LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese

The Question Marker

Posted by Tae Kim

Questions in polite form


  1. 田中 【た・なか】 - Tanaka (last name)
  2. お母さん【お・かあ・さん】 - mother (polite)
  3. どこ - where
  4. 鈴木 【すず・き】 - Suzuki (last name)
  5. 母 【はは】 - mother
  6. 買い物 【か・い・もの】 - shopping
  7. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  8. イタリア - Italy
  9. 料理 【りょう・り】 - cooking; cuisine; dish
  10. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  11. すみません - sorry (polite)
  12. ちょっと - a little
  13. お腹 【お・なか】 - stomach
  14. いっぱい - full
  15. ごめんなさい - sorry (polite)
  16. ごめん - sorry

The question marker is covered here because it is primarily used to clearly indicate a question in polite sentences. While it is entirely possible to express a question even in polite form using just intonation, the question marker is often attached to the very end of the sentence to indicate a question. The question marker is simply the hiragana character 「か」 and you don't need to add a question mark. For previously explained reasons, you must not use the declarative 「だ」 with the question marker.

Example 1

Tanaka-san: Where is (your) mother?

Suzuki-san: (My) mother went shopping.

Example 2

Kim-san: Go to eat Italian food?

Suzuki-san: Sorry. (My) stomach is a little full.

Here the question is actually being used as an invitation just like how in English we say, "Won't you come in for a drink?" 「すみません」 is a polite way of apologizing. Slightly less formal is 「ごめんなさい」 while the casual version is simply 「ごめん」.

The question marker in casual speech


  1. こんな - this sort of
  2. 本当 【ほん・とう】 - real
  3. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  4. そんな - that sort of
  5. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)

It makes sense to conclude that the question marker would work in exactly the same way in casual speech as it does in polite speech. However, this is not the case. The question marker 「か」 is usually not used with casual speech to make actual questions. It is often used to consider whether something is true or not. Depending on the context and intonation, it can also be used to make rhetorical questions or to express sarcasm. It can sound quite rough so you might want to be careful about using 「か」 for questions in the plain casual form.


  1. こんなのを本当食べる
    Do you think [he/she] will really eat this type of thing?
  2. そんなのは、あるよ!
    Do I look like I would have something like that?!

Instead of 「か」, real questions in casual speech are usually asked with the explanatory の particle or nothing at all except for a rise in intonation, as we have already seen in previous sections.

  1. こんなのを本当食べる
    Are you really going to eat something like this?
  2. そんなのは、ある
    Do you have something like that?

「か」 used in relative clauses


  1. 昨日【きのう】 - yesterday
  2. 何【なに】 - what
  3. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  4. 忘れる 【わす・れる】 (ru-verb) - to forget
  5. 彼 【かれ】 - he; boyfriend
  6. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  7. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) - to understand
  8. 先生 【せん・せい】 - teacher
  9. 学校 【がっ・こう】 - school
  10. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  11. 教える 【おし・える】 (ru-verb) - to teach; to inform
  12. どう - how
  13. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) - to know

Another use of the question marker is simply grammatical and has nothing to do with the politeness. A question marker attached to the end of a relative clause makes a mini-question inside a larger sentence. This allows the speaker to talk about the question. For example, you can talk about the question, "What did I eat today?" In the following examples, the question that is being considered is in red.

  1. 昨日食べた忘れた
    Forgot what I ate yesterday.
  2. 言った分からない
    Don't understand what he said.
  3. 先生学校行った教えない
    Won't you inform me whether teacher went to school?

In sentences like example 3 where the question being considered has a yes/no answer, it is common (but not necessary) to attach 「どうか」. This is roughly equivalent to saying, "whether or not" in English. You can also include the alternative as well to mean the same thing.

  1. 先生学校行ったどう知らない
    Don't know whether or not teacher went to school.
  2. 先生学校行った行かなかった知らない
    Don't know whether teacher went to school or didn't.

