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Chinese Grammar: Understanding 这 , 那, 哪 and their friends

Lupishu has gotten quite confused: at first, there was and , then . Then words like 那个, 这个, 哪儿 and more showed up. These new words look a lot like , and but don't quite mean the same!

Feeling a little lost on what each word means? All good, we got you.

It's actually very easy to get them straight! We'll start with the basics: , and . Then, we'll look at what happens to them when paired with or and . You'll see, they all relate to each other in a way that makes a lot of sense!

, and

First, let's explore , and on their own:

means "this"
means "that"
means "which"

and are both demonstrative pronouns. They form a pair like "this" and "that" do in English. Use for objects or persons close to you, like you would use "this" in English and for objects or persons further away. Exactly like you would use "that" in English. is a question word.

|, and are often used with the verb to talk about something or someone.

Examples


Is this yours?

朋友
This is my friend.

什么?
What is that?


This is my book.

国人
What is your nationality?

How to tell and apart

Do you think that looks a lot like ?
Look at both characters carefully. See the presence of the mouth component on the left of (i.e., the box shape)? That's the only visual difference between the two, and that's how you tell them apart! A question needs to be spoken out loud to be asked, wouldn't you say? So it's only natural that the mouth is involved in the question word "which"!

Interested in learning more about components? A whole world awaits: The Rad Way to learn Chinese characters!

Now that we have , and down pat; let's explore what happens to them when they are combined with another character.

/ / with

When / / are followed by , they have these meanings:

这个 means "this one"
那个 means "that one"
哪个 means "which one"

Why do they exist? Because you need to be able to specify which "something" or "someone" you're talking about with and the others. And well, you can't say straight up + an object. Same with the others, you can't.

, and all need a measure word. This measure word can be , but it also can be a different measure word. This allows you to specify which object or person you're referring to. That's just a hard rule you need to keep in mind.

To learn more about measure words, head here

Examples

哪个
Which one is yours?

那个
That one.

这个
This cat

那个人
That person

, , and /

, , are very convenient words to know. So what happens when you add / to them? You get a whole set of location words to use!

Structure

or + to indicate a location
这儿 means "here"
那儿 means "there"

or + to indicate a location
这里 means "here"
那里 means "there"

+ or to ask about a location
哪儿 means "where"
哪里 means "where"

Examples

哪儿
哪里
Where is he?

地铁站 哪儿
地铁站 哪里
Where is the metro station?

地铁站 那儿
地铁站 那里
The metro station is there.

这儿
这儿
Please wait for me here.

Why are there two options each time?

Regional preferences.
In the North of China, you'll hear 这儿 / 那儿 / 哪儿. That's the official way to say it. In the South of China, they prefer using instead. Some say it sounds softer. So they say 这里 / 那里 / 哪里. The meaning stays the same. So pick your favorite between the sound and and make sure to use it consistently!

So there you have it! A simple explanation of , , and their friends to clarify their respective uses. I told you it was all going to make a lot of sense! Ready to practice?

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