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Three uses of Chinese character “嘛”

particle in chinese, chinese characters, learning chinese

嘛 (ma) is a particle used to indicate that something is obvious or self-evident in Chinese. It sounds the same as the question particle 吗 (ma) and 呢 (ne) in Chinese grammar, but has a different purpose.

"嘛 (ma)"在中文里是个小品词,表示某事很明显或不言而喻的意思。这个词听起来有点类似中文语法里的疑问小品词"吗 (ma)"和"呢 (ne)",不过用法不一样。


嘛 as a sentence particle


嘛 often appears as a sentence particle. That simply means a particle that goes on the end of a sentence.



Stating the obvious with 嘛


Probably the most common use of 嘛 is to indicate that something is obvious or self-evident. In English you might use "of course" to express the same meaning.

"嘛"的最普通的用法可能就是指示某事很明显或者不言而喻。英文里,你应该可以用"of course"来表达同样的意思。


嘛 is often used in this way as a response to some sort of situation or something someone else said. The speaker wants to point out that the statement is obviously the case. This is demonstrated in each of the example sentences below. The second speaker uses 嘛 to respond to something the first speaker says:




Nǐ zěnme chuānle nàme duō yīfú ne?

Why have you got so many clothes on?


Jīntiān tiān hěn lěng ma.

Because it's cold today!



Nǐ zěnme chūle nàme duō hàn ne?

Why are you so sweaty?


Zhèxiē dōngxi hěn zhòng ma.

These things are really heavy, alright?



Tā zěnme zhèyàng ne?

What did he do that for?


Xiǎoháizi bù dǒngshìr ma.

Of course little kids don't understand stuff like that.


The second speaker thinks that the explanation is obvious and should definitely be accepted by the listener.



Have a look at some more example sentences for 嘛 indicating that something is self-evident.




Wǒ hěn lèi ma.

I'm tired, alright?



Zhège hěn nán dǒng ma.

This is hard to understand!


Stating an expectation or request with 嘛


Another common use of 嘛 is to mark an expectation or request. 嘛 marks requests that the speaker thinks are entirely reasonable or to be expected.




Nǐ bùyào zǒu zhème kuài ma.

Can you not walk so fast?



Nǐ kuài diǎn ma!

Can you hurry up?



Nǐ xiǎng kàn diànyǐng jiù zìjǐ qù ma.

If you want to see a film, just go and see one yourself.


嘛 as a topic marker


The next major use of 嘛is as a topic-marker.



First you say the topic, then you comment on it. 嘛 often comes after the topic.



You could simply see 嘛 as a way of pausing to think about what one is going to say. The speaker says what they're going to speak about, pauses to think with 嘛, then gives the information.



[topic] 嘛 [comment]

[话题] 嘛 [评论]






Zhège ma, wǒ yě bù zhīdào.

That… I don't know either.



Xiǎo háizi ma, dōu xǐhuan wánr.

Little kids all like to play.


嘛 meaning ‘what'


嘛 can also mean ‘what' in certain situations. There are many ways to use 嘛 to mean ‘what', but we'll just look at the most common here.



干嘛 (gànmá)


The character 嘛 appears very commonly in the phrase 干嘛, literally "doing what". 干嘛 can be used to mean simply "what are you doing", or it can be used to question a behaviour. In either case, 干嘛 is quite casual and should not be used in formal situations.



First, some example sentences where 干嘛means "doing what":




Nǐ míngtiān yào gànmá?

What are you doing tomorrow?



Nǐ zài běijīng dū gànmá le?

What did you do in Beijing?



Zhège dōngxi shì gànmá de?

What's this thing for?


干嘛 can also be used to ask about actions or functions without making any comment on them.




Nǐ gànmá zhèyàng?

Why are you being like this?



Gànmá yīzhí dānxīn zhège?

What's the point of worrying about it all the time?



Nǐ shuō zhège gànmá?

What did you say that for?


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