I am learning Japanese using "learn Japanese in the car". It has the following sentences:

Which seat is it? / Dono seki desu ka. 

Which train car is it? / Nan gosha desu ka.

Why does one use Dono and the other use Nan. What is the rule to know when to use each one?

  • Can you display Japanese words on your device? If not, I will prepare to answer in another way.
    – Toshihiko
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 16:50
  • 1
    It's not 'Nan gosha" but "Nango-sha".
    – user4092
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 0:27
  • @user4092 So Nango is "what" and "sha" is train car?
    – big_smile
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 13:34
  • "nan" (何) is 'what', "gou" (号) means 'number'. Together, they form a phrase with the meaning 'what number' or 'which number'. This kind of construction is often used with things being counted. The "sha" (車) at the end indeed means ' train car'.
    – maritsm
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 9:11

1 Answer 1


席{せき} is a good example. Please look at examples as follows.

A. どの席{せき}ですか。
B. 何{なん}席{せき}ですか。
C. 何{なに}席{せき}ですか。

All of these are grammatically, and each sentence is different question from the others.

A. どの席ですか。

You would say A when you don't know which seat it is.
どの is used when you want to know which of the three or more.
どちらの is used if you don't know which of the two.

B. なん席ですか。

I dare to write in hiragana, なん, to make clear the pronunciation, although people usually write it in Kanji, 何.
B means ''How many seats?''

なん is used when you speak about the number, order, or the amount of something.
The answer will be a word with the number, or the ordinal.
''席'' in this sentence is a counter suffix. なん is followed by a counter suffix, as ''なん号車{ごうしゃ}'', ''なん人{にん}'', ''なん枚{まい}'', ''なん回{かい}'', ''なんメートル'', ''なんか国{こく}'', ''なん歳{さい}'', ''なん年{ねん}'', ''なん月{がつ}'', etc.

However, 曜日{ようび} is also asked with なん.
So if you forgot whether it is Wednesday or Thursday, you would ask someone ''今日はなん曜日ですか。''.

C. なに席ですか。

Perhaps this usage of なに isn't listed in dictionaries.
You can use ''なに席'' when you want to know what kind of the seat.
You can use it for many aspects of kind, so you and someone you talk to have to know what you guys are speaking about.
C can be a question about various features.

指定席{していせき} reserved seats/自由席{じゆうせき} non-reserved seats
禁煙席{きんえんせき} non-smoking seats/喫煙席{きつえんせき} smoking-allowed seats
テーブル席 seats at the table in a restaurant/カウンター席 seats at the counter
These of ''○○席'' can be asked by using ''なに席''.

My kindergarten had three classes, ばら{rose}組{ぐみ}, もも{peach}組, ゆり{lily}組. If I asked my friend what class had you been in, I would say ''幼稚園{ようちえん}の時{とき}、なに組だった?'' .
While, my elementary school and high school had several classes too, they ware named as 1組{くみ}, 2組, 3組, 4組, then, I would ask ''なん組だった?'' to my friend.
Furthermore, the university I graduated from has a large, extensive campus, so tourists who visit there may wonder that ''なん学部あるんだろう'', ''How many faculties are there in this campus''.
When you say なに学部, it means what kind of faculty as ''あなたはなに学部の学生ですか。''

  • 1
    But then why does OP translate 「なんごうしゃですか」 as "which train car is it"? Is that incorrect? Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 21:16
  • 5
    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft X号車 is a counter. The explanation is under B up there. (Specifically in this case, he's asking 'which number train car is it' and expecting a response like 3号車 or something)
    – Sjiveru
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 22:38
  • @toshihiko: So in a line to summarise: Dono = use when there are more than 3 items and nan = use when referring to a quantity or order. So you couldn't say Nan seki desu ka. because seats don't have a quantity/order. Is that correct?
    – big_smile
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 13:38
  • 1
    なん席ですか(Nan seki desu ka) is ''How many seats?'' You say this when you expect an answer like 3席です or something. For example, if you attempted to reserve your seats on a train and you said 10時の新幹線の指定席を3席お願いします(Could I have three tickets of reserved seats on the 10:00 shinkansen?) , and the staff couldn't hear well, s/he would ask to you ''なん時ですか'', ''なに席ですか'', or ''なん席ですか'' depending on which word s/he couldn't hear. Is it enough for your question?
    – Toshihiko
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 14:36

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