Daily Mandarin Lesson: "What" in Chinese

Daily Mandarin Lesson: "What" in Chinese

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Learning how to say "what" in Chinese is a very helpful vocabulary word that will enable you to ask and understand questions.

The Chinese term for “what” is 甚麼 written traditionally, or 什么 written in simplified form. In Mandarin Chinese, its pinyin is "shénme." Most commonly used as a question word, 甚麼 / 什么 can also be used in certain statements. For example, 沒甚麼 / 没什么 (méi shénme) translates to "it doesn't matter" or "it's nothing."

甚麼 / 什么 (shénme) occurs after the verb it references. Or, when used with a noun, the term can appear at the beginning of the phrase.


The Chinese term for "what" is composed of two characters: 甚麼 / 什么. The first character 甚 / 什 (shén) can mean “what” or "why" depending on which characters come before or after. The second character is a non-independent particle which is always used in conjunction with other characters. Together, 甚麼 / 什么 means "what."


甚 / 什 (shén) is pronounced in the 2nd tone. This is a rising tone that starts from a lower pitch then rises upwards. On the other hand, 么 is an unaccented word. Thus, in terms of tones, the Chinese term for "what" can be written as "shen2 me."

Sentence Examples Using Shénme

Nǐ yào chī shénme?
What do you want to eat?
Shénme dìfang bǐjiào hǎo wán?
What place is fun?

Zhè shì shénme yìsi?
這是什麼意思 ?
这是 什么意思?
What does it mean? / What is the meaning?

Nǐ xiànzài zài zuò shénme?
What are you doing right now?