Interrogative Sentence

Japanese Wh-questions: 何, どの, 誰・どなた, どこ, and どっち・どちら


Last time, you learned Japanese demonstratives: これ, それ, あれ, and どれ like “どれが寿司すしですか (Which one is Sushi)? これが寿司すしです (This one is Sushi).” You can think of these four words as one group, where どれ is a question word, and the others are its counterparts. In this lesson, you will learn other question words with their counterparts.

Japanese Wh-questions with Japanese Demonstratives: こそあど

Table of Contents
何 (なに・なん): What
どの: Which…
誰・どなた: Who
どこ: Where
どっち・どちら: Which Direction

In English, you can use “this” as both a pronoun and a determiner: “This is good,” and “This hotel is good.” In Japanese, you have to modify the form of demonstratives: “これはいい,” and “ホテルはいい.” You can consider the first hiragana as a base and change the suffixes. Each form has its related question words.

Pronouns -group
this one
that one
that one over there
which one
over there
this way
that way
that way over there
which way
this person
that person
that person over there
which person
Determiners -group この
that… over there
Attributes んな-group
this kind of…
that kind of…
that other kind of…
what kind of…
Proadverbs -group
like this
like that
like that over there

That’s simple, isn’t it? There are just two irregular pronunciations in the あ column. The concept, proper usages being determined by the distance between objects and speakers or listeners, remains the same. Here, we will focus on pronouns and determiners. You will learn proadverbs and attributes in the next lesson.

なに (What), だれ・どちら (Who), and どの (Which) with れ-group and の-group

れ-group: Pronoun (Thing)

これはほんほん(だ / です)。
This one is a Japanese book.
Is this one a Japanese book?
Which one is a Japanese book?

This is what you learned in the previous lesson. By replacing a demonstrative (such as これ) with its related question word (such as どれ), you can make a wh-question with the identifier particle が. Then, what should you do if you do not know what an object is and want to ask, “What is this one?” This is where you use 何.

何 (なに・なん): What

これは (ですか)?
Topic / Subject Complement Question Marker
What is this one?

何 is translated as “what” in English and replaces nouns. Comparing the original example with the above one, ほんほん was replaced by 何. 何 can be pronounced as なに or なん. The grammatical rule is that it is always pronounced as なん if the letter after 何 is part of the Ta line (た ち つ て と), Da line (だ ぢ づ で ど), or Na line (な に ぬ ね の). Otherwise, you always pronounce 何 as なに.

これは なん ほん (ですか)?
Topic / Subject Explanation Modified Noun Question Marker
What book is this one?

What if you know it is a book, but do not know what book it is? You can also ask such a specific question. Here, only ほん has been replaced by 何. You can figure out the meaning of a whole sentence by looking at the trailing particles. And also please pay attention to the presence of subjects. With the last two examples below, the subjects (such as “わたしたちは”) are omitted.

あれは(なに / なんですか)?
What is that one over there?
What picture is that one?
What is the cause?
なにを(する / しますか)?
What will [we] do?
なにに(る / りますか)?
What will [we] take?
これは なに ほん (ですか)?
Topic / Subject Explanation Modified Noun Question Marker
Lit. What language’s book is this one?

If there is a noun with a suffix, you can ask a more specific question by replacing only the noun like the above example, i.e. ほん has been replaced by 何. When used like this, 何 is always pronounced as なに except when used with よう (day of the week) .

何駅なにえきで(りる / りますか)?
At which station will [we] get off?
何大学なにだいがくく(の / んですか)?
What university will [you] go?
What flavor do [you] like?
As for today, what day of the week is it?

の-group: Determiner

このほん: this book
そのパソコン: that PC
あのひと: that person over there

The concept of Japanese determiners is the same as in English. The function is to specify generic nouns, e.g. “a book” vs. “this book.” の-group is always placed before nouns. Unlike れ-group, you can use this for people as well as things.

(Very) Casual Plain Polite
こいつ / こっち
そいつ / そっち
あいつ / あっち
どいつ / どっち
このかた / こちら
そのかた / そちら
あのかた / あちら
どのかた / どちら

There are other groups to describe people, though the two basically express directions. Please choose the group that suits your needs. Here are more examples

(こいつ / このひと / このかた / こちら)は 先生せんせい(だ / です)よ。
This person is a teacher.
そのパンを(う / います)よ。
[I will] buy that bread.
あの公園こうえんでサッカーを(する / します)よ。
[I] will play soccer at that park over there.

どの: Which…

どのひと 先生せんせい (ですか)?
Topic / Subject Complement Question Marker
Which person is a teacher?

どの is the question word which relates to the determiners and thus there is a sense to identify something. However, the identifier particle が appears only when question words are used as a subject. Question words, which include どの, can be used in various parts of a sentence. Again, subjects can be omitted in order to be more natural.

