Japanese Question Words – Common Ways of Expressing Your Curiosity

In this lesson, we’ll let you know the Japanese question words to help you ask questions in Japanese.

Learning a new language is challenging but fulfilling. Learning question words is not only essential but also a key to start a fun interaction.

In this lesson, we first learn some of the basic Japanese question words and see their uses in context. You’ll be able to manage simple conversations in no time!

Japanese Question Words

Japanese Question Words

The Japanese question words are similar to the WH questions in the English language. These questions are very useful when engaging in conversations. These Japanese question words are great conversation starters.

As you read on, you’ll learn the basic question words in Japanese. But we’ve also included other question words that you’ll find handy when learning Japanese.

What is the Japanese for the word “question”?

The Japanese word for “question” is 質問 (しつもん | shitsumon). You can express the following question “Do you have a question” and the sentences “Yes, I have a question.” and “No, I don’t have a question” as:

質問はありますか?

(しつもんはありますか | shitsumon wa arimasu ka)

Do you have a question?

はい、質問があります.

(はい, しつもんはあります | hai, shitsumon wa arimasu)

Yes, I have a question.

いいえ、質問はありません.

(いいえ, しつもんはありません | iie, shitsumon wa arimasen)

No, I don’t have a question.

7 Japanese Question Words

Most of our daily conversations involve a lot of the 6W1H question words such as What, Where, Who, When, Why, Which, and How. We’re spontaneously using these words to express our curiosity, to ask simple questions, or just to have casual conversations.

Below are the 7 Japanese question words.

EnglishHiraganaRomajiKanji
Whatなに
なん
nani
nan
Whereどこdoko何処
Whenいつitsu何時
Whyなぜ
なんで
どうして
naze
nande
doushite
Who
Whom
だれdare
Which どれ
どちら
どちらの
どの
dore
dochira
dochira no
dono
Whoseだれのdareno
Howどう
どうやって
どのように
dou
dou yatte
dono youni

7 Japanese Question Words and Examples

Certainly, it’s more helpful to learn question words in context. Once you start understanding the use of each question word in everyday life, you’ll quickly learn them by heart. Let’s take a look at the common question phrases in Japanese.

What in Japanese

The question “what” can be expressed in 2 ways. It can be なに (nani) or なん (nan). Although, they both mean “what”, there can be a difference in usage.

なに (nani) can be used without being attached to other Japanese words and it can’t be used with ですか (desu ka). On the other hand, なん (nan) can’t stand alone so it needs to be attached with ですか (desu ka). Let’s take a look at the examples below:

あなたの名前はなんですか?

(あなたのなまえはなんですか | Anata no namae wa nan desuka?)

What is your name?

なにか困っていますか?

(なにかこまっていますか | Nanika komatte imasuka?)

What is the matter? May I help you?

Where in Japanese

どこ (doko) is used to ask “where”. It is written as 何処 in Kanji. Here are some examples:

どこからきましたか?

Dokokara kima shitaka?

Where are you from?

どこに住んでいますか?

(どこ に すんでいます か? | Doko ni sunde imasuka?)

Where do you live?

When in Japanese

If you’re going to ask for time or date, you can use the Japanese word いつ (itsu). Here’s how to use the question word いつ (itsu):

いつから日本語を勉強していますか?

(いつ から にほんご を べんきょうしています か? | Itsu kara Nihongo wo Benkyou shiteimasuka?)

Since when have you been studying Japanese?

次のレッスンはいつですか?

(つぎ の れっすん は い つ です か? | Tsugi no ressun wa itsu desuka?)

When is our next lesson?

A group of pupils inside a classroom

Why in Japanese

The question word “why” can be expressed in 3 ways. なぜ (naze), なんで (nande) and どうして (doushite) are used to say “why”. The difference among these words is based on emotions and rationality.

なぜ (naze) is used when asking about reason or motive and cause. どうして (doushite) can also be used for asking about reason or motive but is also used to ask for method or process. なんで (nande) can be used as なぜ (naze) and どうして (doushite) are used. However, it’s important to note that なぜ (naze) and なんで (nande) are commonly used in conversations as they are less formal. どうして (doushite) is less used since it is a formal word for “why”.

なぜ日本語を勉強しているのですか?

(なぜ にほんご を べんきょうしている の です か? | Naze Nihongo wo benkyou shiteiruno desuka?)

Why do you study Japanese?

どうして日本に来たのですか?

(どうして にっぽん に きた の です か? | Doushite Nihon ni kitano desuka?)

Why did you come to Japan?

Who or Whom in Japanese

When asking for the questions who and whom in Japanese, you’ll use だれ (dare). Here are some examples:

あの人はだれですか?

(あの ひと は だれ です か? | Anohito wa dare desuka?)

Who is the person over there?

だれと一緒に来ましたか?

(だれ と いっしょ に きました か? | Dare to isshoni kima shitaka?)

With whom did you come with?

Which in Japanese

There are 3 ways to say which in Japanese. You can say it as どれ (dore) or どちら (dochira) or どちらの (dochira no) or どの (dono).

どれ (dore) and どちら (dochira) both mean “which” but どちら (dochira) is the polite form. However, in usage, どれ (dore) is used when there are 3 or more options to choose from. どちら (dochira), on the other hand, is used when there are 2 things to choose from.

