Repeating question words are a really cool feature of Chinese grammar. You can repeat question words and use them as 'place-holders' for some sort of information.
Let's have a look at it here from a more grammatical perspective. This is a great feature of the language to know, as it makes you much more flexible in forming sentences etc.
The way it works is pretty simple. You use a question word once, and then when you use it again in the sentence, it refers back to the first one. Hence the term "place-holder question words". Here's an example:
Nǐ diǎn shénme wǒ jiù chī shénme.
I'll order whatever you eat.
That's a really common thing to say in restaurants – you're letting the other person choose what to order and you'll eat whatever it is.
Repeating question words: a bit like programming
This kind of sentence is slightly like programming or math. The repeated question word is a bit like a variable – it holds one bit of information consistently wherever you put it. Or, it's a bit like _x _in an equation – "you order _x I eat x".
Let's have a look at some different question words being repeated as place-holders. You'll see that Chinese question words are very versatile and quite an elegant feature of the language.
谁 (shéi): whoever
You can very easily create sentences that would involve "whoever" in English by repeating 谁.
Shéi yǒu qián shéi jiù yǒu quán.
Whoever has money has power.
Měiguó xiǎng dǎ shéi jiù dǎ shéi.
America attacks whoever it wants.
Shéi yào zǒu shéi jiù zǒu.
Whoever wants to leave, leave.
Pretty cool, right? Those Chinese sentences seem neat and efficient, and very easy to understand once you know the repeating question words structure.
什么 (shénme): whatever
You can do the same thing with any question word you like. Let's have a look at some example sentences for 什么:
Nǐ yào mǎi shénme, nàgè shāngdiàn jiù yǒu shénme.
Whatever you want to buy, that shop has it.
Nǐ yǒu shénme wǒ jiù mǎi shénme.
I'll buy whatever you've got.
Nǐ yào wǒ zuò shénme wǒ jiù zuò shénme!
I'll do whatever you want!
As you can see, you've just got to put in the relevant question word to hold the place of whatever thing you want, and the sentence works.
哪儿 (nǎr): wherever
Moving on, you can talk about places in this way using 哪儿. Some examples:
Nǐ qù nǎr wǒ jiù qù nǎr.
I'll go wherever you go.
Nǎr nuǎnhuo zánmen jiù qù nǎr.
Let's go wherever is warm.
Nǐ zài nǎr cáng qǐlái wǒmen jiù huì zài nǎr zhǎodào nǐ.
We'll find you wherever you hide.
怎么 (zěnme): however
Finally, you can talk about actions in this way using 怎么. Some examples:
Tā zěnme zuò fàn zěnme hào chī.
However he cooks, it's good.
Lǎobǎn zěnme shuō, wǒmen zěnme zuò.
We'll do it however the boss says.
Nǐ xiǎng zěnme zuò, wǒ jiù tóngyì zěnme zuò.
I'll agree to do it however you think.
Note that we've gone through a few question words here, but you can do this with any question word in Chinese!
Translated from: chineseboost.com