Chinese Question Words

How to Say “How” in Chinese?

怎么 Zenme 怎(么)样 Zen(me) Yang 如何 Ruhe in Mandarin

How to Say How in Chinese?

How in Chinese is 怎么 Zěnme, 怎样 Zěnyàng / 怎么样 Zěnme Yàng and 如何 Rúhé. The first three terms have a secondary meaning of Why and What in Mandarin.

To use What or How in Chinese depends on how you want to translate into English sentences. Eg. “What to do?” and “How to Do?” Arguably, there are some differences between “What to do?” and “How to Do?” if you want to go into detail.

What to do?” seeks opinions and suggestions to a matter whereas “How to Do?” is the method used to get things done. In the Chinese language, we also have two ways to say it as precisely as the English questions using the same Chinese phrase 怎么 Zěnme.

*In this post, you might see cross-references of using the other Chinese Interrogative terms, What and Why in English for the Chinese phrases above.

How to … in Chinese? 怎么 Zěnme + Verb

One great way of asking how to do something in Mandarin is to use the formula below. Then, you can already form many short questions with it. The possibilities are endless with as many Chinese Verbs as you know.

怎么 + Verb

How to go?
How to say?
How to eat?
How come?


Zěn me qù?
Zěn me shuō?
Zěn me chī?
Zěn me huì?

How can one do so?

Zěn me xíng? Zěn me kě yǐ?

How is that possible? How is that not possible?

Zěn me kě néng? Zěn me bù kě néng?


Developing Longer How in Chinese Questions

However, just by using three or four Chinese words like 怎么做 Zěn me zuò may not sound too polite at times when posing a question to someone that you do not know. You can use the short 3-word sentence to your friends or someone with whom you know well. Let’s expand some sentence above to a more standard Chinese phrase that we can use in any circumstances.

Something went wrong. What to do? How should I do it? Why / How did it turn out to be this way?

Chū le xiē wèn tí le. Zěn me bàn? Wǒ yīng gāi zěn me zuò? Zěn me huì zhè yàng?

How should I eat this food? With the hand or with a pair of chopsticks?

Zhè ge shí wù yīng gāi zěn me chī? Yòng shǒu chī hái shì yòng kuài zi chī?

How would he not know that theft is illegal? Why / How did he become that way?

Tā zěn me huì bù zhī dào tōu qiè shì fàn fǎ de? Tā zěn me huì biàn chéng nà yàng?

– Human wants to go up to the moon, how is that possible?
– How is that not possible? The technology is so advanced now!

– 人类要上月球,怎么可能?
– 怎么不可能?现在的科技那么发达!

– Rén lèi yào shàng yuè qiú, zěn me kě néng?
– Zěn me bù kě néng? Xiàn zài de kē jì nà me fā dá!


Polite Way of Asking How in Chinese

请问 Qǐngwèn 请问您 Qǐngwèn nín or 请问Qǐngwèn nǐ is a polite way of asking someone a question which means “May I ask you something?

You Nín is a formal address of  Nǐ in the Chinese Pronouns. Always place 请问 / 请问您 at the start of a question. Learning to use How in Chinese is also particularly useful when Asking for Directions in Chinese.

May I ask you how to go to the city centre?

请问您,怎么去市中心?/ 市中心怎么去?
Qǐng wèn nín, zěn me qù shì zhōng xīn?/Shì zhōng xīn zěn me qù?

How to say “Can you speak Chinese” in English?

请问 “你会说中文吗” 用英语怎么说?
Qǐng wèn “Nǐ huì shuō zhōng wén ma” yòng yīng yǔ zěn me shuō?

When Why Becomes How in Chinese – 怎么 + / 了

One noteworthy point from when using 怎么 Zěnme with  De and Le placed at the end of the sentences, they change the meaning in English from How to Why. Don’t believe? Read the examples below in pair.

