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In What differences should I look out for between male vs female speech?, a lot of answers explicitly mention that ending question sentences with の is feminine.

However, this makes very little sense to me, as my understanding is that の is pretty much the go-to particle for forming questions with non-polite speech.

In general, か sounds pretty marginal to me with non-polite speech:

(1) x何をしてるか?
(2) x学校に行くか?

Sometimes, のか works:

(3) x何をしてるのか?
(4) ○学校に行くのか?

(I think のか only fails when you have a 'question word' like 何, どこ, だれ, etc.; it seems to make it sound rhetorical, e.g., 「彼女は何をしてるのか、僕は分からない。」)

And of course の always works:

(5) ○何をしてるの?
(6) ○学校に行くの?

And as far as I can tell, simply using intonation (or a question mark to represent it) works all the time:

(7) ○何をしてる?
(8) ○学校に行く?

First off, my judgements here might be wrong since they are just my own.

But, if they are correct, my question is: if ending your sentence with の really is feminine, what is the alternative to (5) in usual male non-polite speech? Is (7) the only option?

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1 Answer

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I think that in some cases, ending a question in の is fine for male speakers. For example, I hear


quite often from male speakers. I think, in general, we have that (all male speech)

  • rhetorical questions are allowed to end in の, e.g. even if it is clear what the other person is doing, you may ask

    何をしてるの? or 何してんの?
    What (the heck) are you doing!?

  • questions as honest inquiries don't end in の, e.g.

    What are you doing right now?

  • か is usually used for rhetorical questions addressed to oneself, e.g.

    I guess I'll get going.

  • のか is more for rhetorical questions addressed to other people, e.g.

    I see, you're leaving now, are you?

Decidedly feminine is when you end a statement in の, e.g.


with the male equivalent being either nothing (e.g. そう, 知らなかった) or んだ(よ) (e.g. そうなんだよ, 知らなかったんだよ).

What male speakers would express as a clear statement (nominalized sentence with contracted nominalizer and declarative だ) is softened in female speech by omitting the "strong"-sounding parts, viz. の is left uncontracted and だ is omitted.

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This totally aligns with all my observations. Thanks! –  Darius Jahandarie May 19 '13 at 19:48
Incidentally, do you know any good summary articles/overviews of gender mapping in Japanese? Specifically normative views that include trans/third gender in the outline. –  Trevor Alexander Feb 15 at 23:31
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