什么 / 哪

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by gvergara, May 4, 2014.

  1. gvergara

    gvergara Senior Member

    Santiago, Chile
    Hi, so, I've usually come across the interrogative adjective 什么 to ask about things; however, there is also the interrogative adjective , used, for example, when asking about somebody's nationality (你是国人?). I read that the former corresponds to what, whereas the latter corresponds to which, but, honestly, I see no reason why you have to use one when asking a person's name (你叫什么名字?) and the other when asking about his/ her nationality. Thanks in advance,

  2. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    When there are two similar words, one tends to be used/associated with some things and the other with others. This has to do with speaking habits. In addtion to this, the use of 什么 and 哪 in 什么名字 and 哪国人 can also be motivated by the fact that 什么 tends to go with an open set of choices (such as names) and 哪 with a closed set (such as countries). Anyway, at the earlier stage of learning a foreign language, imitation is one of the best strategies :)
  3. shallbytoo New Member

    什么 means what
    哪 means where
    when we ask “你是哪国人” it usually means “where are you from”
    if you want to use "什么=what"
    u can always ask "what is your nationality"
  4. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    These two usually won't be confused because 哪 often associates with some location (where), while 什么 often associates with some description (what).

    When you are getting confused, it's possible because of the way we ask about choice (which) - 哪个.
    Imagine that there's a list of options in front of your eyes, you have to point out "where" is your choice. That's why we use 哪 instead of 什么 for "which".

    他是哪里人? He is person of where (place)?
    他是哪国人? He is person of where (country)?
    他是什么人? He is what person? Answer: / 我老板 my boss / 坏人 bad guy / etc.
    他来自哪里? He comes from where?
    他从哪来? He comes from where?
    他来自哪个国家? He comes from which country?
    他从什么地方来? He comes from what place?
    他是什么国籍? He is what nationality?
    他是哪个国籍? He is which nationality?
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  5. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Bắc Kinh
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    哪 = ¿cual ... ?
    什么 = ¿qué ... ?

    Now I remembered that in Spanish you actually say ¿Cual es tu hombre? which translated literally into Chinese is “哪个是你的名字?”. But in Chinese we don't say that. We use 哪 only when picking from a list, like SuperXW said. Unless there is a list e.g. of all the names of the people in your class, then you ask your classmate “哪个是你的名字?”。
    So Chinese 哪 has a narrower meaning than Spanish "cual".

    With nationality you can use 哪 because we are basically asking to pick a country among the ones in the world. But it's complicated because you can also say "什么国家".
    It's true that 哪 can be an abbreviation of 哪儿?or 哪里?(where), but for me, its first meaning is 哪个 (which).

    I interpret 哪国 as an abbreviation of 哪个国家 (which country?), not 哪儿国家 (*where country).
    Although in my dialect we say something equivalent to 哪儿国家.
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  6. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    You may be right that 哪个国家 stands for "which country". But I think 哪's basic meaning is still "where", followed by "which".
    Let's not to forget the most basic question using 哪 is 他在哪? It's about direction (where) first, then it becomes "where's your choice in the list" (which).
  7. stellari Senior Member

    Mandarin Chinese
    For me, 哪 is preferred when the object in question can be enumerated, i.e. (one of a small collection of countable candidates), whereas 什么 is usually followed by objects with too many possibilities. Therefore 哪 is better used with 国 and 什么 with 名字, since there are only hundreds of countries in the world, but uncountable number of names.
  8. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    This is right on a superficial level but it would cause you problem if you go deeper into the question.
    In essense, "哪" is an expression of "which", and "where" is just a short cut way of saying "which place":

    哪国人: person of which country
    哪里人: person of which place
    哪个国籍: which nationality
    哪个地方: which place/ locality
    哪些城市: which cities
    哪个? Which one?
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  9. MollyD New Member

