5+ Useful Japanese Question Words

Ling Learn Languages
5 min readMar 13, 2022


Original blog post: https://ling-app.com/ja/japanese-question-words/

In every new language, we learn, we need question words to form interrogative sentences. The primary question words can be listed as who, what, where, when, why, and how. We call them WH questions. It is easy to remember them in the English language but do you know how to ask these question words in Japanese? If the answer is no, you are lucky because we will bring up this topic in this blog post.

You will learn how to ask Japanese questions but if you are a total beginner and need to learn the basics first, you can go to this blog post about basic Japanese phrases.

Here is the list of Japanese question words. We will elaborate on each of them as you scroll through the post.

Japanese Question Words You Need To Learn

What? (何)

The Japanese word for ‘what’ has two forms: nani and nan. Both of them are written with the same kanji . Nan is used before the copula such as ‘desu’ in Japanese. The Japanese language doesn’t allow movement principle, unlike English. So, usually, the sentence patterns stay the same. We say ‘What is this?’ in English but when it comes to the Japanese language you should think like ‘This is what?’

Nani? is used more like an exclamation phrase such as ‘What? or Huh?’

Example: これはですか(Kore wa nan desu ka?)

English: What is this?

Example: 何が食べたいですか。(Nani ga tabetai desu ka?)

English: What do you want to eat?

Where? (どこ)

The Japanese question word for ‘Where?’ is doko (どこ). It doesn’t have a kanji version. Doko (どこ) can be answered with the words such as koko (ここ) here, soko (そこ) there, and ‘asoko’ (あそこ) over there.

Example: トイレはどこですか?(Toire wa doko desu ka?)

English: Where is the bathroom?

Example: どこに行くの? (Doko ni iku no?)

English: Where are you going?

When? (いつ)

The Japanese question word for ‘when’ is itsu (いつ). It’s important to remember that this is only used as a question word, however, you can’t use it as a conjunction because they are expressed in different words, and that ‘when’ needs a different grammar structure since it isn’t a question word.

Example: いつ帰りますか? (Itsu kaerimasu ka?)

English: When will you go home?

Example: 誕生日はいつですか? (Tanjyoubi wa itsu desu ka?)

English: When is your birthday?

Why? (なぜ / なん)

The Japanese question word for ‘why’ is nande (なんで). The more formal version is naze (なぜ). Doushite (どうして) can also be used to say ‘why’ but it also means ‘how’ depending on context. So, you need to be careful if you want to use that word.

Example: なぜ日本語を勉強するのですか? (Naze nihongo wo benkyou suruno desu ka?)

English: Why do you study Japanese?

Example: なぜあなたはここにいるのですか? (Naze anata wa koko ni iru nodesu ka?)

English: Why are you here?

How? (どう)

You can use doushite (どうして) or dou (どう) to say ‘how’ in Japanese. You can use dou on its own or you can place it right before a verb.

Example: どうですか?(Dou desu ka?)

English: How is it?

Example: どう思いますか? (Dou omoimasu ka?)

English: What do you think?

Who? (だれ)

The question word for ‘who’ in Japanese is dare (誰). It always stays the same, no matter how many people you’re talking about, the level of formality. You can say dare in any situation.

Example: だれですか? (Dare desu ka?)

English: Who is it?

Example: あの女の子は?(Ano on’nanoko wa dare?)

English: Who is that girl?

Here is a summary list of these question words in Japanese so that you can see their formal, informal, and other versions all at once.

Here are some common Japanese question word compounds. I advise you to take a look at them as well.

なにかほしいですか。(Nanika hoshii desu ka?)

Do you want something?

なんでもいいです。(Nandemo ii desu.)

Anything is fine.

なにもありません。(Nanimo arimasen.)

I don’t have anything.

The List Of Other Question Words In Japanese

Question Mark In Japanese

Japanese punctuation includes various written marks besides characters and numbers, but they are different from those used in European languages. Punctuation is not widely used in formal Japanese writing but is often found in more casual writing, like exclamation and question marks.

Japanese can be written both horizontally or vertically, and some punctuation marks adapt to this change in direction such as parentheses, curved brackets, square quotation marks, ellipses, dashes, and swung dashes are rotated clockwise 90° when used in the vertical texts.

However, Japanese punctuation marks are usually full width so they occupy an area that is the same as the surrounding characters. Punctuation was not widely used in Japanese writing until translations from European languages became popular in the 19th century.

In formal Japanese, no particular symbol is used to mark question sentences, which end with the normal Japanese full stop (。) but, the question mark is commonly used in casual text-based conversations and creative writing and in the manga.

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The Ling App has it all for you, from fun mini-games to comprehensive lessons and the best part is you can try it out for free by downloading it from the App Store or Play Store! For more information about Japan, check out our blog for such fun topics as popular Japanese names and different ways to say I love you in Japanese.

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