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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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In the first place, textbooks consider Yamanote dialect as standerd, which does not reflect what the majority of Japanese do, but what they think it should be. You may find what textbooks say is not the case in reality especially about what is called gender difference in speech style. –  user4092 Aug 24 '14 at 4:28

2 Answers 2

up vote 19 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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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 '14 at 23:31
I was thinking about this against recently -- 今何をしてる ? actually sounds fine as an honest inquiry to me. Is the interpretation you mentioned in your answer the only interpretation you have of it? –  Darius Jahandarie Jul 15 '14 at 21:43
@DariusJahandarie I think that 今何をしてるの? is fine as an honest inquiry, but I think it is not distinctly male speech. My answer says that honest questions in male speech usually don't use の. I still think that's fine as a general guideline, but of course it's not very clear cut since male speakers often mix male speech with neutral speech. (I sort of assume that male speech doesn't contain neutral speech. Does that make any sense?) –  Earthliŋ Jul 15 '14 at 21:54
@TrevorAlexander I'm afraid I don't know of any such articles offhand, although I can tell you that while トランスジェンダー as a term is finally starting to be understood in mainstream Japanese, every transgender that I've met, to a person, and heard of, subscribes to the gender binary and uses whichever gendered language matches their gender(as opposed to sex, in cases where they are incongruent). To clarify and justify a little further, I circulate amongst the largest and most concentrated trans-population in Japan. While I am aware of the concept of third gender, I've not once heard it mentioned. –  Seralyn Campbell Aug 18 at 18:14

From John Hinds' Japanese: Descriptive Grammar, p.16:

Nonpolite questions ending in の are frequently termed "feminine" or "childish" sounding, since women and children use this construction. There are, as far as I know, no statistics on this, so I must simply point out that males may also use this construction with impunity. [emphasis added]

He gives a number of examples of actual usage spoken by males, so I think it's safe for you to use it, too.

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