    I would say " 哪儿“ itself is pretty much a noun, usually is not followed by other things. I would agree with xiaolijie's explanation that "什么 tends to go with an open set of choices (such as names) and 哪 with a closed set (such as countries)"
  10. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    To me, 哪 ("which") is an interrogative determiner, whereas 什么 ("what") can be either an interrogative pronoun or an interrogative determiner. As a determiner, 哪 must be followed by a measure word or a noun phrase, for instance, 你喜欢哪个 vs. *你喜欢哪 (cf. 你喜欢什么).
    哪裡 (裡 noun = 空間範圍 "space", e.g., 這裡, 那裡) = "which space/what place" 哪个地方/什么地方 = "where" (e.g., 你在哪裡? Where are you?)
    哪位 (位 noun, measure word for a person) = "which person/what person" 哪个人/什么人 = "who" (e.g., 失敬得很,您是哪位? Sorry, who are you?)
    哪会儿 (会儿 noun = 很短的一段时间 "moment, e.g., 一会儿) = "which moment/what time" 哪时/什么时候 = "when" (e.g., 你是哪会儿回来的? When did you come back?)

    Exception: 哪兒, which is abbreviated as 哪 by some, is an interrogative pronoun (e.g., 你打哪兒來, 上哪兒去) ==> The suffix 兒 indicates a change of grammatical category (表示詞性變化), from an interrogative determiner to an interrogative pronoun. In the eyes of some native speakers (for instance, me :D), 兒 is obligatory and cannot be omitted.

    Since both 哪 and 什么 can serve as an interrogative determiner, what are their differences?
    1. 哪 is associated with a finite list of options: 靠哪邊走 (implied options: 左邊, 右邊), 逃向哪个方向 (implied options: 四面: 東、南、西、北, or 八方: 東、南、西、北、東南、西南、東北、西北), vs. 逃向什么方向 (implying there is an infinite list of options).
    2. 哪 is often followed by a measure word (e.g.,他来自哪个国家?), whereas 什么 seldom goes with a measure word. If it does, it is usually a rhetoric question (e.g., 这是什么个国家?) or an exclamation (e.g., 这是什么个国家! What kind of country it is!).
  11. samiluo

    samiluo New Member

    Mandarin - China mainland
    hahaa, to be honest, I'm not gonna answer with long long text. But just to remind you "it's an idiomatic expression", we Chinese people say in this way, there's no reason! Like now I'm still confused with "que, o que, qual" in portuguese, I asked many natives, they can't explain very well, so whatever, I just use it. I don't need to be so accurate in a foreign language, you know what I mean is OK and dont need waste time thinking why this what that.. hehee
  12. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    That is what call "speaking habits" in my very first reply. But any way, there is more than one way to Rome, even if some are more long-winded than others.

    Welcome to the forum, samiluo!:)
    Last edited: May 6, 2014
  13. samiluo

    samiluo New Member

    Mandarin - China mainland
    Thank you so much, xiaolijie. Seems I have to learn a lot in order to answer questions well.
  14. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    I agree with most things you've said, except the last two examples.
    I don't think modern standard Mandarin use 什么个 in rhetoric questions or exclamations either.
    I never heard of 这是什么个国家. I think people only say 这是什么国家 or 这是怎么一个国家 or 这是怎样的国家 etc.
    I remember we have had a discussion about 怎么回事/什么回事 before...
    So, basically, I think the rule is pretty strict: no measure words after 什么.
  15. Skatinginbc

    Skatinginbc Senior Member

    Mandarin 國語
    Yeah, we did. 回 is a measure word. 40,100,000 google results for 什么回事 (vs. 19,100,000 for 怎么回事; 3,450,000 for 什么个国家). I agree with you from the prescriptive point of view that 什么 shall not be followed by a measure word. But from the descriptive point of view, many native speakers actually violate this rule.
  16. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    There seems to be some serious problem with Google. For "什么回事", the first time it gave me 600,000 something results, I refreshed it and I got your big number 40,100,000. But then I clicked on other pages, I got different smaller numbers. Went to page 14, it only said "137 results", and it ended there...
  17. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie Senior Member

    English (UK)
    There are serious problems with statististics and the problems only get worse when the statistics is based on Google. Google statistic is a big topic for another thread in another forum but within our forum, please cite Google with caution.
    Last edited: May 7, 2014

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