5+ Useful Japanese Question Words You Should Learn

Japanese woman smiling into the camera while politely asking using Japanese Question Words

Last updated on January 17th, 2024 at 08:49 am

In every new language, we learn, we need question words to form interrogative sentences. The primary question words are who, what, where, when, why, and how. We call them WH questions. It is easy to remember them in English, but do you know how to ask these question words in Japanese? If the answer is no, you are lucky because we will discuss this topic in this blog post.

You will learn how to ask Japanese question words but if you are a total beginner and need to learn the basics first, you can go to this blog post about basic Japanese phrases.

Here is the list of Japanese question words. We will elaborate on each of them as you scroll through the post.


What Japanese Question Words Should You Learn?

Ling Mascot asking Japanese Question Word 何 Nani means What

What? (何,なに,なん) – Nani

The Japanese word for ‘what’ has two forms: nani(なに) and nan(なん). Both of them are written with the same kanji . Nan is used before the copula such as ‘desu’ in Japanese. The Japanese language doesn’t allow movement principle, unlike English. So, usually, the sentence patterns stay the same. We say ‘What is this?’ in English but when it comes to the Japanese language you should think like ‘This is what?’

Nani? is used more like an exclamation phrase such as ‘What? or Huh?’

Example: これはですか(Kore wa nan desu ka?)

English: What is this?

Example: 何が食べたいですか。(Nani ga tabetai desu ka?)

English: What do you want to eat?

Ling Mascot Gaia asking Japanese Question Word どこ Doko meaning Where

Where? (どこ)

The Japanese question word for ‘Where?’ is doko (どこ). It doesn’t have a kanji version. Doko (どこ) can be answered with the words such as koko (ここ) here, soko (そこ) there, and asoko (あそこ) over there.

Example: トイレはどこですか?(Toire wa doko desu ka?)

English: Where is the bathroom?

Example: どこに行くの? (Doko ni iku no?)

English: Where are you going?

Ling Mascot asking Japanese Question Word いつ Itsu which means When

When? (いつ)

The Japanese question word for ‘when’ is itsu (いつ). It’s important to remember that this is only used as a question word, however, you can’t use it as a conjunction because they are expressed in different words, and ‘when’ needs a different grammar structure since it isn’t a question word.

Example: いつ帰りますか? (Itsu kaerimasu ka?)

English: When will you go home?

Example: 誕生日はいつですか? (Tanjyoubi wa itsu desu ka?)

English: When is your birthday?

Ling Mascot Gaia asking Japanese Question Word なぜ/なん Naze/Nande meaning Why

Why? (なぜ / なんで)

The Japanese question word for ‘why’ is nande (なんで). The more formal version is naze (なぜ). Doushite (どうして) can also be used to say ‘why’ but it also means ‘how’ depending on context. So, you must be careful if you want to use that word.

Example: なぜ日本語を勉強するのですか? (Naze nihongo wo benkyou suruno desu ka?)

English: Why do you study Japanese?

Example: なぜあなたはここにいるのですか? (Naze anata wa koko ni iru nodesu ka?)

English: Why are you here?

Ling Mascot asking Japanese Question Wordどう Dou meaning How

How? (どう)

You can use doushite (どうして) or dou (どう) to say ‘how’ in Japanese. You can use dou on its own or you can place it right before a verb.

Example: どうですか?(Dou desu ka?)

English: How is it?

Example: どう思いますか? (Dou omoimasu ka?)

English: What do you think?

Ling Mascot Gaia asking Japanese Question Word だれ Dare meaning Who

Who? (だれ)

In Japanese, the question word for ‘who’ is dare (だれ). The level of formality always stays the same, no matter how many people you’re talking about. You can say dare in any situation.

Example: だれですか? (Dare desu ka?)

English: Who is it?

Example: あの女の子はだれ?(Ano on’nanoko wa dare?)

English: Who is that girl?

Here is a summary list of these question words in Japanese so that you can see their formal, informal and other versions all at once.

Question WordFormalCasualPronunciation
何 (なん)(nan)
ですか (desuka)
何(なに) (nani) 何 (なん)(nan)
Whyなぜ (naze)
どうして (doushite)
なんで (nande)
どうして (doushite

Whereどこ (doko)どこ (doko)
Whenいつ (itsu)いつ (itsu)
Howいかにして (ikaneshite)
どのように (Donoyoni)
どうして (doushite)
どうして (doushite)

Here are some common Japanese question word compounds. I advise you to take a look at them as well.

なにかほしいですか。(Nanika hoshii desu ka?)

Do you want something?

なんでもいいです。(Nandemo ii desu.)

Anything is fine.

なにもありません。(Nanimo arimasen.)

I don’t have anything.

The List Of Other Question Words In Japanese

Whatなに / なんnani / nan
Which oneどれdore
Which directionどちらdochira
How longどのぐらいdonogurai
How / Whyどうしてdoushite
How / Whyなんでnande
How manyいくつikutsu
How muchいくらikura

Question Mark In Japanese

Japanese punctuation includes various written marks besides characters and numbers, but they differ from those used in European languages. Punctuation is not widely used in formal Japanese writing but is often found in more casual writing, like exclamation and question marks.

Japanese can be written both horizontally or vertically, and some punctuation marks adapt to this change in direction, such as parentheses, curved brackets, square quotation marks, ellipses, dashes, and swung dashes are rotated clockwise 90° when used in the vertical texts.

However, Japanese punctuation marks are usually full-width, so they occupy an area similar to the surrounding characters. Punctuation was not widely used in Japanese writing until translations from European languages became popular in the 19th century.

In formal Japanese, no particular symbol is used to mark question sentences, which end with the normal Japanese full stop (。), but the question mark is commonly used in casual text-based conversations and creative writing and in manga.

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The Ling App has it all for you, from fun mini-games to comprehensive lessons and the best part is you can try it out for free by downloading it from the App Store or Play Store! For more information about Japan, check out our blog for such fun topics as popular Japanese names and different ways to say I love you in Japanese.

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