもいいです。- About lunch, anywhere is good.
（３） あの人は、本当に何でも食べる。- That person really eats anything.
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