Take the 2-minute tour ×
Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Consider the following:

  1. {どんな・[何]{なん}の}映画を見ましたか。
  2. {どんな・何の}本を買いましたか。

What is the difference in the type of information requested by the two interrogatives?

My hypothesis is that 何の is used to request information from pool of discrete data, while どんな requests information from continuous data. (どんな is broader than 何の)

That is to say that 何のX requests information from a set of established data; X has been categorised into discrete genres and it asks for which, while どんなX seems to be more open-ended.

share|improve this question
1  
discrete vs. continuous... I would have said countable vs. uncountable, but that's almost the same. I agree with your hunch. Also see this question on the difference between どうする and 何をする. Both that question and yours probably deserve a unified answer. –  Earthliŋ Nov 7 '12 at 10:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you were to ask me 何の映画を見ました, I would respond with the name of the movie. If you were to use どんな, I would respond with a description of the movie. In the broadest terms it's the difference between "which/what" and "what kind of." 何の is asking for something specific where どんな is asking for a description.

share|improve this answer

I would say it's a description of content (何の) vs. description of characteristics (どんな)

  • それは何の本ですか。 (What/which book is that? / "What is the content of that book?") → これは生物学の本です。 (It's a biology book.)
  • それはどんな本ですか。 (What kind of book is that? / "How would you describe that book?") → これは分厚くて、重い本です。 (It's a thick, heavy book.)
share|improve this answer
    
Can you answer <content> to a question asking about characteristics? I.e. Is どんな本ですか。→ 生物学の本です。acceptable? –  Flaw Nov 7 '12 at 17:13
    
@Flaw: that sounds very unnatural and strange to me. I think you'd get some confused looks if you answered that way. –  istrasci Nov 7 '12 at 17:17
    
@Flaw: you can answer to this kind of question by describing how the content is, for example, 難しい本です, 分かりやすい本です, 最新の本です, アメリカ人作家の本です, いま売れている本です, and so on. And, if you are asked どんな本が好きですか, you can even say, 数学の本です. –  Gradius Nov 14 '12 at 1:41

It is kind of a simple grammar actually... you use どんな in order to say: How?, What kind of? and, generally speaking, something related to type. On the other hand 何{なん} is used in order to specify characteristics of the modified term. However it gets a little bit more complicated sometimes, because it might be unclear where the difference is depending on the context. So, here we go with examples.

Describing content

As someone else pointed out, 何 is used to describe content. Consider the following:

それは何の本ですか。 => That book, what is it about?

この雑誌はファッションの雑誌ですよ => That megazine is a fashion one.

When content is involved, it is really easy because we are talking about books, megazines. But this will work for videos as well:

見た映画は何の(映画)でしたか。 => What was it about, the movie you saw?

Everytime you need to say some like to be about of..., no problems, use 何.

Describing places and people

It happens quite often to ask something like:

What kind of place is that?

Or:

What kind of town is it?

So, we can have the following:

Q) 東京はどんな町ですか。 => What kind of town is Tokyo?

A) あの、東京はすごく大きな町ですよ。 => Well, Tokyo is a really big city.

The same goes for people, have you ever asked someone something like: "What kind of guy is he?". Well, here we go:

Q) えと、前川さんの友達はどんな人ですか。 => Ehm, The friend of Maekawa-san, what kind of guy is he?

A) あのね、その人は優しいし、けいけんがあるし、いい人だと思う。 => Well, considering he is very kind and experience, I think is a good guy.

There is also the typical sentence about weather:

What's the weather like in Japan? => 日{に}本{ほん}はどんな天{てん}気{き}ですか。

Describing characteristics in general

何 is used also to specify elements that belong (physically or in an abstract way) to something. Consider the following:

その車は何色ですか。 => What color is that car?

何と言う意味ですか。 => What is the meaning of this? (quite an idiomatic sentence though)

何のためですか。 => What is this for? (asking about the purpose of a certain action)

Please note that here you want to have some sort of clear answer and a brief one as well. What color my car? Red! And that's it. I am pointing this because, in the next lines, I am going to give you a little hint about the good times when it is appropriate to use どんな.

In general

Not easy sometimes, but one general rule might be the following: Use どんな whenever you want a description of something, when you want to know something more about a man, a place, a woman, an object. When you use どんな always expect your interlocutor to provide a brief/long description which will never be limited to few words. When using どんな you want to take some time and consider something more detailed.

Use 何for the rest.

Japanese language sometimes is not easy to grasp, and sometimes trying to be very firm and not flexible (trying to achieve a generic strict rule) is a wrong approach. I was among thos ones who tried that way, had to give up...

share|improve this answer
1  
I'd say その車は何色ですかorその車はどんな色ですか, どういう意味ですかorなんという意味ですか/なんて(いう)意味ですか(←casual), 何のためですか. –  Choko Nov 13 '12 at 23:32
    
@Chocolate: Yeah, they all are acceptable ways to say the same things... with different levels of politeness of course. There are many ways to use どんな and 何, sometimes you can switch between them (Japanese usually do). Once I questioned a Japanese guy why in a sentence he used どんな since I thought it was better to use 何... He replied me that it was the same! –  Andry Nov 14 '12 at 11:12
    
Ah... I meant to say, we native Japanese speakers wouldn't say その車は何"の"色ですか, "何の"意味ですか, or 何のため"のこと"ですか。 –  Choko Nov 14 '12 at 11:22
    
@Chocolate: Ah... ok..., yeah, guess you're right... fixing the 車 stuff. But I heard this conversation: A) そんなわるい事をやったのは、目黒さんだった。 B)まじで???何のために??? So I thought I could translate the sentence in that way... What do you think about this? (I am just very curious, please do not misunderstand my intentions, I am not saying you are wrong) –  Andry Nov 14 '12 at 15:00
    
@Chocolate: Ah, ok, you are simply saying that the sentence wouldn't feel natural... OK! Sorry and thank you for your comments, I am fixing all my examples! Thankyou –  Andry Nov 14 '12 at 15:02

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.