Using question words


  1. おいしい (i-adj) - tasty
  2. クッキー - cookie
  3. 全部 【ぜん・ぶ】 - everything
  4. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  5. 誰 【だれ】 - who
  6. 盗む 【ぬす・む】 (u-verb) - to steal
  7. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) - to know
  8. 犯人 【はん・にん】 - criminal
  9. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) - to see
  10. この - this (abbr. of これの)
  11. 中 【なか】 - inside
  12. ~から (particle) - from ~
  13. 選ぶ 【えら・ぶ】 (u-verb) - to select

While we're on the topic of questions, this is a good time to go over question words (where, who, what, etc.) and what they mean in various contexts. Take a look at what adding the question marker does to the meaning of the words.

Question Words
Word+Question Marker Meaning
いつ Sometime
どこ Somewhere
どれ A certain one from many


As you can see by the following examples, you can treat these words just like any regular nouns.

  1. 誰かおいしいクッキー全部食べた
    Someone ate all the delicious cookies.
  2. 盗んだのか、誰か知りませんか。
    Doesn't anybody know who stole it?
  3. 犯人どこか見ましたか。
    Did you see the criminal somewhere?
  4. このからどれか選ぶの。
    (Explaining) You are to select a certain one from inside this (selection).

Question words with inclusive meaning


  1. 全部 【ぜん・ぶ】 - everything
  2. 皆 【みんな】 - everybody
  3. 皆さん 【みな・さん】 - everybody (polite)
  4. この - this (abbr. of これの)
  5. 質問 【しつ・もん】 - question
  6. 答え 【こた・え】 - answer
  7. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) - to know
  8. 友達 【とも・だち】 - friend
  9. 遅れる 【おく・れる】 (ru-verb) - to be late
  10. ここ - here
  11. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)
  12. レストラン - restaurant
  13. おいしい (i-adj) - tasty
  14. 今週末 【こん・しゅう・まつ】 - this weekend
  15. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go

The same question words in the chart above can be combined with 「も」 in a negative sentence to mean "nobody" (誰も), "nothing" (何も), "nowhere" (どこも), etc.

誰も」 and 「何も」 are primarily used only for negative sentences. Curiously, there is no way to say "everything" with question words. Instead, it is conventional to use other words like 「全部」. And although 「誰も」 can sometimes be used to mean "everybody", it is customary to use 「」 or 「皆さん

The remaining three words 「いつも」 (meaning "always") and 「どれも」 (meaning "any and all"), and 「どこも」 (meaning everywhere) can be used in both negative and positive sentences.

Inclusive Words
Word+も Meaning
Nothing (negative only)
いつ Always
どこ Everywhere
どれ Any and all


  1. この質問答えは、誰も知らない
    Nobody knows the answer of this question.
  2. 友達いつも遅れる
    Friend is always late.
  3. ここあるレストランどれもおいしくない
    Any and all restaurants that are here are not tasty.
  4. 今週末は、どこにも行かなかった
    Went nowhere this weekend.

(Grammatically, this 「も」 is the same as the topic particle 「も」 so the target particle 「に」 must go before the topic particle 「も」 in ordering.)

Question words to mean "any"


  1. この - this (abbr. of これの)
  2. 質問 【しつ・もん】 - question
  3. 答え 【こた・え】 - answer
  4. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) - to understand
  5. 昼ご飯 【ひる・ご・はん】 - lunch
  6. いい (i-adj) - good
  7. あの - that (over there) (abbr. of あれの)
  8. 人 【ひと】 - person
  9. 本当 【ほん・とう】 - real
  10. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat

The same question words combined with 「でも」 can be used to mean "any". One thing to be careful about is that 「何でも」 is read as 「なんでも」 and not 「なにでも」

Words for "Any"
Word+でも Meaning
でも Anybody
でも Anything
いつでも Anytime
どこでも Anywhere
どれでも Whichever


  1. この質問答えは、誰でも分かる
    Anybody understands the answer of this question.
  2. 昼ご飯は、どこでもいいです。
    About lunch, anywhere is good.
  3. あのは、本当何でも食べる
    That person really eats anything.