The particle 呢 (ne) is pretty versatile in Mandarin Chinese. It can mark queries, continuation, *contrast * and equation. Using this particle correctly is an easy way to sound much more native and fluent. As it’s so common, understanding its use is often helpful in listening and reading.
This article explains four ways to use 呢, and also when and why to use 呢.
呢 for queries
The first use of 呢 that most learners of Mandarin come across is for reciprocal questions and queries. It’s a convenient way to bounce questions back when you’ve just been asked them.
For example, in English you can say ‘and you?’ to return a question. In Mandarin this is done by stating what you want to know about, then adding 呢 after it.
This can also be used more generally, as an equivalent to the English ‘what about’ or ‘how about’. The most important thing about 呢 is that it is always dependent on the context.
- 你呢？ (Nǐ ne?): ‘And you?’
- 我呢？ (Wǒ ne?): ‘What about me?’
- 经济呢？ (Jīngjì ne?): ‘And the economy?’
呢 for continuation
呢 doesn’t just do questions. It can also mark continuous tense (or what would be continuous tense in English), or indicate that an action is ongoing.
When used in this way, it often appears in sentences with 还 (hái), 还在 (háizài) or 正在 (zhèngzài). When used with 还 or 还在, it expresses persistence (which is most often expressed by ‘still’ in English).
- 他还在屋子里呢。 (Tā háizài wūzi lǐ ne.): ‘He is still in the room.’
- 我正在看书呢。 (Wǒ zhèngzài kànshū ne): ‘I’m reading.’
呢 for contrast
呢 can be used to highlight contrast between things. The thing being compared should have been established previously, and 呢 indicates that something is different to it.
- [But he didn’t before.]
- [But that other one is not.]
呢 for equation or likening
There are a few ways to describe this use of 呢: equation, likening, comparison etc. The point is that 呢 can be used to indicate that one thing is like another, or possesses the same quality, and that this information is interesting or surprising.
- 有房子大呢。(Yǒu fángzi dà ne.): ‘It’s as big as a house.’
- 有两百米呢。(Yǒu liǎngbái mǐ ne): ‘…as much as two hundred metres.’
When to use 呢
Looking at the examples on this page, you might notice that a lot of them are grammatical, valid sentences without 呢. So when and why should you use it?
呢’s ultimate function, and what links the four uses listed here, is that it is used to mark a response to someone’s previous statement or expectation. It draws attention to what the speaker is saying as something that should be of interest to the listener.
This can be used to mark agreement or contradiction with the listener’s view. The important thing is that it marks something related to the listener’s view or what they have just said.
This is very pragmatic, so there’s no consistent translation, but equivalents in English might include: ‘but’, ‘well’ or ‘mind you’. Most often, however, this meaning would not be explicitly stated in English.
A quick summary of 呢
- Continuation or persistence
- Equation or likening (for emphasis)