  • How: Method
  • Why: Reason
How did you go?你怎么去的?Nǐ zěn me qù de?
Why did you go?你怎么去了?Nǐ zěn me qù le?
How did you say it?你怎么说的?Nǐ zěn me shuō de?
Why did you say it?你怎么说了?Nǐ zěn me shuō le?
How did you do it?你怎么做的?Nǐ zěn me zuò de?
Why did you do it?你怎么做了?Nǐ zěn me zuò le?
How did you slim down?你怎么瘦下来的?Nǐ zěn me shòu xià lái de?
Why did you slim down?你怎么瘦下来了?Nǐ zěn me shòu xià lái le?

Note that the English tenses used above are all in the past. De and Le at the end of the interrogative statements in such contexts suggest that the events have taken place.

How in Chinese – Present/Future Tense:

To use the same Chinese sentences in the present or future tense, we can add Yào (want), 想 Xiǎng (think) or Xiǎng yào (wish/want) in a question and remove  De. Between the three, Yào is the most assertive whereas  Xiǎng expresses the mellowest version of “want”.

Why in Chinese – Present/Future Tense:

Unfortunately, 怎么 Zěnme cannot fit into the contextual sentence of present or future with the examples above with why in Chinese. Use 为什么 Wèishéme instead.

Bear in mind that such a sentence construction with 为什么 can now mean past, present or future, depending on the timeline of the event during the conversation when  Le is omitted in the sentence. You can add a Ne at the end of the sentence to affirm the interrogation but not mandatory.

How do you want to go?你要怎么去?Nǐ yào zěn me qù?
Why do you want to go?你为什么要去?Nǐ wèi shén me yào qù?
How do you want to say it?你要怎么说?Nǐ yào zěn me shuō?
Why do / did you want to say it?你为什么要说?Nǐ wèi shén me yào shuō?
How do you want to do it?你想怎么做呢?Nǐ xiǎng zěn me zuò ne?
Why do / did you want to do it?你为什么想做呢?Nǐ wèi shén me xiǎng zuò ne?
How do you wish to slim down?
你想要怎么瘦下来呢?Nǐ xiǎng yào zěn me shòu xià lái ne?
Why do / did you want to slim down?你为什么想要瘦下来Nǐ wèi shén me xiǎng yào shòu xià lái ne?

How + Able to … in Chinese? 怎么能够 Zěnme Nénggòu

怎么能够 Zěnme nénggòu means “How to be able to” in Chinese. 能够 nénggòu refers to the ability to perform a task.  Gòu means “qualified” or “enough”.

The equivalent phrase to 怎么能够 is 怎么可以 Zěnme kěyǐ. 可以 kěyǐ means “can”. 能够 possesses a stronger ability than 可以. When you can do something (可以) does not imply that you are qualified (能够) or able to do something well.

Personally, I feel that many Chinese sentences contain underlying meaning and are not as explicit as the English sentences. The first two sentences below are not seeking a solution or method to a question. Instead, it may hint at the lack of ability to perform a task.

How can I realise my dream? (Underlying meaning: I may not have the ability to make my dream comes true.)

Wǒ zěn me néng gòu shí xiàn mèng xiǎng?

How can I take care of this dog? (Underlying meaning: I have obstacles or other reasons for not being able to take care of this dog.)

Wǒ zěn me néng gòu zhào gù zhè zhǐ xiǎo gǒu?

How can you leave without a word? (Literally: How can you say leave and then you leave? )

Nǐ zěn me kě yǐ shuō zǒu jiù zǒu?

How can you not come to the meeting?

Nǐ zěn me kě yǐ bù lái kāi huì?

How Can/Could … in Chinese? 怎么能 Zěnme Néng

When expressing some forms of emotions or disapproval, one can use 怎么能 Zěnme néng which means How can/could + Subject Pronoun in Chinese.

How can I not be sad?

Wǒ zěn me néng bù shāng xīn ní?

How could you say this way?

Nǐ zěn me néng zhè me shuō huà ne?

How could you do that?

Nǐ zěn me néng nà me zuò ne?

How could you go to that place?

Nǐ zěn me néng qù nà gè dì fāng?

