Do Japanese use Question Marks? Japanese Questions Explained.

Do Japanese use question marks?

Glad you asked.

The answer:  Yes and no. They do and they don’t (and didn’t in the past.)

No because… question marks are not native to the Japanese language.

So question marks were not used and in many cases, are still not used.

Yes because… Japan has gradually adopted the question mark into casual and colloquial writing… with Western influence.

That’s the simple answer.

For more background on this… here’s why it’s a “yes” and “no.”

In 2022, the Japanese government officially declared that question marks are allowed in government documents.

Until then, it was unclear whether or not question marks were allowed.

Now… although question marks are used casually, there is still a sense among Japanese people that question marks are not meant for formal writing.

Why? Again, not native to Japan.

It just wasn’t part of the language.

Where You Will & Won’t See Question Marks

The answer is…

You’ll see question marks in creative work, advertisements, modern casual text and manga.

You’ll find little to no question marks inside newspapers, academic papers, tests, and whatnot.

It may seem odd for English speakers but the Japanese language conveys questions without the use of a question mark.

So, yes in casual places.

No, in official, academic and formal places.

Overall, there is still a sense among Japanese people that question marks are not meant for formal writing and are not part of the language.

Which may make you wonder… “then, how do Japanese questions work?”

How Questions Are Formed

For that, there is the question particle, “ka.”

In Japanese, to make a question, you add  the particle か (ka) at the end of a sentence — (learn more here: How to Ask Questions in Japanese)

This “ka” instantly means that this is a question.

And after the “ka,” you can simply end with the Japanese version of the period, which looks like “。”.

  • 誰ですか。
  • Dare desu ka.
  • Meaning: Who is it?

The other way to indicate questions is by raising the intonation at the end of the phrase.

This is especially useful because you can shorten some phrases in casual speech without “ka”.

Changing the intonation makes it clear that it is a question.

Questions in Japanese are formed by simply adding a “ka” at the end of a statement.

The Grammar Behind Asking Questions

To form a statement it’s important to understand the Japanese sentence structure which follows the order of subject, object, and verb format.

English is different because it follows the order of subject, verb, and object format.

So, here are the two differences for Japanese and English sentence structure with the example sentence “I will go to Japan”:

  • English: You (subject) will go (verb) to Japan (object). 
  • Japanese: あなた(subject)は日本(object)に行きます(verb)。

The basics for forming a question in Japanese is simply to add “ka” or か at the end of a statement.

Taking the previous example we will now turn it into a question.

  • Statement: あなたは日本に行きます。Anata wa nihon ni ikimasu. (You will go to Japan)
  • Question: あなたは日本に行きますか?Anata wa nihon ni ikimasuka? (Will you go to Japan?)

As you can see, it is very easy to form Japanese questions.

Just add “ka”!

Even if the statement becomes grammatically complicated, you can still change the sentence to questions with “ka”.

(learn more here: How to Ask Questions in Japanese.)

Common Questions to Know

So, now that you know a bit about questions and question marks in Japanese…

Being able to actually ask questions can be helpful if you’re traveling to Japan…

…or, if you want to communicate with a Japanese person!

So, here are some common questions to know…

1. どこですか?

  • Doko desuka?
  • Where is it?

If you need a basic and useful phrase, this is one of the best questions to learn. For example, you could use it to ask where the bathroom is using this phrase トイレはどこですか? (Toire wa doko desuka?). Simply adding a location before the phrase can help you figure out locations such as banks, train stations, and more.

2. 何ですか?

  • Nan desuka?
  • What is it?

This is another useful phrase in Japanese if you want to know what something is. It can also be used along with words for “this”, like これ (kore). An example sentence would be これは何ですか (Kore wa nan desuka?), meaning “What is this?”.

3. 誰ですか?

  • Dare desuka?
  • Who is it?

If you need to ask about a person, this is very useful. For example, if you were looking through an old picture album, and wondered who someone is, you could say この人は誰ですか?(kono hito wa dare desuka) or “Who is this person?”.

4. わかりますか?

  • Wakari masuka?
  • Does it make sense?

When you’re not confident about your Japanese abilities, you might want to try this question phrase with someone. You can make sure they understand you or not. An example would be 私の日本語わかりますか? (watashi no nihongo wakarimasuka) meaning “Does my Japanese make sense?”.

5. どうしてですか?

  • Doushite desuka?
  • Why is that?

This is a useful question phrase when you’re having a conversation. Asking follow-up questions like “Why is that?” can be a great way to keep the conversation flowing. In casual speech it can be shortened to “doushite?” so it is a versatile question phrase.

6. いつですか?

  • Itsu desuka?
  • When is it?

If someone talks about an upcoming trip or birthday, you could ask them “When is it?” by using this phrase. It’s also possible to combine it with actual events so that you can ask specific questions. For example 誕生日はいつですか?(Tanjoubi wa itsu desuka?) meaning “When is your birthday?”.

7. なぜですか?

  • Naze desuka?
  • Why is that?

This is another phrase meaning “Why is that?” or “Why?”. It can be useful when conversing with someone in Japanese to ask them further about what they are talking about.

8. どうしますか?

  • Dou shimasuka?
  • What would you like to do?

You might hear this often in the service industry since they will ask how you want things to be done. For example, a cashier might ask what you’d like to do with the receipt. In that scenario, they would use this phrase to ask you if you want one or not.

9. 行きますか?

  • Ikimasuka?
  • Shall we go?

If you’re inviting someone to go eat or do something, it could be useful to use this phrase.

It’s most commonly combined with other words.

For example, 食べに行きますか?(tabe ni iki masuka?) meaning “Shall we go eat out?”.

Do You Have Any Questions?

Congrats. Now, you know a bit about asking questions in Japanese…

And whether Japanese use question marks or not (they can be and are on a casual basis, but not really considered formal basis.)

Which brings me back to you…

Do you have any questions?

Pop them in below and don’t forget the question mark.

– Team IJ  

P.S. Interested in learning Japanese? This Japanese course for Absolute Beginners from JapanesePod101 is FREE for a limited time only. They plan to close it down in the future, but while it’s still open, give it a try. Click the image below.

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