Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The question of the problem with questions & problems

In Mandarin, the word for 'question' is the same as the word for 'problem': 问题 (wèntí).  This is normally not an issue - you can tell from the context of the sentence as to which interpretation is being used.


This morning, however, when I sat down to a hot cappuccino with my Chinese teacher, she asked me, “有问题吗?”   (yǒu wèntí ma?)  I was confused for a moment, since I thought she might have been asking it in a challenge way - like "What's your problem??"   Then I realised she was simply asking if I had any questions at the start of our lesson.

As I say, most of the time the context makes it clear what your meaning is. But if not, you could always extend the sentence just a little.

For example, instead of "我有问题"  (I have a 'question', or I have a 'problem'??) - you could say "我有问题要问你"  (I have a question I have to ask you.)

Or you could just leave people wondering about you.


  1. Or, one could remove the confusion by using 疑问 (yíwèn) for questions. “有疑问吗?” (Yǒu yíwènma?)

    1. Hi LL, thanks for your suggestion. Yes if we're doing the talking, the we certainly do have the choice of using less ambiguous words. Of course, if someone is speaking to us, we have to work out what they mean! :-)

      I'm not good with the subtleties of words ... I've seen 疑问 used more in the context of 'having doubt' rather 'having questions', but looking again in a dictionary's sample sentences, it certainly can be used for 'questions' as well.

      Thanks for stopping by.