How in Chinese – 怎样 Zěnyàng 怎么样 Zěnme Yàng

怎样 Zěnyàng is the short form of 怎么样 Zěnme yàng怎样 怎么样 has some similarities with 怎么 Zěnme when making How in Chinese sentences.

When seeking an opinion on a subject, 怎样 怎么样 is a more suitable phrase to use and commonly placed at the beginning of the sentence.

It is also common to add Cái after 怎么怎样 怎么样 to further emphasise on the question asked, especially the combination 怎样才能 +Information.

What / How to do to get everyone’s agreement?

Zěn yàng zuò cá inéng dé dào dà jiā de rèn tóng?

How to be considered as a handsome man or a beautiful woman?

Zěn me yàng cái suàn shì shuài gē měi nǚ ne?

How to explain to him?


Zěn yàng xiàng tā jiě shì?
Zěn me xiàng tā jiě shì?

How can I improve my Chinese?


Wǒ de zhōng wén yào zěn yàng jìn bù?
Wǒ de zhōng wén yào zěn me jìn bù?

How to increase efficiency?


Zěn me cái néng tí gāo xiào lǜ?
Zěn yàng cái néng tí gāo xiào lǜ?

How to know what one wants?


Zěn me cái néng zhī dào zì jǐ yào shén me?
Zěn me yàng cái néng zhī dào zì jǐ yào shén me?

How to Show Care and Concern in Chinese? 怎样 怎么样

One difference is that 怎么 Zěnme cannot replace 怎样 怎么样 when you ask someone about a situation or when showing care and concern.

How are you recently?

最近你过的怎样?/ 最近你怎么样了?
Zuì jìn nǐ guò de zěn me yàng? / Zuì jìn nǐ zěn yàng le?

Heard that you have been sick for a while. How are you now?

Tīng shuō nǐ qián zhèn zi bìng le. Xiàn zài nǐ zěn me yàng le?

I help you to pay the rent first. You can pay me back when you have the money. How?

Wǒ xiān bāng nǐ huàn zū jīn. Nǐ yǒu qián hòu zài huán wǒ. Zěn yàng?

Heard from somebody that the two have quarrelled. How is it? Have they reconciled?

Tīng mǒu mǒu rén shuō tā men liǎ chǎo jià le. Zěn yàng le? Tā men hé hǎo le ma?

What / How do you think of this person?

Nǐ jué dé zhè ge rén zěn me yàng?


How Should I … in Chinese? 应该 + 怎么 怎样 / 怎么样

Questions with “How should I” in Chinese is prevailing when consulting advice. We use 应该 Yīnggāi which denotes “should” and will come before 怎么怎样 / 怎么样 and 如何.

How should I treat her and this relationship?

Wǒ yīng gāi zěn me duì dài tā hé zhè duàn gǎn qíng?

How should I use this Chinese Saying?

Wǒ yīng gāi zěn yàng yùn yòng zhè jù chéng yǔ?

How (should we) to choose the right kind of friends?

Yīng gāi zěn me yàng xuǎn zé duì de péng yǒu?

Formal How in Chinese – 如何 Rúhé

如何 Rúhé is a formal way of saying How in Chinese and can replace most 怎么, 怎样怎么样 in a grammatical sense. You will see 如何 Rúhé frequently on a title of a book, on the newspaper, on the internet heading, poster etc.

Since the word appears so regularly, it makes sense to understand this term better and how to use it, though not used as frequently in casual conversation compared to all the above.

How are you recently?

Nǐ zuì jìn rú hé?

How is the situation? How is her situation now?

Qíng kuàng rúhé? Tā de qíng kuàng xiàn zài rú hé?

How to make the world more beautiful?

Rú hé ràng shì jiè gèng měi hǎo?

How to be an independent woman?

Rú hé cái néng zuò gè dú lì de nǚ rén?

How to consider a person to be successful?

Yī gè rén rú hé cái suàn chéng gōng?

How should I explain to him?

Wǒ yīng gāi rú hé xiàng tā jiě shì?


Check out the other six W Chinese Interrogative Pronouns.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × 2 =

Back to top button