Which fruit is sweet?
どの大学だいがくく(の / んですか)?
To which university will [you] go?
どの部屋へやを(使つかう / 使つかいますか)?
Which room will [you] use?
どのやまを(く / きますか)?
At which mountain will [you] draw a picture?

だれ・どなた: Who

このひと だれ / どなた (ですか)?
Topic / Subject Complement Question Marker
Who is this person?

だれ is a neutral word while どなた is a polite word. Both of them have the same meaning and can be translated as “who” in English. They are used in place of words that indicate people. Just like with other question words, please focus on the particles’ functions to understand the meaning of the whole sentence.

このほん だれ (ですか)?
Topic / Subject Possessor Question Marker
As for this book, whose is [it]?
あのひとは (だれ / どなた)(ですか)?
Who is that person over there?
だれ / どなた)がごはんをつくる(の / んですか)?
Who will make a meal?
だれ / どなた)にがみく(の / んですか)?
To whom will [you] write a letter?
だれ/ どなた)と学校がっこうく(の / んですか)?
With whom will [you] go to school?


どこ (Where) and どっち・どちら (Which Direction) with こ-group and っち・ちら-group

こ-group: Pronoun (Location)

ここは書館しょかん(だ / です)よ。
Here is a library.
トイレはそこ(だ / です)よ。
The washroom is there.
ホテルはあそこ(だ / です)よ。
The hotel is over there.

Just like れ-group which is the pronoun for things, こ-group is the one for locations. You can use these in place of words which indicate locations.

ホテルはとなり(だ / です)よ。
The hotel is the next [building].
ホテルはあそこ(だ / です)よ。
The hotel is over there.

どこ: Where

トイレは どこ (ですか)?
Topic / Subject Complement Question Marker
Where is a washroom?

どこ is the question word related to pronouns for locations, and corresponds to “where” in English. However, while “where” can only be used for actual places, どこ can be used for “points” and “parts”, too.

Where is the station?
Where is safe?
どこを観光かんこう(する / しますか)?
Where will [you] go sightseeing?
どこで(およぐ / およぎますか)?
Where will [you] swim?
As for Japanese, what part is difficult?
What point in this movie is interesting?

っち・ちら-group: Pronoun (Direction)

えきは(こっち / こちら)(だ / です)よ。
The station is in this direction.
カフェは(あっち / あちら)(だ / です)よ。
The café is in that direction over there.
(そっち / そちら)はびょういん(だ / です)よ。
The hospital is in that direction.

っち-group is casual while ちら-group is polite, though both of them have the same meaning. These groups have two functions. The first is to indicate direction, as the above shows. The second is to express places where the speakers or listeners are when you have a conversation.

(こっち / こちら)は もう あつい(です)よ
Topic / Subject Adverb Complement
My place is already hot.
*Said when you talk with your friend on the phone.

With this function, こっち・こちら indicate the speaker’s place, そっち・そちら indicate the listener’s place and あっち・あちら indicate the third person’s place.

どっち・どちら: Which Direction

空港くうこう どっち / どちら (ですか)?
Topic / Subject Complement Question Marker
In which direction is the airport?

どっち and どちら are the question words related to pronouns for directions. There are two main usages. The first is to ask for directions.

どっち・どちら: to ask direction

ホテルは(どっち / どちら)(ですか)?
In which direction is the hotel?
銀行ぎんこうは(どっち / どちら)(ですか)?
In which direction is the bank?
(どっち / どちら)に(く / きますか)?
In which direction will [we] go?

The second is that どっち and どちら can actually be used to express “which one” like どれ and どの.

どっち・どちら: to ask which one

ピザは(どっち / どちら)(ですか)?
Which one [of the two] is a pizza?
ハンバーガーは(どっち / どちら)(ですか)?
Which one [of the two] is a hamburger?
(どっち / どちら)がわたしの(ですか)?
Which one [of the two] is mine?
(どっち / どちら)のあじき(ですか)?
Which flavor [of the two] do [you] like?
(どっち / どちら)を(べる / べますか)?
Which one [of the two] will [you] eat?

One important point here is that they imply there are just two options. If you have more than two options, you have to use どれ for things or どの + suffixes like どの人 for people.


  1. Pronouns are replaced with nouns
  2. Determiners are placed before nouns
  3. Question words can appear in any part in a sentence
  4. Particles are the key to figuring out meanings
  5. Subjects are often omitted

In this lesson, you have learned a lot of vocabulary. However, if you look at the structures, they are very similar. If you understand the above, you can easily figure out the meanings of sentences. Next, you will learn the rest of the demonstratives: attributes and proadverbs.

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