どの (dono) is also used when there are more than 2 choices, but it functions as an adjective. It is used when asking which noun. It follows the form “どの (dono) + noun”. どちらの (dochira no) can mean “whichever”.

どの駅にいきたいですか?

(どの えき に いきたい です か? | Dono Eki ni ikitai desuka? )

Which station do you want to go?

どちらがあなたのかばんですか?

Dochira ga anata no kaban desuka?

Which is your bag?

Whose in Japanese

The word だれの (dareno) is used when you’re asking for the who the owner of an object. Here are sample sentences for だれの (dareno).

これはだれの本ですか?

(これ は だれ の ほん です か? | Kore wa dareno Hon desuka?)

Whose book is this?

だれのパスポートをなくしましたか?

Dareno pasupo-to wo nakushimashitaka?

Whose passport did you lose?

How in Japanese

There are 3 ways to ask “how” in Japanese. You can say it as どう(dou), どうやって (dou yatte), or どのように (dono youni). どう(dou) can simply be used when asking how are things.

On the other hand, どのように and どうやって are both question words used to ask “how” to do something. The only difference between the two Japanese phrases is in their formality level. どのように is more formal (and polite) than どうやって.

これはどうですか?

Kore wa dou desu ka?

How is this?

ここまでどうやってきましたか?

Kokomade dou yatte kimashitaka?

How did you get here?

どのように食べますか?

(どの ように たべます か?| Dono youni tabe masuka? )

How do I eat this?

Two females sitting having fun while drinking a cup of coffee

Other Japanese Question Words

At this point, you now know the basic Japanese question words. These questions also have different variations. Let’s learn about them below to help add to your vocabulary:

EnglishHiraganaRomaji
What kind of どんな
どのような
donna
dono youna
How muchいくら
どのくらい
ikura
dono kurai
How manyいくつ
どのくらい
ikutsu
dono kurai
How many
How much
How long
How often
どのくらい
どれくらい
dono kurai
dore kurai
Which oneどれ
どちら
dore
dochira

What kind of in Japanese

There are 2 ways you can ask “what kind of” in Japanese. You can use the questions どんな (donna) or どのような (dono youna) to ask. Here are some examples:

あなたの故郷はどんなところですか?

(あなた の こきょう は どんな ところ です か? | Anata no kokyou wa donna tokoro desuka?)

What kind of place is your hometown?

どのような音楽が好きですか?

(どの ような おんがく が すき です か? | Dono youna ongaku ga sukidesuka? )

What kind of music do you like?

How much in Japanese

Asking “how much” in Japanese can be expressed in 2 ways. You can ask how much by saying いくら (ikura) or どのくらい (dono kurai).

これはいくらですか?

Ikura desuka?

How much does this cost?

どのくらい日本語がわかりますか?

(どの くらい にほんご が わかります か | Dono kurai Nihongo ga wakari masuka? )

How much Japanese do you understand?

How many in Japanese

When asking “how many” in Japanese, you can say いくつ (ikutsu) or どのくらい (dono kurai). Here is an example:

いくつの言葉を話せますか?

(いくつ の ことば を はなせます か? | Ikutsuno kotoba wo hanase masuka?)

How many languages can you speak?

How many, How much, How long, How often in Japanese

Earlier, we learned the Japanese word どのくらい (donokurai). This word can be used for asking both “how many” and “how much”. This word is quite versatile as it also can be used to ask “how long” and “how often”.

Another way of asking the questions “how many,” “how much,” “how long,” and “how often” is by saying どれくらい (dorekurai). Take a look at each of the example for どのくらい (donokurai) and どれくらい (dorekurai).

どのくらいよくオーストラリアに帰りますか?

(どの くらい よく オーストラリア に かえります か? | Dore kurai yoku O-Sutoraria ni kaeri masuka? )

How often do you go back to Australia?

どれくらいながく日本にいましたか?

(どれ くらい ながく にっぽん に いました か? | Dore kurai nagaku Nihon ni imashitaka? )

How long did you stay in Japan?

Which one in Japanese

The Japanese words used for asking “which” are the same words used for asking “which one”. You’ll say どれ (dore) or どちら (dochira).

どれがおいしかったですか?

Dore ga oishikatta desuka?

Which one did you like the most?

この写真の中のどちらがあなたですか?

(この しゃしん の なか の どちら が あなた です か? | Kono shashin no naka no dore ga anata desuka? )

Which one are you in this picture?

Tips For Question Words in Formal or Casual Form Japanese

Japanese formal question sentence ends with ですか(Desuka) or ますか(masuka) quite often. Also, there are some changes like どのような(donoyouna) to どんな(donna), なぜ(naze) to なんで (nande) , and どちら(dochira) to どっち(docchi). Sometime they do sound a little confusing. However they don’t change the actual meaning of a question sentence, so you can relax. Just focus on the context instead of picking up every details precisely.

It Leads You Somewhere New

Asking questions and answering them are probably the most common way to start a friendly chat. Question words will open up an opportunity for getting to know people, making new friends, traveling, and more. Anyone who has Japanese friends, why don’t you start asking a question?

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