Mandarin Grammar

Ask a Person Whom You Want to Know

Learning Objectives


  • Learn to use "谁, shéi" to construct a question sentence to ask for a person or people whom you want to know in mandarin.

Learning Video

Additional Notes


Let’s look at the way to introduce a person in mandarin using the following affirmative sentence,  "他是大卫。"  (He is David.)


Its grammatical structure is : Subject + verb + object.


We first learn the meaning of each character in this sentence and then extend to learn the meaning of the full sentence.


The Subject: "他, tā" - means “He” which refers to a male person.


We can also use: "她, tā" - means “She” which refers to a female person.


Their mandarin pronunciations of “he- tā” and “she – tā” are the same.


If more than one person, we can use: “他们, tā men” means “they”, that describe more than one person, regardless of whether the persons are male or female.


Last, we can also use - "我, wǒ", in the Subject position. “我, wǒ” means “I”.


The Verb:  “是, shì” means verb to be: is, am, or are” ,

it is used to indicate Subject and Object are equivalent, which means “He = David”.


The Object: “David” is a “Person Name”.  We can use different names or nouns in an object position of the sentence.


These following sentences have the meaning as:

  • He  is David. "他是大卫。"

  • He = David


Then, if we want to change a sentence from an affirmative form to a negative form, we need to add a negative adverb "不, bù" in front of “the verb to be” of the sentence:

  • “不, bù” means “No” or ‘not”.

  • “不是, bú shì” means “is not”, “am not” or “are not”.


Let’s illustrate more examples:

  • He is David. "他是大卫。"

  • He is not David. "他不是大卫。"

  • She is Mary.  "她是玛丽。"

  • She is not Mary.  "她不是玛丽。"

  • They are teachers.  "他们是老师。"

  • They are not teachers.  "他们不是老师。"

  • I am a teacher.  "我是老师。"

  • I am not a teacher.   "我不是老师。"


We have already learned the affirmative and negative sentences, how about the construct of a "question sentence" to ask for a person whom you want to know?


Let’s continue using “He is David” as an example to demonstrate how to construct a question sentence using a Chinese question word “谁, shéi”.


We put "shéi" in an Object position, making it a question sentence. For example,

“他是谁, tā shì shéi?” means “Who is he?”

“谁, shéi” is a question word, meaning “who” which is used to ask for a person or people whom you want to know.


Let’s see the following examples:

  • Who is he? (他是谁?)

  • Who is she? (她是谁?)

  • Who are they? (他们是谁?)


Is it clear how to use “谁, shéi” (who)” to ask for essential information about a person? 


Let’s do some exercises

  • Who is he?  He is a fireman. "他是消防员。"

  • Who is she?  She is a nurse.  "她是护士。"


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