Interrogative Sentence

How Japanese Question Words Work Outside of Wh-questions

Question Word: なにか

This is the last lesson in the interrogative sentence section. You have already completed how to make closed, open, and negative questions, and how to respond to them. Here, you will learn how to use question words outside of wh-questions.

Explanation for How Question Words Work Outside of Wh-questions

Table of Contents
Question Words + か
Question Words + も + Negative Form
Question Words in a Noun Clause
Expressing “Whether”

The number of the usages of question words in Japanese is less than English. Thus, it’s not a good idea if you try to translate something with related question words from English into Japanese. Let’s learn Japanese as it is.

Question Words + か

なに pronoun something
だれ
どなたか
pronoun someone
どこか pronoun somewhere
どれか pronoun one (of the three or more)
どっちか
どちらか
pronoun one way (of the two)
どうか adverb somehow
なぜか
どうしてか
なんでか
adverb for some reasons
いつか adverb sometimes, someday
いくつか adverb some number
いくらか adverb some amount

When you use question words with か, you can express unspecified things like “something” and “someone.” You can consider “question word + か” as one word. The parts of speech are determined by the original question words. Be careful. You cannot use adverbs for subjects, objects, and complements. Here are some examples.

このぶんしょう なに おかしい(です)
Topic Subject Predicate
As for this sentence, something is wrong.
[わたしは] どちらか う / います
[Topic/Subject] Object Verb
[I will] buy one of them.
[わたしは] [あなたに] どうか たのむ / たのみます
[Topic/Subject] [Target] Adverb Verb
[I] beg [you] please. (Lit. I somehow request you.)
*This is a set phrase to make a strong and polite request.
[わたしは] いつか ほん く / きます
Topic/Subject Adverb Destination Verb
[I will] go to Japan someday.

Omission

When the particle が  or  を  is  placed after “question words + か,”  the particles are often omitted. Thus, you need to guess the functions based on the contexts. The following sentences are very natural.

このぶんしょうなにおかしい(です)。
どちらかう / います)。

Don’t be confused with the following examples. You need to pay attention to the omission especially when you make interrogative sentences. They look similar, however, the first example is a closed question while the second one is an open question.

だれる(の / んですか)?
Will someone come?
だれる(の / んですか)?
Who will come?

Description

You can add descriptions with “question words + か” as you can do it in English, e.g. “to drink something cold.” The difference is that only nouns or noun phrases can be placed in Japanese.

なにものを(う / います)。
[I will] buy something to drink.
どこかとおくに(く / きます)。
[I will] go to somewhere far.

Question Words + も + Negative Form

なに pronoun nothing, anything
だれ
どなたも
pronoun nobody, anybody
どこも pronoun nowhere, anywhere
どれも*1 pronoun all (of the three or more)
どっちも*1
どちらも*1
pronoun both way (of the two)
どうも*2 adverb somehow
なぜも*3
どうしても
なんでも*4
adverb no matter what
いつも*1 adverb always or never (with negative verbs)
いくつも*5 adverb few number
いくらも*5 adverb small amount
Note
*1 They can be used in affirmative sentences.
*2 This is used in negative sentences, but doesn’t indicate complete negation.
*3 This doesn’t make sense and is not said in Japanese.
*4 This works in a different function.
*5 These are uncommon expressions.

When you use question words with も, you can express complete negation with some exceptions as the note shows. Grammatically, you can consider the も as the focus particle も. Thus, when you use も with the particle が and を, you replace が and を with も.

[わたしは] なに うれしく(ない / ありません)
[Topic/Subject] Object of Emotion Predicate
[I’m] not happy at all.
[わたしは] どっちも べない / べません
[Topic/Subject] Direct Object Verb
[I] won’t eat both of them.

Now, let’s think about cases where other particles such as に, へ, and と, are used. Unlike the above usages, you need to combine these particles with も.

[わたしは] どこ かない / きません
[Topic/Subject] Destination Verb
[I] won’t go anywhere.
[わたしは] だれ はなさない / はなしません
[Topic/Subject] Partner of Interaction Verb
[I] won’t talk with anyone.
友達ともだちみつ [わたしは] だれ わない / いません
Topic [Subject/Contrast] Target Verb
As for [my] friend’s secret, [I] won’t tell [it] to anyone.

Question Words in a Noun Clause

どう べんきょうする 大切たいせつ(だ / です)
Adverb Verb + か Particle  
Noun Clause: Subject Predicate
How to study is important.

The structure of noun clauses with question words is like this: “question word + some elements + か + particle.” Elements can be placed before question words, but “か + particle” is always placed at the end. Note: when you connect nouns and na-adjectives with か, don’t attach だ or です. Here are more examples:

どんなひと説明せつめい(する / します)よ。
[I] will explain what kind of person [he/she] is.
だんがいくら大切たいせつじゃない(です)。
As for how much the price is, [it] is not important.
いつが(わからない / わかりません)。
[I] don’t know when [I] will arrive.

Again, when the particle が and を are placed in this formation, they are often omitted.

どんなひと説明せつめい(する / します)よ。 
だんがいくら大切たいせつじゃない(です)。 
いつ(わからない / わかりません)。 

You can use the explanatory のだ in noun clauses. However, んだ cannot be used in this context even if you speak casually. The formality will be determined by the end of sentences.

どんなひとなのか説明せつめい(する / します)よ。 
だんがいくらなのか大切たいせつじゃない(です)。 
いつのか(わからない / わかりません)。 

Expressing “Whether” in Japanese

あめ かどうか 調しらべる / 調しらべます
Subject Verb + かどうか Particle  
Noun Clause: Object Verb
[I will] check whether it will rain or not.

By placing …かどうか before particles, you can express “whether” in Japanese. The noun clauses indicate that there are two options and thus question words usually don’t appear. Take a look at some examples.

実験じっけん成功せいこうするかどうかをためします。
[I’ll] test out whether the experiment will succeed.
かねちかどうかは関係かんけいないです。
As for whether [he is] rich or not, [it] is irrelevant.
だんたかいかどうかは大切たいせつじゃないです。
As for whether the price is high, [it] is not important.

You can reword …かどうか with the sentence pattern:“…か…か.” In this pattern, you can use the related negative form or the antonyms. We can say that the following examples have virtually the same meaning.

だんたかいかどうか大切たいせつじゃないです。
だんたかいかたかくないか大切たいせつじゃないです。
だんたかいかやすいか大切たいせつじゃないです。

Omission

The particle が and を are often omitted. It’s important to guess the functions based on the contexts.

実験じっけん成功せいこうするかどうかためします。
かねちかどうかは関係かんけいないです。
だんたかいかたかくないかは大切たいせつじゃないです。

In colloquial expressions, どうか can be omitted while the sentence pattern: “…か…か” cannot be omitted.

実験じっけん成功せいこうするかどうかをためします。
かねちかどうか関係かんけいないです。
だんたかいかたかくないかは大切たいせつじゃないです。

Summary

  1. “Question words + か” expresses unspecified things, e.g. “something.”
  2. “Question words + も” expresses complete negation with some exceptions.
  3. “Question words + some elements + か + particle” makes a noun clause.
  4. “…かどうか” and “…か…か” expresses “whether” in Japanese.

This is kind of a utilization of what you learned in the interrogative sentence section. We were unable to show examples for all of the question words due to the length of the article. However, if you understand the functions of question words, you can certainly compose proper sentences.

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